Monday, June 4, 2012

Pondering Pedagogy

I’m sitting at home on a cool evening listening to the sandy voice of Ella Fitzgerald in my headphones. I don’t exactly feel like writing a blog entry, but if I don’t do it now, I’m not sure when it will happen.

Just a few of today’s experiences that made me smile.

Today as I was walking up the hill to catch the dala dala (bus) I saw a woman standing on the side of the rode, beside a short bush, peeing. She had a big cloth wrapped around her, as most women wear here, but she was just standing there peeing! In broad daylight, no minding any one walking by. I was more impressed than anything I think. It was quite a sight to see.

Then tonight I was cutting into an onion when I saw a black spot in the onion. I thought I’d cut around it and use the rest of it since it seemed fine. But as soon as I cut into the black part… and brace yourselves… a colony of tiny ants burst from it!! EW. I kinda jumped and then ran the cutting board and onion out the front door to throw it in the bushes. Ants... living in an onion!!! So weird.

Last Friday we had our end of the year recital for Umoja. Crazy that it’s the end of year recital, yes. We had a wonderful concert and it featured two songs that I’ve written. One of them will be in Ndoto and the other is called Watoto Wa Umoja (Children of Umoja). I originally just wrote it as a song for choir, but after people enjoyed it at our December concert, I arranged it for our ‘orchestra’ of guitars, pianos, violins, flutes, and voice. The flute studio here is new, and most of the students started learning with me. I was really proud of them- especially the beginners. Here’s the video of the song from the concert. Don’t mind the SUPER loud microphone of my youngest voice student. Haha.

Mom made a good suggestion to me the other day- to write about my experience teaching. It is something that I have certainly spent a great deal of time thinking about—probably every single day that I’ve been in Tanzania, I’ve thought about teaching, how to do it better, lessons learned. And I’ve learned a LOT. One thing that comes to mind is how to handle kids with low self-esteems. I’ve made mistakes in that department, sometimes being too hard on kids when they weren’t ready for it. I’m still trying to figure out how to connect to students, teach them to trust me, and teach them to trust themselves. You can’t just tell a student: “You’re good. Now suck it up and play.”

Then there’s the topic of being open-minded to other kinds of music, and teaching music for kids to simply enjoy. Pop tunes and songs are very hard for me to respect and even more challenging for me to want to teach, but I do see value in them in that they give some students a lot of enjoyment. That’s what music is about, right? Enjoyment.

Then I’ve learned that a teacher cannot change the desire of a student to want to practice or even to want to play an instrument. I have done everything from coming down harder on discipline, to talking to parents, to getting creative with composition and improvisation activities. But, if a student doesn’t want to practice any music, then they won’t. I’ve learned not to take things so personally. There was an instance toward the beginning of the year when I played part of Mendelssohn’s Italian symphony and asked the kids what they thought of it- someone yelled out that they thought it was boring. It made me VERY mad when they said that, but I have to understand that the music I love is not what everyone loves, and vice versa.

I’ve learned that many children actually fear the metronome. I don’t know when I started loving the metronome, but I see it as a huge aide in practicing. Some students actually begin shaking in fear/nerves when I ask them to play a scale with a metronome. But, then for some of them, when I play with them in a steady rhythm instead of turning on the metronome, they can totally latch onto the groove and play with a steady rhythm.

I’ve realized that teaching very beginner music is not stimulating to me and I really struggle with making myself be excited to teach it. I love teaching at Makumira University- it’s very stimulating. There, I teach music students who are all older than me and very knowledgeable about some things and often ask me questions that I have to consider and that really challenge me. I don’t think I just want to lecture, though. And I still get somewhat hurt when they seem bored by the recordings I’m playing. These are the pieces that changed my whole perception of music! And I want them to be as ground-breaking for these people too. But music is individual and so personal. I have to come to terms with that.

I’ve learned how frustrating it is to teach a studio of children who have electric pianos. In Tanzania, real pianos are very hard to find. Most of our students have electric keyboards and when we have a week of a lot of power-outages, well, they don’t get to practice at all. I’ll never forget that little student coming in and telling me, quite proudly, how when her electricity was out she practiced on her mom’s ipad piano app…. Not quite the same as the piano.

I’ve seen how kids step up and seriously come through when it’s recital time. They come out of the weeks of struggling through a piece with a polished tune they, and I, can be so proud of.

I’ve come…somewhat… to terms to being around a lot of musicians who won’t make music their main life force. Coming out of university music school, where all the students are there FOR music and completely dedicated TO music.. it’s tough to know that I’m teaching most kids something that they will always do for fun or remember only as a part of their childhood. And I can find joy in that as well.

I’ve learned that little kids REALLY like to write and draw about killings, blood, and death when given the chance. Every time we have to make up a story about a composer as a fun activity, my little 6 year old group class begs to write or draw a story about the composer dying or being caught in war… not sure what to think of that. I remember once someone drew Chopin with “music bleeding out of his ears!” ….

I’ve witnessed how difficult it is to be a parent. I have such a great deal of respect for the parents who have to organize not only their insane, NGO-running, continent-hopping, family-raising lives, but also the 10 activities of their talented and insanely busy children. I’ve also seen how difficult it is for them to first let go of instructing their children in our lessons. There have been many conversations when I have to say “It’s great for you to help, but I have to be the one to instruct in the lessons.”

How do you teach someone to love opera? Or even to be open to it?

I’ve felt how much I’ve missed having professional live music concert. Oh I miss live jazz and live symphonies SO much.

I’ve thought a lot about when I fell in love with music, when I stopped minding practicing, when I learned all that I learned. It’s the hardest thing to remember—how you learned something that is now so engrained in who you are. What was I like when I was a 7 year old piano student? Did I understand things easily? Was I that student that my teacher dreaded? Or was happy to have? Why did I stick with music so much? Was it just because of the social element- I know marching band had such influence on me because of the friends I had there. These kids here don’t get that element, so will they love music less?

Those are just a few of my thoughts that I’m thinking of tonight. New questions come to me each day. It’s been such a year of discovery.

Ndoto is just around the corner J Colette arrives on Thursday!