Guest Post: Dennise Ontiveros Rivera
In this post, Dennise describes her journey to music and teaching. When Dennise came to me at EAC, she told me that there were few teachers in the area of Mexico where she grew up and that she wanted to change that. This young lady is one of the most determined yet humble people I have ever met. I was so happy to have the opportunity to nurture her flame during the 18 months that we worked together (even if she and Mr. Bach have an adversarial relationship). Dennise currently studies piano with Dr. Scott McCarrey and his wife Stacy McCarrey.
My journey as a pianist and teacher had been an exciting adventure with a lot of ups and downs. I can’t imagine my life without music. I was born and raised in a small town in Chihuahua, Mexico. I started to take piano lessons when I was eight years old. I remember I was excited for my piano lessons, but practicing was not very fun. My piano teacher was fun and I liked her, but she moved to Utah after a year or two of piano lessons.
When she left, I started to practice more and more. I don’t know why. I started to practice every day. Soon I became familiar with all the hymns for church and I started to play whatever my mom used to buy me, but I didn’t have a piano teacher so I didn’t have any technique. I played every Sunday for church for 5 years.
When I was 12, I started to take violin lessons. My teacher was very strict and I practiced a lot. For two years I went to a music school in the afternoon to take piano lessons, but when my teacher knew that I played the violin he was more interested in my violin skills than my piano skills. So, I had two music teachers that were more interested in making me a violinist than a pianist.
I always knew I wanted to study music. My violin teacher convinced me to study violin at Eastern Arizona College. He promised to help with all the theory classes and violin technique. So, when I moved to Arizona I was really excited. I knew I was not wrong and music was my future career, but I didn’t feel very convinced about studying violin. I loved the piano, and don’t get me wrong I love to play my violin but I needed something else.
I started to take piano lessons during my second semester at EAC, and after that I knew that I wanted to keep studying piano. I was so behind in technique, but I am a persistent person (maybe too persistent) but I think that is what had been helping me throughout my college years. I knew I was not the best but with the help of my teacher I was on my way to achieving my goals.
After two years I transferred to BYU-Hawaii to finish my bachelor’s degree. I was so far away from home and I knew it would not be easy since I didn’t know what to expect in here. When I had an interview with my piano teacher in Hawaii, I told him that I wanted to teach piano and I wanted to be a GOOD piano teacher.
My first semester at BYUH was not good at all. I was in 4 classes with the same 5 people and I felt so behind. It seems like everyone knew each other very well and they all knew what to do except me. Everything was too much for me, I had to practice twice as much I thought, I also had other classes to worry about, plus I started to work.
I think piano pedagogy was the class I enjoyed the most. Learning all the different methods I could use to teach piano opened my eyes and I knew that the way I was taught piano was not the only one. I started to read more about how to teach piano and during the second semester of piano pedagogy I worked with my first student.
I was supervised by my teacher constantly. I had to give him reports of every lesson with my student. After taking the pedagogy course, my teacher offered me a job at the Piano Conservatory at the school. I was going to teach piano to kids! That felt really good because I started to feel more adapted and that I was not very bad as I thought.
My classes started to be easier and I felt I was doing so much better. I had a lot of students every semester and I loved my job. Every student I had taught me something new. I learned that teaching them technique from the beginning was super important. It’s amazing how fast they learn.
Living in Hawaii is such a great adventure in every single way. I have students from different places of the world, even places that I’ve never heard about. All of my students come from different backgrounds and adapting to them is very important. I love having first lessons with a new students. At interviews, I learn so much about them.
I graduated last June, and my piano teacher offered me a job as a teacher. More than a job it is training because I want to have a piano school in the future. I work full time in the Conservatory, and I also teach a piano class at the university I still take piano lessons from my teacher at BYUH because I need to be better. I have a lot of students of different races and ages and I love them. I learn so much from them. I love to see their improvement and it makes me happy.