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Ho Chi Minh City’s free piano class for the elderly

Saturday, June 29, 2019, 17:06 GMT+7
Ho Chi Minh City’s free piano class for the elderly
Elderly students sit by pianos with teaching assistants at Upponia Music Center in Thu Duc District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: My Lang / Tuoi Tre

While most piano teachers refuse to accept elderly students, one pianist on the outskirts of Saigon is doing her best to encourage elderly students to try out the instrument.

Tran Thi Tho’s Upponia Music Center in Thu Duc District, Ho Chi Minh City, is one of the few music centers in the southern metropolis where people of all ages, from toddlers to senior citizens, are welcome to take a shot at learning the piano.  

Instead of refusing middle-aged and elderly and elderly customers like most piano teachers in the city, 35-year-old Tho meets the challenge head on, fully aware that jobs and family responsibilities often stand in the way of her students putting in the time they need to master the instrument.

In total, Tho teachers more than 200 students over the course of her six-day work week.

Flexible scheduling options are what separates Tho’s classes from the rest of the pack.  Her students are allowed to take as many sessions per months as they want and are welcome to attend whichever classes best fit their personal schedules.  

 “Students can take any class during the week without having to pay extra because I am aware that people have to go to school, work, travel for business, or get sick, and I don’t want to risk limiting students’ time,” Tho told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

Part of Tho’s strategy for spreading her love of music to the masses involves offering her classes for free to students over 65 years old, an ode to the admiration she feels for their eagerness to pick up new skills later in life.

“I let them take as many classes as they want because oftentimes it takes longer for older students to learn,” Tho said.

“Young people can finish a course in as little as four months while my older students might need a while year because of health issues and poor memory.”

Tho also said that she feared if students had to pay tuition without the being able to spend the time needed to improve, they might drop the course. 

For those who are in a serious time crunch, Tho also offers an online course which students can take from the comfort of home.

Every three to four months, the music center holds a recital to give all of its learners the opportunity to perform in front of others.

Special care for the elderly learners

When Tho first started teaching piano, she noticed that her students’ parents and grandparents were showing a great amount of interest in the instrument but refused to take a shot at learning how to play, mostly due to a fear of being embarrassed or not being able to find a teacher.

This inspired Tho to start welcoming adult and elderly students into her classes.

But simply letting them into her class isn’t enough.  In order to be an effective teacher to different age groups, Tho adjusts her teaching style depending on each learner’s age and abilities.

“A teacher needs to truly understand the difficulties of the elderly to be able to sympathize and teach them properly,” Tho said.

Tran Thi Tho talks speaks with elderly students at Upponia Music Center in Thu Duc District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: My Lang / Tuoi Tre

Many of the students in the class come from southern provinces outside Ho Chi Minh City, such as Tay Ninh, Binh Duong, and Dong Nai, as well as the city’s rural districts such as Nha Be and Hoc Mon.

When they arrive at Tho’s class, they are given individual instruction from either herself or her teaching assistant. 

Nguyen Thi Ngoc, a 66-year-old student from the south-central Binh Thuan Province, over 200 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, travels back and forth between her hometown and the city purely to take Tho’s classes.

Every two to three weeks, Ngoc travels to Ho Chi Minh City to spend two or three weeks taking lessons with Tho.

“Without this piano class, I wouldn’t know where to take piano lessons,” Ngoc said.

“Even though we are taking the class free of charge, we’re still given one-on-one attention,” she added.

Other students say the lessons are the highlight of their daily lives.

“Being able to come here and study makes me really happy. It feels like I’m younger,” said Tran Thi Thu, 72, from Binh Duong Province.

“Other music centers that teach piano charge really high fees but here, even though I’m taking the class free, the teacher calls and reminds me to come to class when I’m absent.”

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