... a teacher helps students develop a love affair with music
It is a joy to work with adults with whom we have so much in common. We share the same problems, experience the same happiness, take the same pride in our families, suffer the same frustrations. We are told to "do something about nagging backache," "take something for tired blood." But in spite of those aching muscles, there is within us a nostalgic wish to perform, to show off a little for our loved ones. We wish to create, acquire a new skill or catch again a place in the sun that we had put aside to assure a successful launching of our family. These mature people have chosen to study music. What a masterful decision!
I,as an adult and a teacher, will do everything in my power to prove that music is a most rewarding vehicle for growth. I admire them for their wise choice for they are mirroring my own convictions. I welcome them with sincere warmth and friendship and personal interest.
We ascertain each other's musical aspirations. We are now friends melded together by our similar goals.
My students eagerly let me know the fields in which they excel, whether one is a teacher, a clergyman, a supercook and homemaker, happy grandmother, a photographer, an electrician, a nurse, or an Irish letter carrier named Patrick, whose present ambition is to play "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."
How can a teacher or student ever become bored when he can partake of such a varied diet of personalities? This characteristic is the very spice upon which such an endeavor thrives. The most successful class will be peopled by adults with diverse interests from many ethnic and cultural backgrounds. There will always be an element of excitement, anticipation, and surprise. Just think of the many possible interpretations of one tired old song - pop, folk, or classic - you can expect to hear!
It is neither wise nor necessary to bring together a stereotype group with a strong pablum affinity. It leads only to sterile accomplishments and ultimate boredom.
I never hesitate to accept any help offered by a student that is even remotely useful to me or the class. The photographer will gladly take pictures of his class; the engineer will be most happy to make copies of his "special" circle of keys diagram; the electrician will adjust the lighting; "Sure, I'll bring my tape recorder," "Those coat hangers turn into fabulous music racks. How did you make them?" "Do you want me to carry the equipment?" "Teacher, it isn't the organ - you forgot to plug it in!" This service to the group helps to put him at his ease and gives him a strong sense of belonging.
Now that we are such old friends, I assume my role as teacher, leader, guide, and mother-father confessor. I outline my program for the semester to my class based on what I believe to be their overall capabilities. I try to give them an exciting picture of my musical intentions and I reach for the Moon!
In a group of adults of such varied capacities, I have chosen a middle-ground subject from which to grow. We explore harmony and theory from the elementary level to an advanced grade. It is an intellectual approach.
Those who can play their instrument frequently know little of the language of music. Beginners are always intrigued. In spite of a limited ability, they can become a part of music activity and aspire to play not as a Van Cliburn but like their teacher. They are absolutely convinced that this goal can be obtained. They believe and identify with their teacher.
I encourage all questions and answer those I can. If I haven't a solution, I will find it and make sure my student understands. There is another little notch that I can add to my knowledge.
When a student makes a musical discovery, the class shares his wonderful revelation. He is invariably applauded by his fellow students. He is a V.I.P. This type of encounter breaks through the barrier and brings him "out". There is confidence in a class of such caliber. It is not a question of whether he can learn but when he will be able to perform. We are a team and there is a sense of accomplishment.
My group will be the recipients of any unusual or interesting "log in the attic" item pertaining to music that may have come into my possession. I will study any fact, investigate any short cut, study the worth of a gimmick, whatever may prove useful to my students.
I try to turn a student's confusion into an asset with "Delighted you asked me about that". By giving his problem my full attention we find the road to clarity. The class comes along for the ride. More than likely it was their puzzle, too.
Welcome the unexpected problem; this is the very food that vitalizes the class.
With a keen eye, I watch for any slight loss of attention of a student and go after my lost sheep with my class helping me all the way to bring him back into the fold. My classes encourage each other to a remarkable degree.
I also give them questionnaires to find out how to improve the quality of my teaching and incidentally to keep tuned in to my student's wave-length.
Be ready to do an about face when necessary while keeping a light but firm rein on the proceedings. Don't spoil a great adventure by travelling the Freeway exclusively. Take a side street. Use an occasional detour. A dead end street can be viewed from both directions. Let the group fire your imagination and watch their potential show through. Don't insist on perfection from these complex individuals. Your job is to develop in them such a love affair with music that they may never be lonely again. Teach them the art of being perennial amateurs, forever thrilled by the glow of each new discovery.
It is only a question of understanding their fears and helping them to renew their faith in their own value as an important worthwhile person.
And do adults learn this way? I never cease to be amazed by their accomplishments. Brand new students will play for their classmates and soon will perform at the school's closing exercise while hundreds of guests listen attentively. Imagine!
These students are actively participating in the mainstream of life. There is little risk of their sitting on the sidelines and becoming bored. They feel alive. There is a mutual feeling of fellowship between us.
Is this type of work gratifying to the teacher? One of my classes wrote me this verse:
To be a "sharp" teacher
Who struck the right "note" with us
Without a "quaver" hemi, demi, or semi,
We extend our "augmented" thanks
That will never be "diminished".
What teacher could ask for more?
April 7, 2000