I teach children between the ages of 7-11, trumpet everyday after school. You might be thinking I’m crazy (which is partially true because a lot of days I think I am).
I work for the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra in the Sistema NB project as a teaching artist. I work with 100 kids on a daily basis from all over the city from 8 different schools. I teach in both French and English, though my French skills are not as high as they should be and the kids like to tease me and teach me as we go. The program runs 5 days a week for 3 hours a day. The kids are bussed in from their respective schools to the school we teach at. The best part?… It’s completely free for the participants!! They work with professionally trained classical musicians! Every day! For nothing!
Having worked with children this past year as the Youth Activity Coordinator with the Town of Wolfville, I knew I could work with children and provide programs. But in music, my experience was lacking and I was… Lets be honest…. Scarred.
Its a hard thing to admit… I have never had any issues with kids. Children love me and I in turn honestly enjoy working and learning with them. Children have the most amazing ability to learn and adapt; and unlike adults, are able to see when they are wrong without egos getting in the way. The relationship between student and teacher grows and they see you as an authority on whatever subject you are teaching them. Of course they will question you and push all of your buttons. However, my experience teaching music let alone trumpet…was lacking to say the least. Yes I have a piece of paper hanging on my wall saying that I know things. But up until September, all of my teaching experience had been with older students, and never in a group setting.
I spent the first couple weeks feeling like I was drowning. I followed the lead of the teachers around me. All of them had taught for Sistema the previous year, but because the program is so new, it means there is no actual curriculum that the organization is following. So teachers are planning based on their experience. I was grasping at straws. I don’t have experience I thought… I really don’t feel like there’s much that I can give these kids…
I was wrong.
Slowly and surely my little trumpet players have been growing and developing. But so have I.. as an educator. For those of you out there who are musical will understand the story I’m about to tell. For those of you who aren’t hopefully you will when I’m done.
My group of beginners have only had their trumpets since November. The music that we were working on had an F# or Fa diese in it which kids had never seen before. So far its only been Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Si.. So what’s the Fa Diese doing in there? How do you explain the rest of the notes that are possible in music to kids who are under the impression that they know all the notes already. And then it came to me…
Here’s how the story goes… Re and Mi are neighbours. They live on a street with all the other solfege notes. In between some of the houses are trees. There is a tree between Re and Mi and because they are such good friends, they decided to build a tree house in the tree and share it. When they’re in the tree house, they put on costumes and pretend they’re super heroes. Because Re has to go up the Street to get to the tree house, his super hero name is Re Diese (Re Sharp). Mi has to go down the street though so he becomes Mi Bemol (Mi Flat). So one gets higher and one gets lower. Sharps and flats.. The cool thing we discover though, is when Re# and Mib are in the tree house, they sound exactly the same! (Enharmonic notes, sound the same but are written differently.) Now if we look at the whole street some of the houses have trees between them and some do not. The ones who do not are too close together to have a tree between them and therefore are only one step away. A semi-tone. Instead of the notes like Re and Mi who are two steps away. A tone. There’s a pattern that these notes are in on the street. If we were to start at Sol’s house instead of Do but keep the same pattern of steps… then there has to be a Fa Diese!!
All of a sudden, I had just explained a couple of different concepts that in the beginning sounded confusing but every single one of them got it. The first time around. It was amazing. Simultaneously my kids and I had reached a pinnacle moment. The moment where they trusted me completely that what I was teaching was true. And I finally felt like I knew what I was doing. I’m learning as I go. But it’s these little break through’s that make it all worth the pain and frustration. There are tiny victories in life that are usually unappreciated for what they really are. Personally growth. Evidence of perseverance. So my challenge for today? See them for what they really are. Awesome.