This month’s member spotlight is on Wendy Bachman. Wendy is a popular State College-area piano teacher who has played an active roll in the Central Pennsylvania Music
Teachers Association. Read more about Wendy below.
It’s a crisp fall day as I pull up to Wendy’s
cozy Boalsburg home. She greets me cheerily as I let myself in, and we chat about food and kids as she slides some sweet potatoes into the oven, topped with nuts and maple syrup.
Once we both have a cup of tea in our hands, we make our way downstairs, through a waiting area scattered with children’s toys, and into her teaching studio. The room is light and
bright, with wide windows opening onto a grassy backyard. Bookcases are filled with music books and photos, one wall displays a selection of diplomas. A white board is scrawled with
a bright reminder of an upcoming “piano party.” A plump gray sofa lines one wall, and of course there are pianos- one grand, one upright. Looks like the studio of a piano teacher!
Which makes perfect sense. Wendy Bachman is a busy State College-area piano teacher, with a studio of usually around 45 students ranging from age 5 to adult, most of whom are
3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. During her 30- and 45-minute lessons, Wendy seeks to keep her students engaged at all times, learning to listen, read, and play, working on sight reading, ear
training, and theory. Each lesson she makes sure to review past concepts, introduce something new, and find the “romance” in music. “Romance is something they love; it’s what keeps
them coming back,” she explains. She’s active during lessons, too, often counting, saying the names of notes, playing duets. “Music is something you do, not something you talk about,”
she says. Then she quotes her former teacher at Westminster Choir College, Frances Clark- “Teachers are not tellers, tellers work in a bank,” and laughs.
“Frances Clark! Wow,” I say. Frances Clark is well known in the piano pedagogy world as the creator of The Music Tree method book series. “Yes! I had no idea how famous she was
when I first got to Westminster,” she says, eyes sparkling as she reaches for a photo on the bookshelf, and begins reminiscing about the path that lead her there.
The journey began in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1969, when Wendy’s mother followed the faint strains of music to discover her four-year-old daughter picking out the song "Raindrops
Keep Falling On My Head" on the old piano in the basement. After consulting Wendy’s grandfather, a Ukrainian dentist who was also concertmaster in the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra,
the family decided to start their second child in piano lessons. Wendy doesn’t remember too much about her first piano teacher (except getting out of school early on lesson days), and
a year or two later the family moved to Vancouver where she began taking piano and violin lessons with a neighbor. Her violin career was short-lived, culminating in an embarrassing
experience which involved her slip falling down while she performed for a group of her laughing peers, but she continued with the piano despite her teacher’s lackadaisical teaching style.
In fact, Wendy remembers teaching herself how to read music, taking the bus to the music store to find the sheet music for songs she heard on the radio.
At the age of 10, Wendy began taking piano lessons with Carol Pfeffercorn, whose enthusiasm and organization ushered in a new chapter. Wendy’s playing began improving under the new
management, and when Carol moved on a few years later, Wendy was accepted as a student by Carol’s teacher, Mary Gorringe, or “Nan.” Nan “was a very successful teacher in the area,”
Wendy recalls, “and had many festival-winning students, and prepared students for exams. I was 13, and at this point I had potential. My world really opened up with her, and so I owe a
lot to her.” Nan’s teacher Edward Parker was very famous in Canada. As she grew older and began preparing for exams, Wendy took lessons occasionally from Edward Parker himself, and
took music theory classes throughout her adolescence from his sister-in-law, Keiko Parker.
Wendy’s piano playing continued to bloom under Nan’s tutelage. “It was a very exciting studio atmosphere,” Wendy remembers. “It was like a tribe.” Along with lessons, visits to Nan often
included practice sessions on one of her many pianos and studying for exams for the Canada-based Royal Conservatory of Music Certificate Program. These exams were a big deal, even
for students like Wendy who weren’t hoping to become professional performers. “I’d have to miss school for a day and practice for exams,” she reminisces. And her parents were always there,
driving her to lessons and exams in the station wagon, her mother listening to her practice and offering positive feedback. “They were always encouraging,” Wendy recollects, “and I was pretty
lucky that we could afford good lessons.”
When she was 16, Wendy remembers saying offhand during one of her lessons, “Oh! You know, piano teaching kind of looks like fun, and I really like kids, and I babysit... maybe I should try teaching
some time.” The next week, Nan presented Wendy with a slip of paper with a dozen phone numbers on it of parents looking for piano lessons for their children. She offered Wendy one of the piano
rooms in her house to use on Wednesdays, and she was on her way. “She basically gave me confidence,” Wendy shares, although Nan didn’t overdo it with the guidance. “She did say, always wear a
dress, and that was about it!” That first Wednesday she taught, Wendy knew she had found her calling. “After the first five hours of teaching, I was on a high. I was basically walking out on a cloud. I
was like, I loved that. That was like, the best. It was like a pinnacle, ‘boom’ moment.”
