Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Q Tests for the Music Industry

You know how some kids are after they have graduated from high school: one week they're full of plans, enthusiasm, and confidence, and the next week they're having second thoughts, or else they're full of all of the above about contradicting the intentions of the first week. This is not, of course, unlike the spiritual exercises, except that with the exercises you have a director who should guarantee a logical conclusion. The kids may or may not be so lucky, given that so often the adults cast in the role of advisor are not a little worldly in their expectations, and thus given to smothering, or at least hindering, the best instincts in the young.
All this means that for the past six months, ever since my granddaughter and piano student Hayley graduated I've had to sit on my heels and wait for her to decide what she is going to do for the next little while in her young life. She had gone off to work in Victoria, where a brother is at school, and then there was talk of later working for War Child Canada, or going to art school, or perhaps studying sound engineering. The art school could have been here in Nelson, or maybe Halifax, but the other two were either Vancouver or Toronto. The researching grandpa was looking to be left high and dry in terms of his most useful keyboard guinea pig.
But then came Christmas, and Hayley announced she was coming back to Nelson, maybe to work here for a while. And meanwhile in the months intervening between her last lesson and now, Grandpa had finally burrowed under the hilariously stupid accretions of the last four hundred years of music teaching deep enough to find the mother lode, hints of which have been strewn throughout these posts.
For quite a few years now, we have had a tradition of making a big night of Christmas Eve, and when the kids were small, Christmas Eve always allowed for the opening of one present. The adults don't do this one any more, but, as I look back now, the tradition came alive for the sake of all future generations of piano students: Hayley told me at the gathering that she had a possibility of a job with one of the local lawyers. This had come through connections with a family, the wife and mother of which works for the lawyer, that had come about through the student brother in Victoria.
How wonderfully integrated life is! How smilingly the Almighty looks down on all legitimate endeavours! I had left law school to work more fully as an artist and a teacher, and now a law office was providing one of the final links in getting this piano business up and running around the universe! Obviously my fellow researcher was back for a while. We discussed the possibility of continuing the lesson/research episodes, and Hayley called and set a date for a lesson as soon as she had been through the interview and landed the job.
Today was the lesson. 10 a.m. Forgetting the young's rights and obligations over Friday nights, and therefore sufficient sleeping in on Saturday morning, I had said any time after 9, but was quickly corrected. So the status of scientific certitude for the new system could not really be established until around 11, about the same time in the morning as they signed the armistice agreement that ended World War One.
I hope our conclusions can be more final, and put an end to the current abuse of the minds and hearts of music students. The more I uncover the neglect of the mathematical foundation of scales and harmonies, the more amazed I am that such nonsense has gone so long unchecked, and that there are so many bad texts out there.
Being such a peace-loving fellow, I do try to compromise, to meet the reigning systems half-way, but every time I do this, I only make more mistakes, and then, having taught little guys and older beginners, I eventually realize how serious these mistakes can be, and then further realize how lucky I am that my students don't give up on me, even if they do have a rather inconvenient habit of moving about the country so I can't always get at them. And yet, as I keep finding the holes in my own redesigning of the process, I'm also grateful they weren't there for something I'd only wind up having to unravel.
One of the great things about Hayley being away for a stretch was that I wasn't able to pursue trying to persuade her to sing her numbers in too high a key. She's an alto, which means her home tonic has to be well below C, that is, the key children are usually started off in. Just before the news of her return I had from further tests on myself with the guitar discovered the bass or baritone joy in the tonic A. (This was also connected with making more sense to myself about the basics of yoga breathing.) What could be easier, I'd finally realized, than doing a scale on the fifth string, especially if you were a man? And how convenient to have the E of the sixth string to function as a dominant drone! It was in that range that the reluctant vocalist Tim McD. swung out like Nat King Cole. After all, the top note is only in the lower regions of head tones.
But when I tried A with Hailey, she found even that top note a little challenging for Saturday morning, so we dropped down into G, which also left us with only one black key. Blacks keys are no real impediment when you grasp the numbers, but every little bit helps, so she took off like Diana Krall and vastly entertained her teacher. Not bad for the first lesson in half-a-year, but it turns out she's been hearing the right hand tetrachord descant in the sound tracks on Jane Austen videos, and applying it when she has been near a keyboard.
And we even found a way to make an adapted use of scale books.
G also works nicely on the guitar, as it is found on the third string, with good old D on the fourth, to act, again, as the dominant drone.
To make things even better for the researching teacher, her oldest brother arrived this morning on the bus from Vancouver. I'm a day later now. He's here to spend a few days brushing up on the latest secrets before he hits the road again, from Victoria to Toronto. And that should leave us with even more interesting discoveries.

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