Saturday, May 10, 2008

The first lesson

This really is a very busy newsroom. I think of Barry Broadfoot and Paul St Pierre, later author and playwrite respectively, in my Sun summer of 56, arguing loudly over whether a problem they had overheard on the police radio was a real kidnapping. Broadfoot was insisting that it was, over in New Westminster, and so the presses should be stopped. St Pierre, head of the make-up desk, with the morning edition of the Sun already on its way to bed, was swearing that if it was a kidnapping it was only an estranged father taking his kids from his wife and hardly worth stopping the press for. It was as good as a row between my Mom and Dad, and the sort of thing you never got in high school with your teachers. Barry and Paul appealed to a higher authority and Broadfoot won. Later, he moved to the Kootenays.
I say things are just as preset headlines disturbing in Nelson because on Thursday night, the eve of my wife's 70th birthday - she doesn't look it, believe me - she and I went to the annual three day showcase of Nelson's major dance studio. At one point we had three granddaughters under instruction with the Dance Umbrella, but one left to return to the keyboard and help her Grandpa's research, so we still had two and of course had to be there. It was, simply, an incredible evening. I've been enjoying the show for almost a decade now, but this year seemed the best of all, and thus, although I'm not terribly qualified as a dance critic, I pondered a return to my sometime role as an arts reviewer in the Nelson Daily News. My most recent two letters to that paper had both been rather critical of other people's behaviour and I thought it might be a nice change to be able to swank on a totally positive note.
I was thinking of saying, for one thing, that I could now see why there was no need to fulfill the promise I had made to myself in July of 55, when after four days in New York City I decided that while I was not going to move to Gotham and apprentice myself to the writing trade in the world capital of publishing, I would return when I was rich and famous, and had a wife to take to all the operas, ballets, plays, and so on that the city had to offer. But sitting there in my own town and its little jewel of a theatre - the stage could be bigger for dance shows - I was having such a good time, seeing so much youthful excellence, that I'm afraid New York was no longer a thought, and I am not fond of traveling anyway, unless it's around that 140 mile loop I spoke of earlier. What a birthday present for my wife, and of course she has no granddaughters in New York, at least not yet.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the reviewer's desk.
My head finally cleared over this music thing.
The principle element of confusion has been a piece of real estate. In other words, I've been having the same problem with consolidating my gains that Napoleon had when he decided to invade Russia. Biting off more than he could chew began the decline of his peace of mind, and I could finally see that my fussing over land, factories, and jobs for the locals was doing the same for mine. My favourite instruction in canon law, as little as I read the subject, insists that the priest is to keep his "mental edge". The writer is not supposed to allow himself to get dull-minded.
I'm talking about the CPR lands, only a tiny bit of which are now used for trains, that lie west of Nelson. What to do with them is a regular source of discussion, and a concern for the city fathers and mothers, one of whom, by the way, had an enormous amount to do with the retrofit that created that gem of a theatre. I walk, and sometimes jog, across a part of this huge plain, and always wonder about it. I even started this campaign with it in mind, and wrote the mayor. If this scheme of mine is as universally necessary as I think it is, and if it needs, as is the custom in education, the appropriate text books and audio visual aids, then that land would be perfect. And these days, with no more lumber and plywood mill, and the rail yard so slack compared to the old days, we have only one manufacturing industry. Also, as it is basically children we concerned about here, possibly Marathon Realty and the provincial and federal governments would move to attack the recovery of toxins problem with all due haste.
Now I have been a surveyor, in my student days, and once for three weeks while I was between teaching posts, but I have decided that construction and all that stuff is not at the point necessary, as I somewhat ponderously become more familiar with this global village format that Tim Berners-Lee started thinking up just as I was finally producing the early chapters of "Contemplatives", and by last night I began to realize the full possibilities of teaching simply on the Web. As late as the middle of this week I was even trying to engage the help of a local publisher in a single student experiment which could be filed with the government of Ontario, but no more. I realize that if I really know what I'm doing now, I should be able to do the main work of it here, right on the computer screen. That is the power of words, that is the power of numbers. Besides, I am only one brain and something as big as I think this is needs a lot of discussion before anyone starts putting out prematurely conceived materials.
Remember such capers as team teaching, windowless classrooms, and texts that tried to make grammar fun? Or better yet, obsolete?
So, for anyone that's interested, here is the first lesson. Go to the piano or any suitable substitute, find middle C - yes, Ammerbach's innovation is sometimes useful - plunk it with your middle finger and call it "one". Now proceed up the white keys - that's going to your right - and continue to plunk each of them with your middle finger. Yes, until further notice, you may forget that you have the other four. It is this rush to involve all five fingers that immediately obscures the organic relationship between mind and body, especially where the learning process is concerned, with all its essential need of virtually infinite repetition.
You don't have to sing the numbers, but it is essential to meld in your brain the integral relationships of number, piano key, and the actual pitch of the note. Two, three, and so on, up to eight which is also the new "one" for the next octave. The one is also called the tonic, for reasons to be explained later, with more whaling on the blackboard with a pointer than music students are accustomed to, so far as I have experienced.
Now go back down, and then start doing it with your eyes closed until it's time to pour a drink or answer the call to lunch. Or, if you're an over-achiever, do the same with the left middle finger starting at the C below middle C, also called small c. The nomenclature of music is such fun.
Good. You are now playing the diatonic or eight-note scale. We will get to the chromatic, or twelve-not scale quicker than you think, but not before you learn the secret of basic harmony in the left hand. This is the one that it took so long for me to find, my equivalent to E=mc2, and it is this that I have copyrighted for the guitar instruction method.
If things go right, that enormous secret could be the second lesson. I've already spelled it out in the latest complete chapter of my yacht novel, to the approval of my little band of readers, two whom teach the process to their children. But as I have already pointed out, this newsroom never knows what's going to happen next.

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