Aron Kontorovich, Madison’s music wizard, is the piano teacher here at Madison. He believes in creating a strong foundation in musical skills for students to apply when mastering pieces. By working on skills ranging from reading sheet music to improving technique, students can grasp various musical concepts.
In an interview conducted by the Madison Highway, Mr. Kontorovich opened up about his passions, ambitions, and career. He also revealed his teaching techniques and his experiences with students.
“What inspired you to become a music teacher?”
I was pre-med in college. I started taking a lot of sciences and doing all these kinds of things. I grew up playing piano, taking lessons since I was a kid. So I always knew it was medicine or music; those were the two things that I belonged to doing.
But when I was in college and I got to the higher level sciences, I started to realize, I don't even care about this—maybe this is not the best path. If I am not interested in this content anymore, it's not really the way to go.
What really got me in this direction was that while I was pre med, I started teaching piano lessons at a neighborhood music school. I started teaching and then I realized, “oh, I’m pretty good at this; my students are getting pretty good results”.
Right around that time I realized I'm probably not going to pursue medicine anymore. Because I had already been teaching and already had my toes in a little bit, it helped me be sure that “ok, this is what i need to be doing”. And so that was the transition into being a musician full time and then I re-auditioned cause I wasn’t sure I wanted to teach necessarily. But then, continuing to teach helped me to realize, “oh yeah, this is what I need to do.” So that’s kinda how I got to music.
Because I had already been teaching lessons, teaching kinda just felt natural.”
“What was the first song that got you to play the piano?”
I grew up listening to Billy Joel and Elton John, I grew up on oldies, you know. For me, it was like we got to hear “real musicians”. That’s all I heard until I got to elementary school. I didn't know what rap was until I got to elementary school. I heard it and I was like, “what was that?”.
To give perspective, that's kinda like where my inspiration comes from. I would say that probably Piano Man and Captain Jack or some of the Billy Joel songs were some of the ones that I eventually wanted to learn to play.
“What kind of music did you play with your piano teacher?”
I had a Russian teacher. With her, it was all classical. My earliest lessons were all classical.
“You said you listened to a lot of Billy Joel and Elton John. What was the one song that sparked your interest in music?”
I hate to say it but probably Piano Man. It’s like the worst answer ever but that’s probably the truth cause I wanted to be the Piano Man, you know. That’s how my thinking was at the time.
In Mr. Kontorovich’s class, Billy Joel is an artist who frequently comes up, and whose music is used to teach technique and musical concepts.
Mr. Kontorovich is not only a music teacher here at Madison; he also runs a business called “Lessons with Aron” in which he gives his students piano lessons.
“Can you tell us about your business, Lessons With Aron, and how that correlates with your school-teaching career?
I guess that’s an extension of the teaching I had already been doing before I became a music teacher in a school. It came to be as I was teaching at a music school on Staten Island where I was the only teacher who knew how to read music. I was doing well there and had a lot of students; but eventually was asked to stop teaching music theory and sheet music—rather simply how to play songs. When that conversation happened, I gave my two weeks.
I left the school, and I took all of my students with me. I started travel teaching, and that’s how the private business began. And that’s what I did for years, all the way until the pandemic. At the time, I realized that I was the only person on Staten Island teaching piano lessons who is actually a pianist and actually a real musician. There were a lot of people offering piano lessons, but not everybody is qualified to be doing that. Part of the reason that Lessons With Aron exists, and where the name comes from, is that what I’m doing—a lot of people are not doing. I spend the hours and time becoming a better teacher, researching different methods, staying up to date with all of the latest research; that’s what allows me to bring the most into my lessons.
“In your business, what was a time when you were extremely impressed by your methods or students?”
There were two things that started to happen. The first thing is that I noticed that students had developed way better technique than me, way early on.
My students had a much stronger foundation off the bat than I ever had. I mean, part of that is because of the unideal teaching I had as a kid; it’s part of what made me the teacher that I am now, which is this person who is obsessed with teaching and trying to be better because I know that I had a teacher who didn’t take those kinds of initiatives to be the better teacher that she could be.
The other thing that I realized was that my approach was leading to students having really good ears…
I was finding [that the students] were not only memorizing their pieces but, we would do ear training drills and they were just soaking it up. I didn’t learn that stuff until college.
So the fact that I could have seven and eight year olds hearing the same things that I was just learning to hear at the time, was to me like “oh, I gotta be doing something right. Cause they’re doing things that’s way more advanced than they should even be able to do”...
That became this moment [of realization] that something is good here, there’s something happening here that’s good. The results are the things that speak.
Mr. Kontorovich’s passion for music is significant to him both in his career and personal life.
“Let’s say you’re going through a tough time, how does music help you?”
For me, as a child, music was a bit of an escape. Music was a place I found peace in.
I was a very anxious child and i didnt have a lot of peace… as a child I was diagnosed with tourettes. I had visual tics and twitches. The only time I wasn't doing any of these tics or twitches was during my [piano] lessons…
Growing up and even now, it’s (music) a part of my identity… Not everybody takes music as a piece of who they are; for me it’s a very vital, large piece. The way I identify to the world is as a musician.