Thursday, January 20, 2011

I Know This Place

"And youth is cruel, and has no remorse

And smiles at situations which it cannot see."

Last night was the first meeting of what will become Tuesday night students. Already, I feel a weariness. This is not a good thing. I mean, evening one and already I feel a bit tired? Oh boy.

Though some would laugh at this, but I feel like I have paid a heavy price for giving private lessons on an instrument which I hold so dear. When I was younger, my skin was so thin. God, every little wrong, real or imagined, would grate my nerves. I never quite knew how to react or how much to react to people. That stuff is still hard to sort out. Now, I might get angry, but my skin is much thicker and I try to analyse what the person might be saying as opposed to completely assuming I know their intentions.

Perhaps the fact that I began so many years ago, giving my first lesson in 1977 while at college, brings on this weariness. I can't imagine what I taught then. It must have been a jumbled mess. Perhaps when I slogged through my days at Mack and Dave's ('80 or '81) at what seemed to be a lesson mill, there was a slow grind at my soul. I met some people, very engaging on a social level, but none ever on a musical one. I recall a 16 year old girl who had long fingernails, painted a bright red, who refused to cut them, even though every week I politely asked. It was an REO Speedwagon song that she never learned. She quit pretty soon thereafter. This was typical.

After graduation in 1986, I resumed some scattered lessons, using a church as my studio. I can only remember one kid who was pretty good on the electric. The problem is that young guys have the attention span of about a minute and I'm not sure what I taught him either. I had one dad who wanted to tape his son's lesson on the then new '80s video technology. Well, he walked around us, aimed over our shoulders and every angle he could get like he was a budding Marty Scorsese. I felt very uncomfortable and said a polite "No" to the documentary the next lesson.

One memorable student was this little boy (Chase? Chaz?) whom the parents and grandpa took great pride in showing off. He was adorable, but they paraded him out like a trained seal. He wore a cowboy hat, et al and tried to take on an adult affect to comical heights. He had even memorized a poem which was slightly bawdy that mentioned women's bras. Not really good child rearing there people, he is a real person after all, not your personal pride monkey. Bizarre.

A Brief Digression About Love I Suppose

I supplemented my income by teaching at home. I had some good students and one pretty memorable crazy bee-atch. Heather was everything I thought a girlfriend should be: tall, thin, long black hair, very artsy, complicated and she smelled heavenly for every lesson. I believed that I deserved a girlfriend like that, being an artsy musician and all. I don't know when I thought it was alright to cross the line and see her outside of the lessons, but all the signs I got from her were positive. We had some very easy conversations. I even went over to her house and the electricity between us (That is at least my perception) was tangible. She even took me up to her bedroom, but nothing happened. She gave me some of her poems to read. There were a few rather enjoyable kisses in my car. We went to a classical concert together. No coffee or cocktails afterwards. She had to go home. Hmm....

I thought the world of her until that big disconnect begins to happen between what we want and what we are getting. I was talking to her about going out with her camera and taking some shots. She may have even invited me, but then the she calls back and goes into this drama about some other guy wants to come and she can't take the jealousy thing. Well, that shot that day directly in the ass. She kept coming for lessons and all the while I knew that she was, at least at that point, playing cruel games with me. She had made a trip to NYC and announced at one lesson, "I thought of you when I bought this book." I think it was "Maurice" by E. M. Forester- a novel about a gay man and the forbidden taboo, etc. That pissed me off. I yelled, "What the hell is this? Do you think I'm gay?" I remember her laughing. Was it just a prank or was the cat playing with the mouse? Let me continue and you fucking tell me. I let the homo implications go and she continued lessons, but I was much wiser.

Let say this, all the while I was seeking counsel about her from a very wise female friend. This girl was not afraid to betray the "secrets of the Guild of Womanhood." One thing women know-other women. She calculated Heather's every move with uncanny accuracy and introduced me to the concept of Intermittent Reinforcement. IR is the worst because it's almost impossible to break free from. You see, whether Heather knew the concept or not, that was her game. It all blew up one afternoon.

The young devil called one afternoon and asked about borrowing something for her class at State. The conversation went smoothly, and she was using IR, but this time was different: I knew that she was just running a game. Everything was civil until I brought up all the issues that had been brewing in my head. She scrambled, trying to lie, but I blew up. It takes me a long time to blow, but when I do a volcano ain't got nothing on me, I let it all out. My tirade caused her to start crying, a move my friend had predicted, and I ignored her tears and let her have it with both barrels, baby. She sputtered something out about her having issues with her mom and that she could possibly "love me" (Ahh, the dagger and the Hail Mary both.). She even said, "Well, I won't be able to take lessons any more." I told her flat, "That's right. That's over too!" I was done with having my head fucked with, so see ya later.

