Walk by Candy (Burnham) Alessandro’s Hope Street home on any given day and you may hear a fiery rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” or the hesitant notes of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The lifelong Bristol resident has been sharing her love of the piano with children and adult learners since 1976. A graduate of Rhode Island College where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education, Candy has seen life come full circle: instructing a new generation of learners who include the children of those very first students. Fourteen years ago when Candy and her husband Sandy moved into their 1850s cottage (the former home of her great grandfather George Slade) her goal was to create a warm and relaxing environment for students. Forgoing a dining room, she has a piano room for instruction and her living room, with its large comfortable sofa and a variety of cooking and home magazines reflecting her interests, doubles as the waiting room. These days Candy spends her free time with Claire, her sixteen-month-old grandniece and future piano student. Candy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
My first piano teacher was Cora Anderson who lived next door to us on Central Street. She had taught my mother and my uncle and had been the organist at the Congregational Church. I had wanted to take lessons from the age of two or three because I saw my mother and my older brother playing. But my mother told me I had to be five before I could start lessons. So on my fifth birthday I took my allowance – a nickel – and went next door, knocked on the door, went in, put my nickel on the piano and said “I’m here for my lesson.” Mrs. Anderson was an excellent teacher. I only had her for a short time because she was quite elderly. She taught me first of all to love it, but the technical things she taught me as a five-year-old were so advanced. I was learning scales, arpeggios, I had a lesson book, a fun book. She would give me ear training on major and minor chords and would let me let say ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ to describe what the sound of the major or minor was. She was a huge influence on me.
There are different reasons why parents bring their children for piano lessons, the child wants to learn or parents want their child to be well rounded, but one of the biggest reasons is of the growing evidence that playing the piano is good for the brain and cognitive learning. Students today are much busier compared to when I started teaching. You expect the older students in middle and high school to be involved with sports and other things but younger children are doing a lot more activities, not to mention there is schoolwork. So there is a lot of competition for free time. The lack of time to practice is a challenge. I don’t think it is an easy thing at any age or in any era to find that time to practice, but it seems harder now.
Over the years I have developed a lot more patience for learning what style works for each student. Everybody learns differently. You have to find out how to reach that student and open their minds to what you have to offer them. A teacher shouldn’t just hope they always have good students. A good teacher has to find out what is going to help a student. I learned that if I had a challenging student instead of thinking they will give up, I would think, “How can I help them?” First you need to make it fun because you want them to enjoy it and then teach them something at the same time, and help them develop into whatever kind of piano player they want to be, not my preconceived notion of what I thought they should be.
When I first found myself teaching the children of former students I felt like a grandmother. At first it seemed funny and odd. I would look at the child and see their parent, but as you teach each one you get to know them as their own unique individual. I love all my students and it is so cool to see another generation learning.