Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Constantly Changing Circumstances

Flexibility is not a quality that comes naturally to me. I have a plan and generally like to follow that plan to the project's completion. The past few weeks have required lots of flexibility for me personally. I think some of the lessons I have learned will make me a better teacher and performer.

For the past couple of weeks, I have struggled with a horrible sinus infection paired with a separate infection in my lungs. Needless to say, I was pretty miserable and really didn't feel like doing much of anything. The junior college where I work has a policy of not canceling class under any circumstance. In an effort to insure that learning continues, it becomes easy for faculty to feel as though they are being punished rather than cared for during illness and difficult times. My sickness was the worst during the first week of classes. I could have gotten a sub, I suppose, but my students did not have the elementary knowledge they would need to perform an assignment without my presence that would not have been a waste of their time. I decided to pull myself out of bed for the week and teach the classes, modifying the lectures on the spot. Many of the concepts that I normally demonstrated vocally were not possible this semester because I could not produce a sound! Some portions of the lecture require more energy than others, so I found myself re-evaluating course progression in order to allow me to catch my breath while attempting to insure that students were making important connections between concepts.

My responsibilities at the church didn't go on vacation either. It became clear early on that the plans I had made would have to be altered for at least two weeks. This wasn't as difficult at the situation at school, but it still demanded attention.

On Saturday, I'm finally beginning to feel like a human again and I'm looking forward to my first lesson with the new student transferring into my studio. I have planned for the lesson, selected repertoire I think he will enjoy, and developed a plan for how we will progress this term. At our initial meeting together, I was impressed by his musicality and his willingness to tackle demanding repertoire. We began our time together on Saturday by reading the opening passage of Schumann's Knecht Ruprecht (Op. 68, No. 12). It was then that I made a startling discovery. You guessed it...the student can't read bass clef! When I asked how he had learned to play the things he presented to me initially, he revealed that he had simply counted the lines and spaces to figure out the left hand notes. Since he was able to play complicated left hand passages, his former teacher simply assumed he was reading the notes.

My plans for the term immediately changed and I had to decide on the spot how to salvage this lesson that was suddenly not going to go according to my plan! I introduced reading the bass clef and moved on to another piece that had a static bass part. Why? I didn't want the student's first lesson to be completely frustrating and I needed to have some time to regroup and decide how we were going to proceed in the coming weeks. I still don't have a clear vision of how we'll move ahead, but I'm anxious to see his progress when he comes back this week. I'm seeing a lot of left hand works and piano duets on the immediate horizon. It's a good thing that I'm learning to be more flexible......or else I'd still be tied in knots because my plans had fallen through before they even started!

Fortunately, the constantly changing circumstances is part of what I find exciting and thrilling about a life in music!