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My bittersweet musical memoirs

Posted by brae on Sunday, May 22, 2016

Well, teaching music isn't always what it's cracked up to be, and sometimes it can be as challenging as other jobs, like firefighting or being a prison guard. I've decided to put some of my experiences to paper, and I now share them with you. I hope you find some amusement in reading them, and if you do, then by all means share them! Here is one chapter, and then I post the links at the bottom to the rest of the memoirs. Get a cup of coffee and gather up you cat and do some relaxing reading, because, you deserve it!

 

Practice Makes Perilous (from "See You next Week - Memoirs Of A Music Teacher")

 
It seems that most folks learning a new hobby find numerous ways to make the process more difficult.
 
I was no different. Not long after I had mastered the “baby steps” of the banjo, I made the dubious decision to tackle harpsichord music from 17th century composer J.S. Bach. I’ve never been able to explain exactly why, but for some reason the labyrinthine complexity of Bach’s melodies fascinated me.
 
So of course I had to learn them on the banjo.
Now this was no small feat. First of all the range of the harpsichord was four times that of the banjo, and, there were completely separate parts for each hand.
 
But I stubbornly invented fingerings measure by measure, even though many parts were physically impossible.
Teeth clenched, sweat beaded on my brow, I would hurl myself against the music over and over again. One particular phrase giving me grief was a five fret stretch somewhere around the 11th fret, during one of Bach’s many key changes.
 
Eventually I realized there was no humane way to play this section. But instead of abandoning ship and finding another project like any reasonable person would have done, I battled onward.
Sitting on my favorite practice seat, a mossy log, I set my jaw and began again. Over and over I attempted the part, never quite getting it right. I could feel my frustration  building like a volcano, and without knowing it I began to grind my teeth.
 
Somewhere into my 100th repetition I was startled by a loud snap. Then I felt it: a jagged chip of tooth in my mouth. I had been concentrating so hard that my teeth grinding had broken off a piece of my front tooth!
 
Needless to say I was shocked and dismayed. I subsequently learned to relax more during my practicing to avoid injury, but the chipped tooth was a noticeable feature that I was to carry for some while (until later in life I had access to modern dental technology.)
 
Many years later as a music teacher I would encounter all manner of practice habits, ranging from neurotic adults to challenging toddlers.
 
One such memorable example was a grubby little seven year old named Nigel.
 
He sported thick glasses that made his eyes appear eyes huge, and two prominent front teeth gave him a rabbit-like appearance.
“He’s got issues..” His mom confided during our first music lesson.
 
“The doctor says he has ADD and ADHD, and we believe he’s also obsessive compulsive. We’re hoping music lessons will improve his focus.”
 
I assured her that music was indeed beneficial for these problems, and that I was up to the challenge. Little did I know what lay in store for me.
Next week I showed up brimming with confidence, having prepared a lesson plan I was sure would contain the little bugger. The clock struck 11am, my office door flew open and in charged Nigel. I was turning in my chair to greet him when he collided into me, took a step back, and then punched me in the neck.
Hard.
 
I coughed as my eyes filled with water, but restrained myself from throttling him.
 
“Hey little buddy!” I rasped, “ready to play some music?!”
But Nigel already forgotten I existed. He was examining my office door intently.
 
“What is it Nigel? What do you see?” I asked enthusiastically.
 
Nigel said nothing. Then suddenly his mouth opened and a long red tongue reached out. I stared transfixed as he begin to carefully lick the door knob, his eyes closed in rapture.
 
“Nigel! Nigel! Stop that please, we don’t lick door knobs’” I begged. Nigel looked at me startled, like a wild animal looking up from its watering hole.
 
“It’s OK little buddy, here, have a seat in the fun spinny chair!” I said, feeling suddenly like the bad guy.
Nigel gave one last slobbery lick of the door knob and climbed reluctantly into the chair.
 
“OK, lets watch some fun movies!” I said, turning back to my computer and pulling up a YouTube video of children’s songs. This was my first salvo, designed to hit him where he was most vulnerable: cartoons.
 
I clicked play on an episode of Sponge Bob and swung back around.
Nigel was a complete blur. He has began spinning like a top in the swivel chair. Crap, I thought. I hadn’t considered the implications of combining an ADD kid with a swivel chair.
 
I stared for a minute at the spectacle. He had achieved a remarkable speed, and flecks of saliva were beginning to fly around the room. Then with a sickening crack his glasses sailed into the wall, followed by a shoe.
 
“Jesus Nigel!” I blurted, breaking my rule of never cursing around students. “Stop that right now!”
 
The chair ground to a stop and Nigel sat motionless, mouth open, hair in a wild tangle. He had the look of crack head who just gotten high.
Then he began to turn green. “Dude…!” I groaned. “Are you gonna barf? We better go to the bathroom…”
 
He nodded, clamping his hand over his mouth. I dragged him down the hall and shoved him into the bathroom. “Do your business and tell me when you’re done, OK?”
 
He nodded and I shut the door. Several minutes passed and no sounds erupted, so I knocked. “Everything Ok?”

 
“Mmmm hmmmm” he mumbled back.
 
“OK, I’m coming in…”
 
I opened the door slowly and peered in. Nigel was oblivious to me, tenderly licking the light switch.
 
“Really, Nigel?!?” I sighed. He looked up at me and wrinkled his nose.
 
“I’m hungry!” He said.
 
When his mom finally arrived it felt like the marines were rolling in to rescue me from an internment camp. I sighed with relief and fell into my chair.
“How did it go?” His mom asked.
 
 
“Oh, just great!” I lied. “He’s a great kid, and we had some great progress!”
 
Progress meaning I was still alive, of course.

 

Read more at my Blog page See You next Week - Memoirs Of A Music Teacher

Also please visit (and "like" and subscribe" my pages below, thank you!

JamAlong Music on Facebook

JamAlong Music on YouTube 

 



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