June 26th, 2011 :: Recipes for Technique
By now you may be thinking that I will go to any lengths to avoid teaching scales. You might be forgiven for thinking this, as you have endured at least two years of blog posts describing pre-scale exercises. Heaven help us all.
I actually like teaching scales, I’m just against the notion of doing so before students are good and ready. I often have beginning transfer students who are stumbling through level one or two in a method book, but by golly, they have been taught to play white key scales. Hands together. Good grief.
I always wonder what the hurry towards playing scales is. After all, I----still!!---practice scales, which means that if students begin scales too soon, they are stuck with them forever. It is hard to backtrack and pick up basics that might need attention after students have begun scales. Trust me, I’ve tried, but no one likes the feeling that they are moving backward, and even a small child senses that something is wrong if they are introduced to 5-Finger Positions AFTER playing (however badly) scales. Taking a year or two in the beginning to ensure that students are comfortable with all major and minor 5-Finger Positions and simple chord progressions and the combination of the two seems to me a smart idea. There is plenty of time later for scales of all shapes and colors.
If you postpone scales a bit, they become a celebration of sorts. Indeed the day will come when I have exhausted my pre-scale exercises and it is time to face the music. After working through thumb crossings, spider fingers and mastering our sharp and flat codes (“That ‘Monkey Slobber’ thing”) we begin scales. Slowly.
Much to my students’ chagrin, I have as many strategies for practicing scales as I do 5-Finger Positions. No one can complain of boredom around here. We begin with the white key set that shares the same fingering: C Major, G Major, D Major, A Major and E Major. I teach one octave hands alone, students go home thinking that this advancement to scales is tangible proof that they have joined the big leagues. Which, I assure them, they have.
We start with no specific instructions other than to play hands alone up and down: Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do Ti La Sol Fa Mi Re Do. Students are generally so excited about this whole thing that I don’t have to tell them how many times to practice each scale, because I’m pretty convinced they play them ad nauseam at home. This enthusiasm will not last, but I enjoy it while I’ve got it.
“Can I do both hands?” the kids inevitably beg me. “Nope,” I tell them, knowing that this is the oldest reverse psychology trick in the book. I actually would like them to refrain from both hands for some weeks, but the kids never do. Those damn hands together one octave scales are way too tempting.
They are like candy, only good for you.
June 12th, 2011 :: Reading Days
I have recently gotten in the habit of carrying a small book of poetry with me when I travel. Poems are perfect for those long lines at the airport, for bus rides or while waiting for your morning latte. It's wonderful then to look back and associate a certain volume of poetry or a particular poet with that holiday. This week we were in San Francisco, arriving home late last night. Accompanying me throughout my days of wandering the streets, climbing the hills, watching the people, and sitting on park benches was Mary Oliver's Dream Work. From it comes this poem.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations--
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.
June 5th, 2011 :: Ordinary Days
There is a secret steakhouse in Albuquerque. Known only by word of mouth, you enter Vernon’s
through an unmarked door in the back of a shopping center. Knocking, you are greeted by a voice asking for your password and reservation. You are then interrogated as to your intentions before you are allowed to enter. It is all very gangster, and very mysterious.
During the last week of the semester, in an attempt to bribe myself into finishing up a paper I was not inspired to write, I took myself up to the local bakery/diner, Flying Star
, a few blocks from my house. My intention was that there I could write without being distracted by the cats, or the dishes in the sink, or the closet that suddenly---after months and months of being ignored---couldn’t go another minute without being organized.
Next to the doors at Flying Star are bulletin boards cluttered with notices about upcoming events. Eager to delay getting down to business, I stopped and perused the signs. The first one that caught my eyes was a notice for a Secret Garden Tour. There was nothing about this not to like. After all, two of my favorite words are “secret” and “garden” (Matt would tell you that if they had managed to also slip in the words “cottage” and “cats” I would be completely happy.). I noted the date (the weekend after my semester ended) and immediately called my garden partner in crime, Anne, to let her know of this event. Then having completely exhausted my attempts at procrastination, I reluctantly took myself into the bakery to do my work.
A week went by. I finished up four papers and turned them in, taught a week of make-up lessons, attended a student’s senior recital and graduation party, and sorted through a stack of files, cleaned off my desk, and scrubbed out the litter box. Remembering the upcoming garden tour and realizing I had no information besides the date, I walked up to Flying Star to read the sign again.
It was gone.
So back home I went to search online. (Matt laughed when I told him of this chain of events. “Why, Amy, why would you not look on-line first? Why would you walk six blocks to look at a sign?” Sadly, I never--ever--think to use technology first. It is still a last resort, which explains why I flail around helplessly so much of the time.) After a quick Google search, I find the tour, and locate a nearby nursery where I can secure tickets for Anne and me. At the nursery, I ask about tickets and was told I could only use cash. I didn’t have cash on me so I ask if tickets would be available at the door. The cashier didn’t know. Nor did he know who I could call to find out. Back to square one.
I return to the Internet and while there is still no additional information given on the website, I do locate the organization sponsoring the tour and call. “I’m interested in the secret garden tour,” I say to the woman who answers the phone.
“Oh yes,” she responds brightly.
“Can I buy tickets at the door?” I ask her.
“Of course you can,” she replies.
“Great! Now, where would that be?”
“I can’t tell you where the tour is located until you buy a ticket,” she says.
“But you just said I could buy a ticket at the door.”
“That’s right,” she says, cheerfully.
“But . . . where’s the door?” I am nothing if not persistent.
“I can’t tell you until you buy a ticket.” Unfortunately, she is consistent in her answers.
We are getting nowhere. I try starting over.
“So, if you were me, and wanted to go on this lovely secret garden tour, what would you do?”
“If I were you, I would drive down Los Arboles east of 12th street at nine o’clock Saturday morning and follow the crowds.”
Seriously? This is unbelievable. This is truly a secret garden tour. Or, more likely, this is representative of how things work in Albuquerque.
Reporting this to Matt later, he suggests that we try knocking on the door of Vernon’s Steakhouse to see if they know anything. Anne’s husband Dan tells me that he would like to go too, but he has a tennis tournament, only he doesn’t yet know where, because it is a secret. He is just going to drive around until someone tells him he is in the right place.
Anne and I do, indeed, find the tour. After all that, it is rather underwhelming.
All photos are of my garden, which is not a secret garden at all.