Thursday, January 22, 2015

That's Sir David to you

Hello, dear, patient readers. It's been far too long since my last blog post and I have so much to write about! According to my calculations I am almost precisely a third through my year in the Philippines. What have I been doing? Same as ever, teaching, playing, eating, traveling, expanding horizons, learning. And what am I going to write about in this long belated blog post? I'm not sure yet, so bear with me.

I don't know if I've mentioned this, the Philippines is beautiful

The last time I posted I was just starting with my own class, feeling my way along and secretly terrified. Now it's been a few months and I think I've got a pattern down, moving from guitar to piano to violin to recorder all in one class, but I no longer feel quite so much like a chicken with my head cut off. I've learned that with guitar players I'm mostly needed to show them one or two of the more difficult chords and a strumming pattern, and after that I can leave them to practice and teach each other, occasionally I have to whirl around to interrupt a selfie and set them back to work. My violin players are progressing quickly and I couldn't be more proud, as are my piano players, some of whom I have playing with both hands!
some of my students experiencing actual cold in a "winter room"

I've been noticing some strange changes in myself, chief among them, I am genuinely sad that I'll have to leave these kids soon. Who will teach them music? If no one picks up where I left off, how many of them will abandon their instrument forever? Tragic.

 Here's an episode in my life I found telling. At the christmas celebrations the kids were playing with water balloons, and I felt a twinge of panic. The sidewalk would freeze and someone would fall! They'll get frostbite! Of course my first reaction after that was the base stupidity of the thought, it was in the high 50s and sunny. And then I thought, since when do I worry about kids doing stupid things? Of course that may sound callous to some of you, but I've always been a 'let them burn their hand and then they won't touch the stove again' kind of person. Oh well, my friends say I have the teacher bug, and they may be right.

Today I bought two books of etudes, one for drums and one for piano. For those non-musicians out there, etudes are those boring little pieces that you hear parents and teachers yelling at students to practice and which all students fantasize about burning. But there's an amazing thing that happens when you start being a music teacher, you open your mouth and hear your old music teacher speaking through you. Is this anything like being a parent? So I realized that in my efforts to get better at piano and drums I was completely ignoring all the advice I give to my students: going too fast, biting off more than I could chew, sacrificing technique for fast rewards; and I tried to fix it. If this is what growing up is, it feels weird.

So I try my best to be a good teacher. I tell jokes, I threaten, I cajole, I try to remember what it was like to first start learning music. I have yet to really truly yell or lose my temper, partially cause I'm not sure if I know how, partially cause I don't think it would be effective with Filipino students. They tend to clam up when singled out and I expect it would be the same when yelled at. They have a curious method of defiance; they smile, they are polite, they say “Sir, we don't know how”, “Sir, later”, “Sir, please” and they try to charm their way out of whatever I'm trying to make them do. The response that I have found which works is to charm them right back, smile, joke, be firm, maybe give a little ground, but not too much. Here was a recent interaction regarding their test, a practical in which they had to play me a song, “Sir, can we play modern songs?” “no, it has to be out of the hymnal”, “but Sir pleease? Modern songs are easier”, “I know they are, that's why you have to play out the hymnal”, “pleeeease?” “You can play Christmas songs from the hymnal if you want” (disappointed) “yes Sir, thank you Sir”. Victory!!

So that's my experience of teaching. Sometimes I feel like an army of one trying to battle an unstoppable horde of little savages. Sometimes I feel like I've woken up with a whole pile of nieces and nephews filling me with pride and worry. One time I saw a group of my students on the street after school; quick as I could I crossed the street and caught a cab out of there and pretended not to hear when they called me. One time I heard some students singing "Go Tell it On the Mountain" and accompanying themselves on guitar and I was on cloud 9. Sometimes I want to lock my door and turn out the lights in my office and catch a quick nap during lunchtime, but I never do, and my room fills up with students of all ages wanting to practice, hang-out, get extra lessons or chat about America. Sometimes I can't wait for the school year to be over, but I know I'm going to miss these little buggers.

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