Meet Marie-Helène Piotet. She is the director of the Nyon Conservatory. in this candid interview she talks music, management and passion!
The Ouest Vaudois Conservatory is a very present institution in our lives as locals. Whether its for the musical events it provides, or for the musical skills it teaches us and our children. It is spread out over 7 sites (Nyon, Rolle, Gland, Bussigny, Aubonne, Morges, St Sulpice), and Living in Nyon has a long-standing partnership with the institution.
I had the opportunity to interview the Director of the Conservatoire de l’Ouest Vaudois (COV), Marie-Helène Piotet, to learn more about her personally as well as gather some behind-the-scenes insight so we can get to know them better. We met in the rain on the newly re-opened terrace of Ex-Machina for a very interesting discussion under the shelter of the parasols!
Living in Nyon (LIN): Thank you Marie-Helène for your time. You’ve been the director of the COV since 2016 and were active there for many years prior, starting out as a piano teacher. Could you tell us some more about yourself and your musical background?
Marie-Helène Piotet (MHP): It’s a pleasure to be here. I had parents who were themselves passionate about music, my father was a physician and worked at the Swiss embassy in the United States and my mother was a foreign language teacher. She became a piano teacher later on. They were both passionate about music and they always immersed me in the world of music, and specifically the piano.
When we came back from living in the States, I took up piano lessons at the Lausanne Conservatory, followed by studies in Lausanne and at the Conservatory of Fribourg.
LIN: You then started teaching piano at the Morges Conservatory. How did you go from that first role as a piano teacher to becoming the director of the COV later on?
MHP: Indeed, I started as a teacher at a young age. During that period I also got married and had 3 children. My career took a back seat for a few years. When they were older I became more professionally active again and took on different responsibilities in the conservatory.
I was working in the administrative department in the Nyon Centre, I took on the responsibility of the piano and “keys” department management and then moved into the artistic department where we managed the events and the sets of the COV. All of this gave me a good overview of the inner workings and it allowed me to become the director as a result.
LIN: That’s a lot of hats you wore during your years at the COV and required flexibility!
MHP: Yes and no. It’s flexible but stable at the same time. Maybe that’s a Swiss trait!
It’s really the combination of those two elements that gave me the capacity and the confidence to then manage it. I did also keep studying and completed my knowledge with a certification in Human Resources as well as one in Cultural Management that looks at the logistics and financial side of managing events in the cultural sector.
As a curious person, I like to keep learning and adding to my knowledge.
LIN: The capacity to learn is a hot topic at the moment, especially with so much continuous change going on. Could you tell me a little more about how under your direction, the COV has adapted to its times?
MHP: We have implemented a lot of new things and we make an effort to stay tuned into what people want at the moment. For example one of the new courses offered is the “Parcours decouverte”. It allows students to try five or six different instruments during the school year. This gives them the opportunity to test them out and know which one suits them best. It’s normal to not know what instrument suits your child best and these classes allow your children to find that match much quicker.
There is also a “virtual open day” this year that allows people to set meetings and come and discover the conservatory and its teachers. Whereas in past years it was more of a group event, it was a pleasant discovery for all involved to have very personalised discussions with the teachers regarding the children’s needs with this format. People can find information on what is interesting and simply sign up for meetings.
We even launched computerised music composition courses!
LIN: So lots of relevant and innovative options for students interested in music whether more classical or more modern approaches. What would you say is your “mark” on the COV?
MHP: I would say it’s the mission to allow people to experience music in a playful way and with structure at the same time. What I mean by that music is often a passion and a pleasure but if we really want to develop it, we need to practice and keep learning. At the Conservatory, we do this by allowing students to work together in groups on collective projects. This allows them not only to fine-tune their own style but to be aware of others and learn to discover and combine styles.
I still have people coming up to me as adults that say they remember specific projects I had them work on when they were children! They say they will keep going to a certain type of concert due to those experiences and for me, that really is the best I can ask for.
And I also really want the COV to “live” the feeling that music is for everybody. We are all different, people learn at different speeds and music is and should be accessible to everybody.
LIN: That brings me to another point, there are scholarships available that provides less fortunate people access to musical studies as well. Could you give a little more information about that?
MHP: Yes, the communes support these families that would like to provide a musical education to their children but cannot always afford the tuition fees. This can easily affect lower-income as much as mid-income families as we live in an expensive country. Mid-income families often are not applicable to government support as they do not fit the criteria, nevertheless, expenses do not always allow them to cover the tuition fees. In these cases, the government can provide support.
LIN: international community question
MHP: We have a lot of students who come to us and have only just moved to Switzerland with their studies. According to where they were before, their levels can vary a lot. We strive to live up to the expectations of both the children and the parents and do our best to satisfy everybody’s needs.
Most of our teachers speak English and are able to communicate with clients that may not speak French or simply prefer to communicate in English. Collaboration with international sites like Living in Nyon is important to me as both the local and the international community together form our clients.
You can read our previous article on the Nyon Conservatory here. Thank you so much Marie Helène! It’s been very interesting to learn more about you and the COV. We look forward to the next concerts too!