How Red Giant's Chocolate Cookie Candles Created Warmth in an Online Teaching Studio

This summer, I made candles for my students. You may be wondering why a candle? And, How does it have anything to do with online teaching, or teaching at all?

Last winter, when I was getting up at 4:30 am to make coffee for 5:00 am lessons, it was dark, cold, and windy. I wanted to create a cosy teaching atmosphere, so I bought a chocolate scented candle from a local farm store. Over the winter I bought many. The room was brightened by the flickering flame, and the scent of chocolate mingled with the coffee. It was great.

I burned at least 7 or 8 of those candles, probably more.

Our winter was colder than normal, and dryer. In a weird sort of perfect storm, the candles produced a very fine greasy black ash which picked up a static charge in the cold, dry air of the room. The cold dry air was heated and pumped through the room with a very efficient heat pump unit. The walls and ceiling of the room attracted the fine ash differently depending what was behind the drywall. Studs not so much, walls more, and nails the most.

It was when I took a painting off the wall in the spring, when it was lighter outside, that I noticed a bright white square where the painting had been.

With a sinking feeling I looked around the room. I could see every stud, represented by white stripes, on the now grayish color of the walls, and every nail was like a dark grey thumbprint smudge, evenly spaced on the stripes. At least when I hang paintings I know where the studs are...

The corners accumulated more ash, as did the outlets, the cobwebs in the windows took on a dark hue, and now I understand why the white binders I keep my music in had a greyish tinge and smudges. At some point, I am going to have to repaint the room.

At a local farmers market this spring, I was talking to a young woman who was selling candles. I had seen her candles in various shops around the island. I described the room with the ash, and how I loved the scent of the candle, not realizing that every time I struck a match another fine layer of soot was being deposited over everything in the room. She knew exactly what I was talking about (and about those specific candles, as well). She explained that additives, like the colors that make the candle look like chocolate, and poorer quality wax, can cause the candle to spit out more black smoke.

As she told me this, an idea formed. As an online teacher, I am experimenting with recital ideas, but I won't be able to do one in my home as long as my students are in different countries.

When my students did recitals, one of the highlights at the end of the recital were the "Red Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies" and the "Green Elf Juice" which were based on children's method books I created in 2004. Red Giant was a Fee-Fie-Foe-Fum-Giant who moved away from grinding bones for bread, to baking cookies (and Giant Stew).

Did you know that your sense of smell can trigger memories? There are a few studies about having a scent in a room where something is taught, and if students take a test in a room where the scent is replicated, they remember more than if they take a test in a room with no scent.

Tying all this together, I asked the woman I met at the market to make Red Giant Chocolate Chip scented candles.

I sent the candles to my students in various parts of the world, though perhaps in the future, I will time the next round to coincide with the next recitals, which I am doing online.

Red Giant Chocolate Chip Cookie Candles burn beautifully, there is no black smoke which makes the piano room look like I have been smoking for years. I stopped eating sugar a year ago, so they are an indulgence for me, too. Cookies with out the calories.

My students loved them. Practice spaces around the world are now brining back memories of first recitals and treats. They were the ultimate surprise and delight gift, in lieu of recitals. And since I am having them locally made, I can commission them in the future.

Here's what I learned from all this:

  1. If you burn candles in your teaching space regularly, be wary of smoky ash. (It is going to cost me to repaint the walls.) It is worth it to have better quality candles.

  2. Creating a warm, comfortable, environment for when you teach is important. I really do love going to my teaching space, even in the cold early winter mornings.

  3. The candles were a gift I could send to my students to help them create their own practice spaces.

  4. While not as cheap as a letter, snail mail gifts for online students can go a long way to creating warmth between online teachers and their students.

What do you do to create warmth in your teaching studio? Post in the comments below.

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