I was privileged to take a year of piano pedagogy training from Dr. Paul Pollei of
the BYU School of Music. He retired soon after, to devote more time to his pet
project, the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition in Salt Lake City.
His calling in his ward was Primary pianist, and had been for years. He would
often say that if his bishop ever tried to release him, he would leave the
Church. It always cracked me up to think that this man, a giant in the
international piano world, spent his Sunday mornings playing Primary songs.
That is part of the beauty of the Kingdom of God.
One of my first classes with him stands out as an "aha!" moment in my life. He
announced that he would now take the role of a 7-year-old piano student at his
first piano lesson. (In reality, I am pretty sure he was pushing 70 at the time.)
He asked, "Who will be my teacher?"
Of course, we all looked around at each other with that deer-in-headlights
stare that says, "Not me! Please, please someone else volunteer!"
A brave soul stepped forward. Dr. Pollei prodded the "teacher" to teach him
something. The "teacher" started by saying a few words about the treble clef,
and Dr. Pollei looked at him with utter confusion. He said, "What are you
talking about? I don't know what you are saying."
That was the moment we all realized we were in big trouble.
How on earth were we going to take a child with no knowledge whatsoever
about the subject most dear to our hearts and experiences and guide him on
the road to musical understanding?
I have never forgotten that day in classroom E-400 of the music building at
BYU. I realized in that moment that children do not think like little adults. I
realized that they lack the context I have -- my life's experience. They would
not see things the way I did. If I was to have a prayer of ever reaching a child I
must be willing to look at the world through his eyes.
At first, this may take some serious effort. It can be difficult for us adults to
remember what it was like to not know.
The folly we must not fall into, however, is to think that just because they do
not know, they are not as smart or intelligent as we are. I believe quite the
opposite is true. Our youth are often reminded they are members of the
"chosen generation" referred to by the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:9. They are
special sprits reserved for the last days.
Indeed, I suspect the children we interact with today have at least as much, if
not more, intelligence than do we adults. Their capacity to learn far outweighs
ours -- their brains are more malleable in their youth; they absorb vast
amounts of information very quickly.
Take language acquisition, for example. Learning to speak a language is much
more arduous as an adult than it is for a young child. When we interact with a
toddler, it seems their language skills are quite inferior to ours, but in fact,
they are absorbing new words at an astonishing rate.
Though only able to speak about 20 words at age 18 months, by age 6 they
have a vocabulary of 10,000 words and a mastery of all common grammatical
constructions. This includes near perfect pronunciation and dialect.
Think of the things an adult could accomplish if he could absorb information
So what do we adults have that children do not?
We have wisdom.
They have all the intelligence and promise and capacity in the world, but what
they lack is the experience we have. They lack the long vision, the
understanding of the far-reaching consequences of their actions. They lack
experience with hard-won joy and heart-wrenching tragedy.
Unfortunately, just like the oil in the lamps of the five prepared virgins, wisdom
cannot be given. A teacher or parent cannot just figuratively open up the head
of a child and dump in some wisdom, knowledge, and experience.
A child must get their wisdom the same way we adults got ours -- through
That day in E-400 when we piano teachers of tomorrow failed to show Dr. Pollei
we had any idea what to do with a 7-year-old sitting at our piano, he walked us
through an ideal first lesson.
I volunteered to be the pseudo-child, and he had me play all the black notes
on the piano and tell him what pattern I saw (alternating groups of 2 and 3
black notes). He had me play from the bottom of the piano to the top -- then
asked me where the notes were highest, and where they were lowest.
He gave me labels for the things I was seeing and experiencing so I could know
how to talk to him about them. In short, he led me through an experience.
This is the role of the parent, teacher, or caregiver. It is not enough to repeat
rules or mantras or gospel principles. We must help them gain experiences that
teach them these things, and be on hand to help them make sense of what they
are experiencing, so they too may have wisdom.
As Dr. Pollei repeated throughout that year, "Telling never was teaching." Only
experience breeds wisdom.
Emily S. Jorgensen is an independent music teacher in the Provo/Orem, Utah, area. She is an
active adjudicator and lecturer across the Wasatch front. She has held several positions in the
Utah Music Teachers Association. She has three children and is expecting her fourth soon.
Emily grew up in Tacoma, Washington, earning her International Baccalaureate diploma in high
school. She was awarded a Trustees Scholarship at BYU, and was graduated from BYU with a
Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance and a Masters of Arts in Elementary Music Education.
She taught group piano classes at BYU, and has operated a private studio for 16 years, where she
has taught private and group music lessons for ages 2 through adult.
Emily currently serves as Primary president in her LDS ward, and is still married to her high school