Both Catherine Cossey and Liz Giannopoulos saw business potential in piano tuition, as they told Glyn Môn Hughes ahead of the Music & Drama Education Expo in February
Gone are the days of visiting the elderly lady down the road for half an hour’s piano lesson: scales and studies, arpeggios to torture young hands and the dreaded annual half-hour of horror, the music exam.
Meet Catherine Cossey and Liz Giannopoulos and that outdated notion is rapidly rejected. Both have developed companies bringing together teaching experts, encouraging not only piano playing, but also singing, improvisation, playing by ear, movement and, it would appear, generally having fun.
Catherine Cossey Piano Tuition – CCPT – is based in Coventry. Giannopoulos’s company, Encore Music Tuition, is based in South West London. Both began teaching in their teens before taking music degrees. Cossey started a PGCE in secondary music but soon realised that classroom teaching was not for her. ‘I have the utmost respect for all teachers who do it,’ she says, ‘but I was really passionate about piano teaching.’ Giannopoulos’s experience differs a little. ‘Once I graduated, I had little access to a piano and drifted away from music,’ she says. ‘But 20 years after that first lesson, I found myself with a husband, two children and a very demanding, if moderately inspiring, office-based career. I was in need of change but also needed creative and intellectual stimuli.’
Both women now run companies employing around seven piano teachers, and both emphasise the importance of a broad musical experience.
‘There were frustrations with being a private teacher,’ says Cossey. ‘I felt very isolated and wanted to work with a team of people.’
After taking an ABRSM teaching diploma, Giannopoulos started out on her path of musical networking. ‘I built a strong network of teaching friends and developed new teaching ideas. It was an enlightening experience during which I discovered new repertoire and teaching materials and started to develop my own personal teaching ethos centred around inspiring independent musicianship and a love of playing.’ It was at that point she began to think about working with other tutors and forming the ‘enriching community that could be created for students and teachers alike’.
All CCPT tutors work from the same place and there are weekly staff meetings. ‘It’s great to see teachers with different skill sets spending time together, helping each other develop in different ways,’ says Cossey. ‘We write curriculums together, and develop different teaching resources that all students can access. Students belong to all of us as teachers, and we have opportunities – through group lessons, concerts and other events – to have an input into students we don’t teach on a regular basis.’
CCPT aims to develop creative, selfmotivated and accomplished musicians. ‘We include lots of singing, movement and off-piano activities,’ she says. ‘We regularly use technology, play by ear, improvise and compose. Community is something we’re really passionate about. Students build relationships with each other and play music together through group lessons, concerts, parties and other events throughout the year.’
The ethos is much the same for Giannopoulos. ‘Children from all backgrounds should have the opportunity to explore the joy of musicmaking,’ she says. ‘Good teachers put music at the heart of every lesson and aim to pass on skills so their pupils become musicians in their own right. It is incumbent on us to nurture and protect their love of playing and listening by making it an enjoyable, positive activity.’
Tutor workshops are run throughout the year, allowing the practice’s tutors ‘to work as a team, exploring innovative methods and teaching strategies, discovering new music and continually developing our professional skills’.
‘By sharing ideas and experiences,’ says Giannopoulos, ‘every teacher is able to draw on a rich and varied well of teaching strategies and resources, which ensures we can tailor lessons to meet needs and interests of each individual.’
Teachers in both organisations have employed status, removing some of the pressures of self-employment and allowing individuals to concentrate on developing as teachers and musicians. Both Cossey and Giannopoulos manage administrative matters themselves, and all teachers are regularly peer-observed. ‘We run regular initiatives to motivate effective practice,’ said Giannopoulos. ‘We present awards to high achievers and report termly to parents on priorities, objectives and progress.’
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
Having set up their respective businesses, both Giannopoulos and Cossey noted how the organisations mushroomed within months. So what are their tips for creating similar successes?
‘Know your “why?”,’ says Cossey. ‘Running a business is hard work and it’s not all going to be smooth sailing. ‘Know what can go wrong and how to avoid it – or fix it!’ says Giannopoulos, adding that one should look for teachers who share the company ethos and, of course, a passion for music and teaching. ‘Pedagogical knowledge can be taught. Interpersonal skills can’t. Be firm, but fair. Develop clear and reasonable contracts, principles and processes and stick to them.’
That, along with a strong support network – partners, family or friends – and a willingness to seek and take advice are vital, says Cossey. ‘And always keep sight of your “value added”,’ advises Giannopoulos. ‘What’s in it for the student – but also, what’s in it for the tutor?’
Catherine Cossey and Liz Giannopoulos will present the business models of their successful independent piano teaching schools at Music & Drama Education Expo | London on 22 February 2018. Register for your FREE ticket.