"I love to see how students develop and grow. I love to see students accomplish unimaginable things."
This is the motivation behind Dr. Rachel Taylor's work, which led to her receiving the 2019 Teacher of the Year award from the Kentucky Music Teachers Association.
Taylor works with students of all ages, teaching piano at Eastern Kentucky University as well as her own private studio.
"When I interview a young student, I use a Shinichi Suzuki technique of making them do a 10-second bow," Taylor explained. "If they are able to concentrate long enough to complete the bow, they generally have enough concentration to begin piano lessons."
At age 3, Taylor herself began her study of piano. Her mother, who taught piano lessons in their home, noticed that Taylor began picking out melodies she heard on the piano.
"My mother did not want me to start picking up bad habits by playing melodies by ear, so she took me to study piano with Mary Stewart in Owensboro," Taylor said.
Although Taylor grew up with piano music in the home, she said, "Originally I was resistant toward becoming a piano teacher like my mother was. When I was 13-years-old, I began studying the Beethoven Pathétique Sonata, and fell in love with the music."
"When I was working on my undergraduate degree at EKU, I was very focused on developing as a performer," she continued. "I became interested in piano pedagogy when I was doing my master's degree at Northwestern University due to the excellent teaching of Frances Larimer and Elvina Truman Pearce."
Taylor earned her doctorate from the University of Iowa and then accepted a teaching position at the Preucil School of Music in Iowa City. She said she we from studying major works in the piano repertoire to teaching elementary pieces to beginning piano students.
"The Preucil School was a great place to learn the art of teaching the piano," Taylor stated. "We had a skilled group of piano teachers and I enjoyed interacting and learning from my colleagues."
The Preucil School is also where Taylor began studying the Suzuki method of musical pedagogy.
Taylor, a Kentucky native, opened her private studio in Georgetown in 2000. She also was teaching in the Preparatory Department of the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music at that time.
"I returned to EKU in 2009 as a Visiting Professor and I have been very excited to be able to continue my association with EKU for the past 10 years," Taylor noted.
Taylor worked with the FAME (Foster Academy for Musical Excellence) program, which was discontinued in 2017 due to budget cuts.
"We had around 150 students studying music in the FAME program," she said. "I was very pleased with how the quality of the program was developing over the seven years that the FAME program operated."
Another role of Taylor's is on the Stephen Foster Music Camp faculty each summer.
"I am the director of the Middle School Piano Camp and a teacher for the High School Piano Camp," she said, adding the camp serves a critical role in the life and culture of Eastern Kentucky University.
No matter what the age or skill level of her students, Taylor said the goal is always to work to better their performance abilities.
"I approach teaching piano technique and musicality much the same way at both levels," she said. "I do find that the time demands on the university students is much greater."
Taylor emphasized, "I believe that music is a critical part of education. Most of my students receive academic scholarships as well as music scholarships when they go to college." Her students go on to higher education in various fields, including medicine and engineering. "Studying music teaches many critical career skills."
For example, Taylor said that project management is one practical skill piano students will learn.
"To master a piece, a performer has to set a series of goals and develop a plan as to how each of those goals will be met," she said. "They must constantly assess whether or not those goals are being met. If goals are not being met, they have to make adjustments to accomplish those goals. Eventually, all the individual goals must be put together into a single project, which is the performance of the piece."
Dr. Taylor's many years of dedication to the teaching of piano have led to the Kentucky Music Teachers Association awarding her the Teacher of the Year designation. The KMTA is a nonprofit organization for music teachers in schools, universities, and private studios.
One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching piano, for Taylor, is coaching her students through challenges as they work towards goal realization.
"Students will often be resistant when they first begin a new piece," she said. "As they work on the piece, they start developing new skills and eventually find that something that started off as impossible became something they have mastered."