This month’s faculty spotlight is on Amanda Prakopcyk, a piano instructor who has been particularly successful with young beginners. In her interview with us, Amanda talks about her work at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts and her approach to teaching piano lessons.
What do you like about playing and teaching the piano? I love that you can escape into a different world while playing piano and express yourself in a way other than words. Teaching gives me a sense of pride and joy in sharing my knowledge with others. If I can help a student use music in a positive way and have fun while doing so, I have helped them grow as a person.
Tell us more about your piano students at HAA. What do you enjoy most about working with them?
My students all have unique personalities. They learn in their own way and continually teach me in return. As a teacher you have to be flexible in your approach and respect the student’s interests. You constantly have to adapt to the way each student learns and alter your methods to help them do so effectively. I value their opinions and always encourage them to think about what they’re playing and what they want their story to be as musicians. It’s incredible how teaching a student a particular piece of music can open your eyes to it in a way you haven’t thought of before. If a student is having trouble with a certain section of music you have to break it down in a way that seems simple but allows them to understand the music better. Seeing the enlightenment and happiness once they have accomplished that section is always exciting, and truly rewarding as a teacher.
You seem to be particularly successful in teaching young beginners. What is your approach to this age group? Where do you see the opportunities and challenges in teaching young beginners?
I try to keep the atmosphere light and fun and if we happen to get a few laughs in then we are on the right track. At a young age the students are excited to learn something new and the excitement of their accomplishments is contagious. They clearly want to be there and their minds are like sponges, so it’s exciting for me to see how quickly they can learn and grow. The common challenges are the amount of time students are able to focus and stay on track. It’s easy for young students to get restless, of course, but that’s when you have to get creative in your teaching and come up with new ways to keep them engaged. Even if it means taking a break from playing and doing a different music related activity instead. They’re still learning and sometimes all they need is a little time to breathe, then we are able to bounce right back into playing. I think it’s important to make sure they don’t get overwhelmed and continue to have fun. It’s a thrill to watch the progress that they make.
What are your favorite musical styles? I tend to enjoy classical music and am particularly drawn to 20th century Latin American composers. Besides the standards I also like to find pieces and composers that aren’t played often enough! Like the pieces of Clara Wieck-Schumann, wife of the well-known Robert Schumann. I try to stay open minded when listening to music, so that can vary from listening to jazz to indie to rock.
What do you enjoy about being part of the Hunterdon Academy of the Arts community? The positive atmosphere and dedication to the students is clearly evident among all of the staff members. The students always come first and there is always something new and creative happening at HAA. It’s rewarding to be part of a community that is passing on this knowledge and creativity to another generation, or even those coming back to learn after many years.
What advice do you have for aspiring young musicians? Keep having fun and enjoy what you’re doing. Figure out what makes you excited and follow your passion. Use your music to inspire yourself and others, and dedicate yourself to your music and your playing. Stick to it even when it’s hard, it’s worth it in the end.
Outside of Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, what are your interests and hobbies? Gardening in the summer, hiking, disconnecting and getting outside, photography.