Monday, 24 August 2009

Inspiring encounters, Alvaro

Hi, all,

First of all, yes, I'm still alive. Sorry about that, I believe I haven't posted anything since before the DMS concert, which is certainly not good... Anyways, enough of that, I have lots of stuff to talk about, ;)

Over the past few weeks, I've met people with such enthusiasm and love for music as to trigger some thinking processes about music and WAM.

First of all, thanks to Ruairi, we established a very good contact with one of Ravi Shankar's best musicians. I was late for the meeting because I was teaching at my school on that day, but I got there just in time for him to give us a demonstration of sitar playing. And here it is, one of those loose cultural connections that I love.

He called his daughter at some point, to demonstrate us how hard playin sitar was. Apart from the funny (from the pathological cynicism that I suffer) idea of showing these difficulties by calling somebody to show how sitar should not be played, and apart from the fact that I thought she was incredibly talented, he gave her a class on the spot. This class consisted on him playing and her trying to imitate. And I think that this is where they go wrong, applying a system that works perfectly well in Indian traditional music to Western classical music, where it might not go so smoothly.

Over the past few weeks we've been trying to tackle problems such as rhythmical precision, reading abilities, or phrasing and dynamics. And I'm convinced this happens because, rather than being given the intellectual tools to think and read a score by themselves, students are spoonfed knowledge by imitation.

Working on this point, I must say, has been fascinating and inspiring. I have been teaching my regular students, but I've also taking workshops both at the DMS (Thursdays and Fridays) and at my school in Gurgaon (Sundays). During these workshops I tried to insist on the idea of self-assesment, and all students responded very receptively:

- Something doesn't sound quite right.
- You find out why, whether by yourself or the help of your teacher.
- You try to think of solutions, asking your teacher for help if you need to.
- You try to implement these solutions into your playing.

Many of them responded so effectively as to solve their problems in class, on the spot, whether it had to do with balance of the hands and voices, contrast of dynamics or, more surprisingly, the engagement of the arm and the back while playing. Above all, I found this idea became an excellent tool for many of them, who believed that you only play piano with your fingers and didn't support them with their wrists, elbows, arms or backs.

The amount of enthusiasm and motivation that these students have is incredible. Their love for music cannot be expressed in words, but, to wrap this post up, I'll try to exemplify this love and passion by talking about the latest inspiring encounter that I had.

There is a saxophone teacher at the DMS who had a stroke quite a while ago. Half of his body had been paralised, yet I heard he still taught and, furthermore, many of his students were counted amongst the best at the institution. Fact is, I was having a cigarette outside, tired of practising (I had an hour break between two of the students) and frustrated with a few things in the coda of Chopin's fourth ballade when, as I was coming back in, he called me into his class from the window. I learnt who he was and what he taught, for I hadn't met him before. After a short chat, he asked me for help to open his drawer and took out a contemporary saxophone piece, written in contemporary notation and said: "Can you help me with this? I have seen normal pieces of music but I can't understand this". I must say, I was struggling with many of the things myself, as I don't play saxophone and many of the indications had to do with technical details of the instruments. However, I found it very inspiring that a musician who is about 70 years old had the will and drive to still learn new things and the humility to ask about these to a mere student who does not even play his instrument. It was very special to meet him and I will treasure that moment as one of the most motivating events in my life.

I'm glad I finally got round sharing these with you, readers, and rest assure that I'll come back with another post or two before we part.

All the best,


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