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Career Change: From Criminologist to Full-Time Piano Teacher

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Amy Neufeld Crop
Amy Neufeld of Niverville. Sara Beth Dacombe

The pandemic and economic hardships of the last couple of years have been challenging for everyone, leading many people to rethink key aspects of their lives—including how they earn a living. In this ongoing series, The Citizen is telling the stories of courageous locals who have rolled with punches, making significant career changes for the sake of themselves and their families. (Read the second article in this series.)

For new mom Amy Neufeld, opening a piano studio in Niverville in the middle of a pandemic was not part of the plan. The criminology major had been working at her dream job with Manitoba Justice, but with work-from-home arrangements becoming the new normal for a lot of parents, Neufeld decided that focusing more on her music would result in the work-life balance she was looking for.

Neufeld was a program coordinator for the Justice Department at the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF). She also has her level-10 training with the Manitoba Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM). She’s an RCM-certified Teacher and was teaching piano part-time on top of her full-time job with the MMF.

“No, there’s not a huge connection between criminology and piano,” says Neufeld, laughing.

Despite recently opening her business in Niverville, Neufeld doesn’t feel like she’s a new resident. After renting a place in town since 2016, Neufeld and her husband recently bought a house, which gave her the space she need to create an in-home piano studio.

It’s been one year since Neufeld quit her job and made the leap of faith to begin teaching piano full-time. After ten years teaching piano part-time in Winnipeg, she has kept serving a few of her old students while recruiting new clients in town.

Now her roster is full and she has her first-ever recital planned for June 25 at the Canadian Ambassador Reformed Church.

She started looking for local students in the summer of 2020. Having lived in Niverville for a few years, she had some idea of the culture committed to music that is prevalent in town, but was pleasantly surprised by how quickly she was booked up.

“It was a little slow at first because I launched in the summer of 2020, but I got a few, and then somehow I filled up for that September,” says Neufeld.

She also took on students through Music Academy Manitoba, which is located in Niverville and founded by Rob Bonefaas.

Neufeld teaches students of all ages and recognizes that the skills she teaches go far beyond playing notes correctly.

“Having a student think that something looks hard, or they can’t do it, or they’ll never be able to do it, and then I help them do it, they are so proud of themselves. That’s number one,” says Neufeld. “It’s definitely also a healing tool. You can lose yourself in music, in a good way, and it can take your mind off a lot of things. If you work at something and put your mind to getting better at it, this is very positive. If your brain says, ‘This is hard,’ but you overcome and find yourself learning, it connects better pathways in the brain.”

Neufeld feels that the performing arts can be intimidating, but ultimately it can lead a student to develop confidence and leadership.

“One of my goals for my teaching is I wanted to give my students lots of opportunities to perform,” she says. “So performance is a huge part of what I teach. The students, if they’re young people, they’re going to need to speak at school or do school presentations. And some day they will apply for a job and need to present their skills in a professional way. So getting up on stage is hard, but after they will be proud of what they did and they’ll have the knowledge to know they can do hard things.”

Aside from the upcoming year-end recital, she has organized group lessons which are essentially bimonthly performance nights where her students are invited to come together and perform their favourite songs for one another.

“We get together about five to 12 students at a time and just take turns performing,” she explains. “Not parents necessarily, just kids. And then we play games afterward.”

Providing casual opportunities to share music together along with the formal recital is a unique strategy Neufeld hopes will give everyone the opportunity to build positive life skills. The act of performing is fun and almost hides the fact that learning is going on.

“No matter what your hobby is or what you do, it’s important to show off what you’ve been working on,” says Neufeld. “Especially if it’s been something you’ve been working on independently, which has mostly been in solitude over the course of the pandemic. It’s like, ‘Let’s get together and celebrate. Show me your favourite song!’”

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