When Fay Adams was in second grade, she told her classmates on Career Day that she wanted to be a piano teacher.
At the end of this semester, Adams will retire from UT, where she’s taught piano for forty-four years. But before she leaves, she will add a huge honor to her resume: Adams has been named music teacher of the year by the Music Teacher National Association, the preeminent professional society for music teachers.
She will receive the award at the group’s national conference in April in San Antonio.
It’s a crowning achievement in a career that’s been a labor of love.
“I just love my students. It doesn’t matter their level as long as they work hard,” said Adams, associate professor of piano and coordinator of keyboard studies in the School of Music. “I want them to love music and to want to share that love with their students.”
Adams began taking piano lessons at her mother’s urging. She grew up as an only child in Johnson City, Tennessee, on a street where she didn’t have many playmates. Piano became her solace and joy.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in music from the New England Conservatory of Music and a Master of Music in piano from UT.
“I’ve performed all my life, but that’s not what I love doing,” she said.
Her subject is piano pedagogy: she teaches others how to be piano teachers.
She’s watched the number of piano majors decline over the years—and speculates that students are looking for what they think will be a more lucrative field.
Students majoring in piano often aspire to teach, be accompanists, or serve as church musicians. Sometimes they do all of the above.
“You have to diversify to make a living at it,” she said. “When people are piano majors, they really love it. They’re doing it because they can’t live without it.”
Her students come to her after many years of playing piano.
“You don’t just wake up one morning and say, ‘I want to be a piano teacher.’”
AT UT and in private lessons, Adams uses both traditional piano methods and Suzuki methods. A registered Suzuki piano teacher trainer, she is the director of the Suzuki Piano School of Knoxville.
She teaches her aspiring piano teachers how to use both methods to instruct their students.
She also teaches her students about the business aspects of teaching, how to deal with problem students and parents, and how to make practice a habit.
Her teaching philosophy is simple: Be positive and encouraging. Expect the most from every students. Don’t be satisfied with anything but a real polished performance.
“While this award recognizes Fay’s outstanding teaching, it’s also about being a great person. Fay has both of those qualities. She is humble, encouraging, and a consummate professional,” said Jeff Pappas, director of the School of Music. “She talks a lot about loving her students. Let me assure you, they love her right back.”
When she retires, Adams plans to spend plenty of time with her grandsons, ages two and nine, and her granddaughters, ages four and seven. Her granddaughters are already learning to play piano under her tutelage.
While she’ll continue teaching private lessons, Adams said she’s also looking forward to having more time to enjoy her second passion: watching sports.
“I love football, soccer, basketball . . . Peyton Manning!” she said. “I think the discipline of sports—the repetition of skills and practicing—is a lot like teaching music.”
Adams’s resume includes a long list of honors.
In 1996, she was named Tennessee Teacher of the Year by the Tennessee Music Teachers Association, and she has received the Outstanding Teacher Award from the Tennessee Governor’s School. She has received the Outstanding Woman in the Arts Award from the YWCA, a Chancellor’s Citation for Service, the first annual Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award for the School of Music, and the UT Volunteer Spirit Award.
Adams has served as the director of MTNA’s Southern Division and was a member of the MTNA board of directors. She is a former member of the Suzuki Association board of directors and past president of the Tennessee Music Teachers Association.
Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, email@example.com)