Monday, February 25, 2013

Seeing Charles Ives in Every Student

Today I would like to talk about a revelation I had this week. It started out as a dilemma. 

One of the parents of a student I have in a group class, complained loudly because I did not start class right on the dot and she felt like her son was getting her money's worth.  She usually is the first one in the class, with her child in tow, even before the students from the previous class have left.  I feel her impatience.  It makes me tense and feel pressured.
But being the overly sensitive musician I am, I have also been looking inside myself to see what I can learn from this and how best to handle it.

This isn't about being right or wrong. Her complaints are valid. But it is, to me about teaching philosophy. As I pondered this conundrum over the weekend, I had an epiphany with one of my students!! 

Here is the story. 

By the way, I am also employed as a  church pianist.  The pastor from my church spoke about positive thinking. I was still cranky from Saturday, and I really didn't want to hear it.  I had this little child ego voice inside me, saying I'm right and she is ignorant.  But then the rational side of me says I can learn something from this, whether I like it or not.  I do get negative and turn a problem inside and out and won't let go. Like a big pimple getting ready to pop. (sorry, yucky analogy). 

I went to one of my student's houses. I've had him since he was 5. He's 12 now.  I love this kid. But he can be a little bit annoying at times.  I sat down and asked him to do his scales, trying to get him to focus. His parents are exasperated with his goofing around too. I sat and waited. He plunked a few notes, fiddled with pedals, plunked some more.  He laughed. I know him, he's not being disrespectful. He likes to experiment. And I had this breakthrough suddenly.  How can I turn this negative into a positive

I asked him instead of banging around randomly, to look out the window.  He saw a car wiz by, and a dog. I said make the piano sound like what you see. SAY something with your playing.  And then all of a sudden his plunking sounded musical. So I texted his mom, who was in the kitchen. I said "Can you pull up Charles Ives on your notepad? Your son is channeling him in the living room."

So she pulled up Charles Ives on YouTube.  We found his quarter tone piano pieces. The Allegro sounded almost exactly like what he was playing. We were dumbfounded. So was my student.  I told him that was his assignment this week.  An Ives' like composition.

I told his mom, "Out of great desperation can come the most creativity." But of course, one must be open minded and flexible for this to happen.

I imagine Charles Ives had some teachers who were frustrated with him and tried to make him more mainstream.  I do not want to be one of those teachers. 
The pressure to conform is great, but I am determined to be me!  My style is not for everyone. There are many amazing teachers.  But I think it is important to maintain your individuality, openly and honestly. Not to change into who you think your students or parents want you to be. But who you are and how that can best serve your students. 

I hope you all can find your voice in music.  If so, you will have a friend that you can turn to for the rest of your life. Whether you are a pianist, a guitarist, a singer, a horn player, or a drummer, your instrument will be something you turn to time and time again for comfort when the demands of life get you down.

After my rather intense weekend, I came home and sat at my piano. I felt the weight of the world lift from my shoulders with every note I played.  Music can inspire and delight. It can also heal.  Have a wonderful week!


Teacher Zita :)

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