August 29th, 2010 :: Student Days
As I write this, I am standing on a precipice, and on the other side is the next semester. There is something about standing on the edge of a semester that gives me pause. Here is another chance not to screw up. Here is a whole slate of weeks in which to teach perfect lessons. Here are blank days on which I might still get things right. It's a hopeful and melancholy feeling all at once. I always feel a sense of the new beginnings in the fall more than at any other time. January resolutions leave me cold; I can't muster the strength after the holidays to make changes. But these days I'm ripe for all things new: a fresh box of colored pencils for teaching, blank sketchbooks to house my random pedagogical and personal thoughts, a new set of binders to keep me organized. I have a list of new ideas for group lessons, CDs made of ear tunes for students to pick out and harmonize, a bowl filled with composition titles to stimulate some fresh creative work at the piano.
So with all of these good reasons to be giddy with my lot in life these days, why the hesitation or the sensitivity to this next turning point? I don't know, although I suspect this arises simply as a result of stepping outside my normal routines for a few weeks. At the moment it is easier to see the seams of one's life, the bridges between one season and the next, from one page to another. Steeped in our daily routines, we lose sight of these transitions, or are so hinged to our patterns that we don't take notice of the changes of direction, slight shifts, and re-navigations that happen all the time. This reorganization of habits is magnified after time away from regular work routines. We come back to patterns that can either be taken up again or not. I can return to my same old routines, schedules, habits and ruts, or I can use this forced energy shift that comes with time away to rethink some of these things.
This year all of these normal shifts are especially poignant. What did you do on your summer vacation? I could write the essay right now. This year on my summer vacation I got hit by a car....The hard-won MRI late in the summer showed a "crushed" tibia, but every ligament intact, much to everyone's surprise. The fractured bone will heal in time---9 more weeks, my surgeon tells me. But at this point the immobilization and surgery that I had been threatened with earlier won't happen. I limp along, slowly. Certainly, there have been forced changes in the last few months, some welcomed, some not. As I heal I have a choice: I can hang onto some of these new patterns, or I can return to my old stubborn ways. It's something to ponder for sure.
Standing at the corner between holidays and work days, summer and fall, health and injury, I find myself once again marking time. The next few months are full of lessons, rehearsals, dinners with friends, dozens of deadlines, performances, a hundred garden chores, countless seasonal rituals and pleasures. I am back in school this week, taking 6 hours of graduate credit. "What are you taking?" my old college roommate Julianne asked me last week. "Anything you're excited about?" "I'm taking two classes---Motivational Theories and Statistics. Want to guess which one I am excited about?" "OK. Got it," she laughed, knowing instantly which one I'm dreading.
Although I am less apprehensive about returning to classes this year after a full 12 hours behind me, still underneath my confidence must have been some level of dread. The night before classes began I had a dream. In it I was working in a study lounge somewhere, and left my Educational Psychology textbook behind (This book doesn't exist, but sounds like it would be important, doesn't it?). When I returned to fetch it, I discovered that someone had taken it and sold it to buy a kitten. "You know kittens are usually free, don't you?" Matt asks me when I tell him about my dream. I shouldn't analyze this too much, because if I do I might start to get a sense of how little I value this degree and knowledge.
Wednesday night, after my first day of class this semester, Lora and I went out for dinner and drinks, resuming our weekly girls' night out and our ritual of rehashing all the strange things I witness in class. "I'm Kathryn, by the way," one girl says to me as she sits down next to me in Statistics. I'm startled. Shouldn't "by the way" be preceded by an actual conversation? It is as if she was inserting her introduction into our non-existent dialogue. "I'm in the Ph.D," she continues smugly. Welcome to graduate school snobbery, I think to myself, where we organize ourselves in the hierarchy of our degree programs. "I'm Amy," I say, refusing to play her labeling games. I'm not going to be so quickly boxed in. I'm discovering it is liberating to be outside my normal field and subject, because I feel no competition with anyone. In music that indeed might be another matter entirely, but in educational psychology, I have no claim or identity.
As ambivalent as I may be, it feels important to acknowledge the significance of this new beginning again. Mark the time, Max Coots writes. Mark the time... For all of these are holy things, we will not, cannot find again.....
August 22nd, 2010 :: Ordinary Days
Really, by most standards this is the anti-blog.
Although some of you faithful readers have figured out how to penetrate the system and send me messages (Thank you!), I do recognize that this site lacks, shall we say, some of the more reader-friendly devices that other more sleek blogs possess. Mostly, I am Ok with that, being rather old-fashioned and not sleek myself. It's not just my blog that is less than trendy, I'm not terribly plugged-in any place in my life. My cell phone has never been off "silent" mode, and I treat my home answering machine like a butler who screens my calls, much to the disgust of all my friends and family. Matt regularly accuses me of being the worst electronic flirt in the world. "It is not fun to flirt with you through emails or text messages if you are going to get them a week later," he complains. Indeed, pony express is more my speed.
