There aren’t many days that I don’t enjoy teaching. I love puzzling over how a certain student learns best. Message given one way to Chris won’t have the same effect on David. Jen is an engineer by trade so learns analytically, Joyce is a painter, she learns with her heart. People studying the cello are, for the most part, a warm, interesting, curious group. Sometimes the week is long, Wednesdays are back-to-back for seven straight hours, making it a dilemma on where to shave off the few minutes it takes to run to the bathroom between students!
And of course not every lesson day is perfect. There are days where a few too many people have been too busy to practice….again. It’s not good news when you ask someone to turn to the page that the assigned scale is on and they ask “what page is that?” Or better still - when someone (sorry to pick on the teenagers) tries to sight-read their etude. Dotzauer is many things to many people but sight-readable is rarely one of them.
But these are small things. I love what I do and am grateful to be able to do it. Today one of my student,s who is closer to the beginning of her path, emailed me a video of herself playing familiar Christmas carols to an Aunt in a facility for memory care. I could hear O Come All Ye Faithful playing in the background while the camera was fixed on her Aunt’s face. I watched her look a bit confused at the beginning of the playing but then I could see recognition set in. Her hands, thin and fragile, lifted like small birds from her lap in an obvious attempt at gentle clapping along with the rhythm. She watched the cello with a new smile on her face as it was being played. It was pure magic. I was sad to see the clip stop her Aunt, suddenly frozen mid-clap.
Included with the short video was a photograph of my student and her husband sitting on either side of her Aunt. What struck me was both the family resemblance of the two women but also the shared joy on their faces: both moved by the experience.
Paul and I watched a documentary called Alive Inside not long ago. It dealt with a retired doctor who had specialized in brain function. He brought tiny audio systems to elder-care facilities along with head-phones. For each patient he asked a family member to tell him what period of time in the life of the patient would be most remembered, most significant to that person. He then programmed music of that time, ie if someone was a teenager in the fifties he programmed fifties rock songs by a favorite artist. The camera was fixed on their faces without moving. Some patients’ heads were down in a state that looked like sleep. The doctor put the headphones on the patients and within a very few minutes of the music connecting to their brain they began to come to life, often in miraculous ways - singing along with the music, laughing, telling stories. If the camera had moved one might think it was all an illusion, but we watched it happen in front of us. Pure magic.
After some time he would take off the head-phones and within ten minutes that person would return to the state from which they had climbed out of. It happened over and over again- Alzheimer, dementia, age - it didn’t matter. He explained to us that music is inherent in all of us: we understand it without knowing that we do. How many times have we watched a young child, under two, bouncing, in perfect rhythm to a song being played?
I had explained that film to my student and she took it one step further by bringing her beloved cello in to her Aunt. It didn’t matter what she played, it didn’t matter how she played, only that she played. Interestingly, the benefit to her Aunt was clear: but just as clear was the benefit to the player. When she was playing without regard for perfection, without tension about reactions, there was true joy in her music. I could hear it. It was about giving, not receiving.
As I sat at my computer and watched real life evidence of what the doctor had spoken about in the film, I watched a gift being given. The gift was from student to Aunt, and Aunt to student. And, as surely, the gift was to me as well. Sitting there I had the unique opportunity to see, quite literally, my work at play.
I am humbled and remain grateful for that chance.
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(Happy Birthday Joshua.)