Since I recently moved to a new area and have tried myself to recruit private students, I have discovered the answer to the universities' question. Parents are not investing in lessons for their children in the numbers they were even a generation ago, and the drop-off is steep. Piano retailers are shutting down in large numbers, many only surviving because they also sell inexpensive digital instruments. There are many nationally certified, highly educated and highly qualified private piano teachers all over the country whose studios are not full and who are also constantly trying all sorts of strategies to recruit students. Without students coming "through the pipeline", the universities have little hope of recruiting pianists to fill their teaching studios as well. Many are blaming the economy, but the issue is more complex than that as family life has shifted from the family around the hearth (and the piano) to the family on-the-go and online.
There are some piano teachers who are well-established in their geographical areas and have great word-of-mouth referrals and always have a waiting list. Even these teachers may only have a handful of students who are considering music as a career, or even a college major. Many serious young piano students are planning (as their parents may or may not have prescribed for them) careers in medicine or science and are playing music "on the side" because Mozart makes them smarter or it looks good on a college application to have more accolades from competitions, or maybe, even, because they enjoy it!
So, how can we, as private piano teachers and music educators, stress the importance of making the investment in piano lessons to parents? When parents are spending thousands of dollars on sports equipment, sports camp, (in part to counteract the thousands of dollars they spend on fast food), LEGO sets and robotics, iPods, iPads, and countless other gadgets for their children, why not music lessons? Could it be that the media culture has so saturated and overtaken parents' mindsets that they are feeling forced to make a choice on how they spend their resources for enhancing their children's education? There are many questions still left unanswered, but there are a few strategies that may be successful in helping the paradigm shift.
Private teachers and school music educators should improve their working relationships at the local and national levels. It is imperative, as always, that those working toward music advocacy stick together. Private music teachers should be willing to work in cooperation with public school music teachers to provide quality education for the children in their communities. Also, school music educators should seek out and know the private teachers in their community, and regularly refer their students to private lessons, especially at the elementary level. Won't the middle and high school (and even elementary) choral and orchestra directors be thrilled when they have students proficient enough in piano to accompany their groups? School music teachers know well that students in their classes who have had private lessons are more music literate and are usually leaders in their ensembles. It benefits their programs to have more students in private lessons. This does not seem to be stressed in music teacher education programs across the country. School music teachers, although they may have limited contact with parents as opposed to classroom teachers, do have some opportunities to stress to parents the importance of investing in private lessons for their children, not only in winds, strings or voice, but also in piano.
Private music teachers need to enter the 21st century when it comes to reaching parents, finding them where they are (online) and convincing them that lessons are a good choice to make when investing in their children's education. This is easier said than done, as many private teachers do not have the financial means to constantly advertise on the Internet on sites that parents would frequent. Private music teachers need to expand their social and business network beyond musicianship sites and group to PARENTING sites and groups. I recently saw a classified ad posted by a parent who was looking for a piano teacher for their child on Craigslist. Hey, if you can buy a piano or find a free one on there, why not a piano teacher as well? Parents need to be reminded in as many ways as possible that lessons are an option for their child. Music teachers have long known that parental involvement in their child's music lessons is a key to the child's success, but first the parents have to choose to make the investment in an instrument and in lessons in the first place.
Private music teachers have also long known that word-of-mouth is the most effective tool for gaining new students. We also need to use that word-of-mouth power among parents to transform the mindset of the parents in our community that lessons are a must-have commodity for their children. If you are a parent and a music educator, or a parent who is not a music educator but believes in the power of music education for your children, talk about it with other parents. Write about it in your blogs. Brag about it on Facebook just like you would if your kid's team won the little league world series. Be the voice of music advocacy for other parents. This generation of parents needs to realize the importance of raising the next generation of new musicians. We need new performers and composers and music educators. Otherwise, we will all be doomed to hearing the next generation of remixed pop music that becomes the same as it ever was and our grandchildren will make us listen to their watered-down or cut-up versions. Music permeates our society. It reflects our culture (sometimes sadly) and moves us all in so many ways. We need not only to keep it in the forefront, but also to teach our children not only how to listen but to create and perform.