Laughter, Jean Ritter says, is the key to her success as a piano teacher.
Now the 49th year of her career, Ritter is reaping the benefits of her success, with national recognition for her work. Ritter was one of two B.C. music teachers recently named a “teacher of distinction” by the Royal Conservatory of Music, an annual award given to two people in each province or region: B.C., Alberta, Atlantic Canada, Manitoba; Ontario and Quebec; and Saskatchewan.
Ritter says she didn’t even know that the RCM had that award for teachers.
“The extent of Jean’s impact is a testament to her ability to maintain strong relationships with students, both past and present. She has built and maintained these relationships because she cares about her students as individuals,” RCM CEO Dr. Peter Simon said, introducing Ritter at the awards ceremony.
“In the words of one past student, Jean ‘poured as much thought into my personality, psyche, and daily living as she [did] into the intricacies of the score.’”
Ritter is an RCM-certified teacher with advanced-level specializations in piano and theory, teaching music theory and history to students of all ages and skill levels, as well as preparing soon-to-be teachers for RCM teacher certification exams.
Her key to success, she says, is urging her students to enjoy the music lessons.
“I tell my students there’s one thing that has to happen in every lesson: there has to be laughter,” she said.
“It’s hard work to learn the piano, but we have to enjoy ourselves. We have to have fun doing it. I have a really high standard, so I could either have these students with a very dry lesson, or we can enjoy ourselves and I just find they learn way better when they’re having a good time.”
She says she tries to personalize the music she brings to lessons to the student, based on their personality and interests.
“There’s a lot of students that don’t care to go into very classical stuff. I think we just need to expose students to learning, not so much to have a specified track that we have to place them in,” she said.
“I think as long as we want to love music, learn to play music and expressing themselves, that’s my greatest thing is to inspire them.”
That way, the lessons sink in, and stick with the students for life, she said, adding that she still enforces learning things like technique and the rest of the foundation of piano playing.
“The world of music is so vast, to restrict them to one way of studying, I think, is robbing them of what they can explore.”
It’s clearly a system that works – three of her students have gone on to win RCM gold medals.
“I’m very proud of them,” she said. “That’s quite a distinction.”
Ritter received the award at a ceremony at the Chan Centre at the University of B.C. in Vancouver on Nov. 3.