Hi everyone! Last weekend here was Independence Day, when we had fantastic time in the paradise that is Kerala and enjoyed swimming, seafood, cool weather and a trip on a houseboat through the backwaters. Now it’s back down to earth and the stifling northern heat, where we continue to work hard both teaching and practicing. Alvaro and I have another concert to prepare for at the Polish Embassy in
So, now that we have just one week of teaching left, I have started to think about what lies ahead for the students I have been teaching.
Since the school I teach at opened only three years ago, the vast majority of students are at around beginner to Grade 3 level. But there is a huge amount of pressure from parents on both students and teachers to achieve more in a short space of time. I was in a meeting with a parent only two days ago where she said of her son, ´We must make him learn faster.´ Of course, all students want to progress to the next level as quickly as possible, but my concern is that this is all too often at the expense of a solid musical and technical foundation.
I was made acutely aware of this general impatience in a particularly productive and revealing group session on scale-playing last week. As I wrote in the previous blog on ´Opening ears´, I have been encouraging my students to listen closely to the sound they are producing. During this lesson we focused on playing scales slowly with the utmost evenness. And I mean VERY slowly, which is in fact far more difficult on the piano for producing an even line, since it requires a huge amount of concentrated listening. At a speed of less than 60 bpm, the students found it impossible to maintain a steady pulse, and invariably ended up at double the speed by the time they reached the descent of the scale. This is generally apparent in slow music, long notes and rests, where the students are impatient to get to the next part, since time for us as performers always takes on different dimensions than as listeners!
I can remember being shown by my teacher how to practice pieces and scales painfully slowly, focussing on the quality and balance of the sound, and not really understanding the point at the time. Yet it really is a valuable use of practice time, as I explained to the students it’s like putting a ´magnifying glass´ on the sound, allowing you to notice details and problems in your own playing, which at speed would pass you by. If they can find the patience now to practice in this concentrated way, to establish a solid foundation, then they will reap the benefits later on. I am speaking partly from experience, since I was allowed to rush ahead and ´learn fast´, only to develop bad habits that I had to spend a great deal of time overcoming afterwards.
To draw a broad parallel, we have seen for ourselves the preparations that are taking place all around
There is strong sense from people that I’ve spoken to that
This lack of awareness has also manifested itself in some of the older students I’ve had the chance to meet. Having reached a reasonable Grade 8 standard, some of them are keen to pursue their music studies abroad (there is no provision for higher education in Western classical music in
It is both saddening and frustrating that such a situation should arise; that talented and motivated students will be bitterly disappointed not to achieve their short-term goals, due to lack of proper guidance and exposure to the wider world of music. I believe that the first step in counter-acting this should be to establish opportunities for talented Indian students to study at one of the many summer schools in the
This increased pressure to compete globally has led to some alarming trends. A teacher at my school informed me that many of the affluent parents here push their children into music as young as three, because ´that’s what they do in China and Korea´, and there are people in India who feel compelled to follow their example, as they believe this is the only way to succeed, regardless of the natural talent and inclination of the child concerned. One 5-year-old that I teach has been coming for lessons since the age of 3, since his mother felt it was necessary to begin at such an early age, yet he still cannot read music. This must make one question the value in pushing children prematurely into something so disciplined as music.
This is where I believe the Kodaly method has much to offer. Instead of putting students through the rigours of instrumental training before their brains and muscles are ready, they are instead encouraged to focus on MUSICIANSHIP, a skill which has certainly been neglected across the board, with the main focus here on training instrumentalists as opposed to musicians.