Saturday, October 13, 2012

Music Lessons

Well, three weeks into being a horn teacher for middle school kids and I absolutely love what I get to do. I sit in a room for three class periods and play through exercises and little melodies with people who seems to want to learn.

My tiny lesson room.
I talk to them about the difference between tonguing staccato and legato, and I can see them processing and playing with where their tongues land—sometimes against the back of their lower teeth, and sometimes on the roof of their mouths. We work on expanding their ranges, and I watch them struggle to play the next lower note, but they keep trying. We work on playing with dynamics, and I listen to them trying to play as softly as possible and then building up to a loud horn call without sounding like goats.

It wasn't too long ago, seven or eight years, when my own teacher worked with me to improve my range, and I fought over bass clef notes I was sure I could never hit, and now I hum on them and play an octave below notes I once agonized over. These kids will do the same if they make even a little effort, and that's what I tell them. We'll work on the higher ones, too, but one thing at a time.

I want these kids to practice, and their band teacher assures me horns go home on weekends at least. That's satisfying, but what I really like hearing is the kids saying, "Thanks, this was fun!" on their way out the door. This can be fun for as long as you have breath, and that's another thing I tell them.

Teaching can be very stressful, something I've learned from my many teacher friends. After decades of it, even the most dedicated and patient souls can be worn down to the nub. I remember my own music teachers, some of whom were beasts when pushed and some who were consistently kind—Mr. Gordon in middle school was a delight and always encouraging; Mr. Kelly was a happy-go-lucky grandpa type; Mr. Hattendorf was serious and a little scary at times but generous with his compliments when they were deserved; Mr. Castronova would eat your face right off of your head if you crossed him on the wrong day, but as my first trumpet teacher, he was fun and helpful. As a kid, I never thought about how these teachers felt about their jobs and their students, but knowing what I know now, I wonder about how they dealt with it all outside of the bandroom.

But I don't have to worry about ever becoming cynical or angry or annoyed because I don't carry the load of teaching music day after day. I'm just that woman who shows up once a week for a few hours, has all of five students and then goes home with no responsibilities after hours. I have the best of all worlds—the ability to affect kids in a positive way without having to deal with the pressures of appeasing administration or parents or having to work off-hours on grading or planning or worrying.

For more than ten years, I have rehearsed in the middle school band room—summers for the Big Fat Summer Band and the rest of the year for the orchestra, although now we rehearse at the performance hall. This room is the domain of my dear friend, Joan, and she has decorated the walls with phrases that send important messages to her students, messages she wants them to remember and apply in all areas of her life.

This Maya Angelou quote is the phrase she has used to describe me, and I have always found comfort in looking up from my seat, no matter how nervous I was in playing or failing to play my part, and seeing this phrase that is now my personal motto:

And this is just one of the bulletin boards that shows these kids how music breathes life into an otherwise dull world. Yes, it's fun, and they get to be a part of it with some work and determination. That's a lesson well learned and something I tell the few kids who listen.


dive said...

Robyn, I wish I'd had a music teacher like you. You brought back the memory of big ol' blackboards with staves painted on them and orchestra and choir practice with the music teacher from Heck. The jazz posters would have been banned from my school (as were guitars and any other non-orchestral instruments). I got in such terrible trouble for playing in rock bands outside school hours. If only we had been as enlightened back then as you are now.

Muthu Pearl said...

nice quote of Maya Angelou in this article. Thanks for sharing this with us.