Friday, September 23, 2011

Thoughts on Mrs Carey's Concert

On Monday evening I sat down to watch Mrs Carey's Concert, the documentary by Bob Connolly and Sophie Raymond. It followed the "trials and tribulations' of Mrs Carey - music teacher at a Sydney girls' school - over two years as she prepared her school's musicians for a concert at the Opera House. Yes, that's right - the Opera House. It was at this point that I began having difficulty engaging with the documentary. I think it was supposed to be a doco about the transformative power of music and the importance of music education programs in schools. That's fine. I'm a huge supporter of both those things. However, the documentary I found myself watching was a story of elitist, privileged and somewhat spoiled schoolgirls a la J'aime King who had no idea of their fortunate position in life. Sure, the music was very beautiful and the technical proficiency and musical ability of the students was impressive. Why wouldn't it be? They had access to wonderful teaching and facilities and didn't question that. The quality of the string instruments they were playing jumped off the screen - no factory made cheapies here. The teaching staff were clearly talented but I almost laughed out loud when they talked about how some of their students go through a bit of a "feral" stage. I don't think they would survive if they actually met a feral adolescent in real life. The sulky teenager we followed who, for some reason, wasn't that impressed that she was being forced to sing a chorus from Aida, was eventually hammered into submission by the night of the big concert at the Opera House. I'm sure she'll hate classical music for the rest of her life. Teaching fail. Where this documentary really fell down for me was that it was lacking in any emotion. I couldn't engage with the protagonists. This meant that while I was full of admiration for the music they were making it didn't move me. It didn't speak to me on the affective plane that music needs to. I've been thinking about it a lot during the week and comparing it to me experience of watching the series featuring British choral conductor, Gareth Malone. During nearly every episode of his work building a choir in Unsung Town which screen recently on ABC2 I was moved to tears when I could see how much difference was made by introducing music and singing into the lives of people who not had the opportunity to engage with it before. If you've ever tried to start a music program in a school from scratch you'll know how difficult it is to build a culture of understanding of music's power into a new environment. Some years ago I got a job a private school where there was no string program at all. It took three years to even have a group in the primary school that could play simple, simple songs mainly in tune. This is the challenge music teachers all over the country face every day as they scramble to be given rehearsal time for choir or orchestra. If they are lucky enough to have the support of the school's administration that makes life easier. If not, then they battle. The give concerts in big classrooms, community centres, school halls, at fetes and other such events. They do not go to the Sydney Opera House as a matter of course. I would like to see a documentary that follows the music teacher doing the country circuit of tiny schools, or perhaps the music teachers who have to fight with the sports departments for funding and precious time. I didn't dislike Mrs Carey's Concert. It was very impressive. I just didn't like it that much.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A large piece of toenail

Yesterday afternoon I made my 15 minute journey to Innes Park as usual to do an afternoon of piano teaching. The five sisters and their good friend were all delightful as always. This week I was treated to the sight of a broken toenail...and then as a follow up...I got to see the large piece of toenail that had broken off. It seems my youngest student had been saving it just for me. While I am nowhere near as brilliant at capturing dialogue as Catriona at Circulating Library the conversation went something like this: Me: Right, let's start with this one today (points to music book) Youngest Student: I broke my toenail. Me: Really, that's no good. Okay, from here, what's the first note? Youngest Student: Would you like to see? Me: Not really. (youngest student immediately starts ripping off her shoes and socks) Youngest Student: See, it's all red. Me: (suitably impressed) Hmmm...yes that looks sore. I think you will live though. Youngest Student: Would you like to see the toenail? Me: Not really (youngest student races to her bedroom to find the piece of toenail and returns with it in the palm of her hand. For the record it was really quite large) Me: Wow, that is big.....No, you can hold it. Youngest Student: Ok (places toenail in her discarded shoes and sits back at the piano ready to play) Lesson continues as if nothing had happened. Then after all the lessons I was treated to dinner...yummy homebread and homemade sausages followed by a caramel drumstick. What more could I ask for on a Thursday afternoon?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fighting fish and fern

My parents and my sister have left town for a week for a little holiday. Before they left they gave me the contents of their fridge (lamingtons,shallots, a leek, pumpkin, tomatoes, capscium, spinach, a single potato, cherry tomatoes, avocado) as well as my sister's fighting fish and my mother's maidenhair fern to look after. The food will be turned into tonight's dinner. The fighting fish, whose name is Jack (after Captain Jack Sparrow) and the fern have been placed in the bathroom. It is my duty to keep the bathroom door shut all week to prevent the cat from discovering their existence. The bathroom is the safest place but should worst come to worst I will be making trips to both the nursery and the pet shop before the week is over.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Guinea pig and frog

One might imagine that an afternoon of piano teaching would be about teaching the piano. One would be mistaken. It's that of course but lots lots more. For instance, take today. It was the usual Wednesday afternoon line up. We began with a brother and sister team who have their lessons one after the other in between their good mother ferrying them to and from gymnastics. Here I was treated to tales of a recent trip to the snow and (perhaps the highlight of my week) a delightful 8 year old boy demonstrating how he could make two sounds at once. First was a rendition of a guinea pig and a frog. Then, for his second act he performed guinea pig plus cicada. It was tremendously impressive. Following this I heard a long and involved story about another 8 year old's taekwondo lesson yesterday afternoon, including a run down of all the different belt colours. Next was a talented 16 year old who came bearing three gigantic home grown lettuces and about half a kilo of cherry tomatoes. The evening is rounded off with my two adult students. The first one, a pharmacist, shared some stories of life in the pharmacy as well as a rendition of a Richard Marx song from the 80s which brought back memories of school socials. Lastly, the mother of a four year old, and 18 mth old twins informed of the politics of dancing lessons for kids in town, as well as the ins and outs of childcare. I am considerably more informed about all sorts of things than I was at 3:30 today.

Friday, September 2, 2011

buying shoes on the internet

The last few weeks have been busy busy busy and the next few will be as well. Fear not dear Spiralling Shape readers, this has not prevented me from buying shoes on the internet. Oh yes. You heard me correctly. I did it once and I may well do it again. Living in a shoe-buying backwater here in regional Queensland means that I have a choice of cheap-ass tizzy shoes which I will not wear for love or money OR...well...nothing. So I resorted to the wonders of the world wide web and clutching my credit card took a leap of faith into the scene of shoes from overseas. The good news is they took only a couple of weeks to arrive from Israel, they fit and best of all....(wait for it)....they are green. What more could a girl ask for?