During Wendy’s senior year of high school, she decided to work towards earning the RCM pedagogy diploma. She remembers Nan telling her, “‘You know, if you really practice, you could get the highest
mark in Canada on your piano exam.’ And I had no idea I had potential for that. So once she said that I was totally on a mission.” She describes the exam as a complex affair in which applicants are
required to play all levels of pieces, describe how they would teach them, and pass a written test. “Lo and behold, I did get the highest mark in Canada, and I was really proud,” she recalls.
Wendy went on to earn a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of British Columbia while living at home and teaching 30 students a week. “I loved being in school,” she enthuses. “I loved learning,
I loved being social.” Coming from a family with a number of advanced degrees, graduate school seemed to be the natural next step, so Wendy decided to apply to a Master’s program in the US. Her
former piano teacher Nan had a connection to pianist and composer Harold Zabrack, who taught at Westminster Choir College. Wendy got accepted as a Master’s student and was off to New Jersey!
In her two years at Westminster Choir College, Wendy was exposed to a new and inspiring way of teaching. “It was a complete 180,” she declares. Rather than basing a teacher’s worth on students’ talent
and exam marks, Louise Goss and Frances Clark built their philosophy on the idea that “there’s music in every child, it’s up to the teacher to find that, and the students’ success is based on how well prepared
the teacher is. Preparing the students with good habits, and basically practicing with them every lesson,” she explains. She learned to get students up and moving, feeling the rhythm in their body. It was a
“total musicianship approach,” with practice habits, musicianship, and technique all balanced. Wendy discovered new materials such as The Music Tree method series. She learned how to write up
assignments, how to teach group piano, how to choose repertoire. Her piano lessons with Mr. Zabrack were transformative, and still inspire her.
In 1990, Wendy graduated and married Ken Bachman, an American she’d met in Vancouver just before beginning her Masters program. After a jaunt to Minneapolis, they settled down in Vancouver for a
while, where Wendy trained to become an examiner for the Royal Conservatory of Music and the couple had their first child, Andrew. Then they were off to Seattle, where they had two more children- a boy,
Patrick and a girl, Jamie. There, Wendy taught about 70 students a week at the Washington Academy of the Performing Arts and at home.
Though she recalls that as a challenging period in her life, Wendy
is one to keep things positive. Along with a supportive husband, “music and teaching and baking and having the kids… I’ve always had a positive mindset. It helped me weather the stresses of life,” she muses.
In 2003 the family moved to the State College, Pennsylvania area, where Wendy taught group piano at Penn State at first, established her still-thriving studio, and served as president of the local chapter of
MTNA for several years. She has enjoyed raising her kids here, and in among all of her teaching, made sure her family stayed at the center. “I’ll never look back and wish I hadn’t spent as much time with my
kids,” she says with a smile.
Wendy’s teaching philosophy, influenced by her caring and friendly personality as much as by the rainbow of musical and pedagogical influences she has encountered in her 53 years, is about “nurturing,
confidence, and developing students as human beings. If they don’t feel like you care about them as a person, they won’t feel comfortable. They have to trust you as a teacher, especially at recitals. You’re
telling them ‘you can do this.’” She wants her students to have a positive experience with music, and strives to help them feel part of a community with multiple recitals and “piano parties” each year.
She also loves “giving back” as an examiner for RCM, traveling every few months to listen to, advise, and rate students around North America. “I also love the adventure,” Wendy adds.
Perhaps it is that same need for adventure that keeps her seeking new things to learn even now, despite her decades of success. In fact, I first met Wendy at Penn State several years ago while she was
auditing a piano pedagogy course which focused in no small part on the teachings of her own mentors at Westminster Choir College. And the woman doesn’t stop! Wendy continues to attend conferences
and workshops, and even takes some lessons herself. “I want to be current,” she explains, ”and have different tools in my toolbox.” Which makes sense since Wendy’s studio is filled with learners of different
backgrounds, needs, and goals. Perhaps it is her insatiable quest for knowledge and experience which makes Wendy Bachman such a great person to learn from- not just for her students, but for the rest of
us as well. After all, who couldn’t use a bit more positivity, kindness, adventure, and of course… music?
For more information on Wendy, or to inquire about lessons, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.