In May 2000 I moved to London. To Hendon, precisely. My plan was to teach music and convert to Judaism and, eventually, marry the boy I was chasing. I was nineteen.
I don’t remember how long after moving there I got my first piano student in the area, but it wasn’t a desperately long time. She was a lovely older lady who’d been on a “singing for the brain” course and wanted to study the piano in order to keep her mind nimble.
From then on, I always had students in Hendon and Finchley. Most were children, but there were various grown-ups too. It got to the point where I couldn’t fit them all in on weekday evenings and started teaching some on Sunday mornings. When I went to Trinity this turned out to be a good thing: I kept going back on Sundays to teach, spending the weekdays doing (okay, avoiding) my academic work and Saturday as a day off. At one point I was teaching for nine hours on a Sunday, which was helpful, if tiring. Most of the teaching was in the morning — I started at 8am — or in the evening, after football and other activities had ended, and this left me with long afternoons. I often spent the time outside, reading or walking around, though if the weather was miserable I might head to Brent Cross instead or just take refuge in a coffee shop for a while. There was a period of time when I had friends living nearby so I would go to visit them, sometimes just falling asleep on the sofa for a while, and on one memorable occasion sticking my very broken glasses together with bits of wire and tape.
In my later years at Trinity I started becoming interested in Christianity again, which is perhaps a topic for another post. But it was in Hendon on those long Sunday afternoons that I had time to read and think about this, and it was at St Mary’s Hendon that I found I could go to Evensong most weeks.
When I finished my degree I had to decide whether to move back to Hendon, stay in Bethnal Green or go elsewhere entirely. Marrying the boy I’d been chasing was no longer on the cards, and by then it was clear that Orthodox Judaism was not the right path for me. I chose Leytonstone for a variety of reasons.
I also decided that I couldn’t be having with working on Sunday mornings any more (well, that didn’t last long!). So my students, many of whom by now were the “we’d really rather have lessons on Sundays” crowd, were asked to switch to weekdays… and since then I’ve been going to Hendon and Finchley on Mondays and Tuesdays. Most of my students there are Jewish and in a strange way, teaching them has allowed me to keep Jewish practice, and interfaith issues, in my mind even while I’m now so involved in Christian worship, though besides knowing when the holidays are, ensuring exams aren’t on Saturdays and teaching the odd bit of folk repertoire it hasn’t been a major part of teaching, of course.
I knew this wouldn’t be a sustainable strategy in the longer-term so I decided to take on no new families, letting the hours in North London taper off. The plan was that I’d gradually gain students in Leytonstone and the transition would be fairly smooth.
That didn’t quite work out. At the beginning of this year, I was commuting nine hours per week to do three hours of teaching. I wasn’t gathering much of a class of students more locally, mostly because Mondays and Tuesdays were completely unavailable. I tried cycling, but found it just as exhausting as the Tube and with no great saving in time. I tried finding other things to do locally, spending Monday afternoon in the library in Finchley. Eventually I had to admit that I was tired enough that I wasn’t teaching as well as I know I can. So, this January, I gave my students one term’s notice.
Today I taught my last lesson in Hendon, and walked back through Sunny Hill Park. It’s been sad, these last few weeks, saying goodbye. One of the reasons I hung on so long was that I do genuinely like teaching, and I am very fond of all of my students. A half hour a week over a few years is a long time to spend with anyone in one-on-one situations and these families have been a significant part of my life. The students themselves have been a joy and a privilege to teach, through the difficult bits and the happiness (or just relief) at exam results and school performances. I was teaching only five at the end, but over the years there have been nearly forty students, and I have learned from each and every one of them, and I will miss them. If you’re a former student, or a parent of one, and you’re reading this: THANK YOU.
I suppose North London will still be there, but it feels strange that I no longer have any reason to go.