Dear readers, why fuck with someone's head? Why be so cruel? Only her psychiatrist would know the answer to that. Addendum: Many years later, I played a wedding where her mom was getting remarried. I sure as shit knew who she was, but neither of acknowledged the other. That's fine with me. Break somebody else's balls.

Back From the Pangs of Lust

When UC hired me in 1987, my first student was a schizophrenic. At one point, he was looking into the mirror and said, "If you can see their face in your eyes, then you can talk to them. It's called shadowing." Yep, that's me, teaching music to the mentally ill .

At this school, I've had numerous devils who lead me around by the nose for 15 weeks until it finally dawned on me that I needed a stricter plan and a syllabus that was airtight. One student in case: each week he said he wanted something more challenging, so I'd give him a piece and he work on it for a week. The next week, "It's too difficult. Do you have something else?" Naturally, wanting to be a good teacher, I'd oblige. Sometimes it would take two weeks before he's back on the same track. The real kick in the balls was when it came to end of the semester and he told me it was my fault that we hadn't really gotten anything done. That drew a line in the sand for me. After the anger passed, I had a new approach to teaching at the school because I realized that most of the kids I see are about 80% bullshit, want to weasel out of any work and weasel into a good grade.

I had one kid miss for about six weeks and so I assumed he had just dropped the class. To my shock and utter discomfort, he waltzes into the lesson. I bite down hard on my anger- at a conservatory, I would have thrown him out on his ear- and remain as outwardly calm as I can. I ask him where he has been. He announces that other classes, have been so demanding, i.e. writing papers, that he didn't have time to come to class. This kid has balls. He says he can still work up the required pieces in time for the jury. Then we debate the number of those pieces.

"Three pieces for the jury."
"You said two."
"I did not. It's stated very clearly on the syllabus."
"I didn't get one."
"Yes you did. I hand them out the very first class and discuss in detail the requirements for this class."

Seriously, any reasonable person would have said, "Mr. Cock'n'Balls, you have missed too many classes and your attitude is confrontational and you are not telling the truth" and to the exit he would be led, but no, not in this safe haven of mediocrity. I had people above me to whom I must answer.

Jury rolls around and Mr. C'n'B shows up. Of course, I alerted our department head all about this loser and we wait for the big performance. It is a complete failure. Even in spite of all this, he has the utter, breath-taking audacity to ask what his grade will be. "B?" I must have had daggers in my eyes. "What not even a C?" The department head steps in and politely dismisses him. I gave the kid A for audacity, but F for Failure in the class.

Every semester, there are those kids who fail to answer numerous emails, only to act like I've failed to try to get a hold of them. Then they drop. The weariness.

Oh, I've had kids who couldn't play a scale the same way twice. Kids who thought they knew everything. Kids who believed they played better than me. But let me temper all this by saying I've had some real gems: all two of them. To Joe and Mike, they made it all worth it. I also had a dedicated group of guys in a guitar ensemble for sixteen years who worked very hard and had excellent concerts.

This brings us to Tuesday night. I had three students. One of which prompted this blog. This kid acted like he had every confidence in the world. That turns me off right away. A little confidence is a good thing, but he had this vibe. A vibe which told me that we might not be a good match.

We got onto the topic of tablature. Tablature is an old and antiquated way of "reading" music that goes back at least to the Renaissance. Modern notation was a vast improvement over this system, so I tried to make an analogy about technology in the Renaissance. He then told me that the Renaissance was technologically superior to today's world. I quickly jumped in and said, "Wait a minute. I'm talking about notation here." That left him quiet.

Though he told me he had been in a "death metal band" (Gee, no kid's party gigs for you guys, huh?), he read music like a newspaper. Curious. There may be hope yet.

We were not connecting for a while and then I realize something: I needed a new approach. I was getting unnecessarily defensive. I'm not supposed to be getting into a pissing contest, my job is to communicate, to connect. Then I got through.

At least two students haven't bothered to return emails, so I sent them a note saying that class has started and I'm assuming they are not interested. One ignored emails, contacted me then decided to drop before we spoke a word. I can't blame them really. To quote from the Godfather II:

"This is the business we've chosen."

1 comment:

eclectic guy said...

Note to readers. I found the "Heather" mentioned here on FB. Gee, where did she get those moles on her face? Perhaps what she is on the inside has manifested on the outside?

Something else on that face that I can't quite put into words. She looks evil and souless. Still not married. Who's surprised?