Recently, my dear husband joined Facebook. He had been threatening to do so for some time, feeling like he needed this tool to help with some of the publicity for his choirs. "I have to be honest about something," he says to me one morning over coffee. "I've gone over to the dark side."
I'm still having none of it. I don't need old high school boyfriends hunting me down reminding me of my past errors in judgement. I don't need one more thing to keep track of every day. I realize that the day may come very soon where this attitude will come back to bite me in the ass, but for now I am standing firm.
However, there is a new feature on this site that I wanted to alert you to. Some time ago a reader in Canada wrote to ask if there couldn't be a way to be contacted through an RSS feed about new posts. I had no idea what she was talking about, being so technologically slow myself. RSS feed? Does this stand for Random Stories Sometimes? It's only taken me about a year to look into this, and just this week my website designer set up this feature.
It works like this:
Click on the "Subscribe" link on the upper right hand corner of this page. This will take you to a scroll page of posts, which allows you to easily forward particularly witty and interesting links to other people, and to easily bookmark the page. Hopefully this will make it that much easier to have ten thousand stars
a regular part of your on-line reading.
You will not get emails alerting you to new posts, unfortunately, that feature was pricey and complicated enough that I will have to wait until my ship comes in. ("Your ship is coming, I know it," Matt occasionally says to me. I think he might be somewhat invested in this possibility and isn't able to give me the most neutral and unbiased assessment of my future.)
So until then, micro-step by micro-step, I'll stumble into the 21st century.
August 15th, 2010 :: Reading Days
Since a large percentage of control over fate doesn't exist, how to go forward?
Cultivate interior life as though it were a garden sanctuary.
Give away what you can.
Squander your love.
- from Every Day in Tuscany by Francis Mayes
August 8th, 2010 :: Ordinary Days
There is nothing like turning another year older to give one a new perspective on life. Especially when coupled with 5 weeks of limping around like a truly older person. And a comment like this from my new friend the orthopedic surgeon, while looking at X-rays of my knees: "Wow. We don't usually see arthritis like this in a 38-year old."
Reading an old teaching journal of mine this week, I stumbled upon this conversation:
I was teaching Sam, a precocious and funny 7-year old. In passing, I made some comment (there is really no such thing as a passing comment with children--I should have known this) about when I was his age, when Sam interrupted, "Miss Amy, was that when the pictures were black and white?" Before I could answer, his older sister chimed in from the couch where she was waiting quietly for her lesson. "Was there sound on the TV or was it quiet? Did you have radio?" "HOW OLD DO YOU THINK I AM ANYWAY, KIDS?" I asked, alarmed. Sam thinks for a moment, "10?"
This took place at least a decade ago. By their accounts I might be all of 12 these days.
August 1st, 2010 :: Recipes for Technique
After dozens and dozens of 5-Finger Positions, it is time to move on. Teachers often ask me how long I teach 5-Finger Positions, but there is no real answer. Some days it seems like forever, and I think a student will never graduate to chords and scales. Other students rip through these quickly, and after a few months are ready for more challenging technique work. It just depends on the student, the age, the rate of progress. Certainly, my average younger student often lives in the 5-Finger world for a year or more, making the arrival of scales and chords something to celebrate.
Although these posts
have provided ideas for various patterns and ways of approaching 5-Finger Positions, this is hardly an exhaustive list. When I need more patterns, I dig through various technique books sitting on my shelf, or other creative resources for beginners. I especially like little pentachord songs with good lyrics that can be transposed into a 5-Finger pattern, giving our solfege a much needed break for a week or two. Even then, however, I often write out the patterns using both solfege and the lyrics, keeping with the concept that the students never actually see a printed score for their technique work.
Eventually, however there comes a day when I introduce chords. I always start with "bridges" of the basic I and V chords----Do/Sol for the I chord, and Ti/Sol for the V chord. We talk about whole steps and half steps, and quickly discover that although the beloved C position is all white notes for the bridges, the equally loved G position needs that tricky F-sharp for the V bridge. I tell students the right hand can take the week off, and we concentrate on bridges for the left hand the first week. Little ones are particularly excited about the idea that the right hand gets a "vacation" from positions. If the foundation of all major 5-Finger Positions is well established, kids do fine learning bridges in all keys that first week. This, in fact, is often so easy that I am tempted to go ahead and teach the whole I and V chord, but I have learned to curb that urge. Better that students---whatever age or level---have complete success in a new concept rather than compromising our learning with too many new things. Think like a video game, I remind myself. Kids like video games because they provide the perfect combination of challenge, novelty and opportunity for success at every level. If I can coax progress along at just the right pace, real live chords in a week or two are a simple matter.
67. LH Bridges: I-V-I (Do/Sol---Ti/Sol---Do/Sol)
Bridges are a great time to really focus on space under the hand. After all, kids understand that bridges need to be tall and strong. A collapsed bridge is no good.
Contact Amy Greer at: email@example.com