Letter to my students, my artist colleagues, friends and all others who matter

Not long ago, on Facebook, I received an attack by a man who was a complete stranger, because I had engaged in a discussion with one of my social contacts he was friends with. The subject of that initial discussion is irrelevant. What I wish to bring forward is that when I explained why I considered the teaching and study of music as an enriching and important life experience, he answered with a lengthy declaration of hatred and disdain. To make things short, he accused me of being “irresponsible” and “incumbent” because I encouraged my students to believe in their individual qualities and wished them to feel empowered through persistent honing of their skills, active learning and personal growth. According to this man, I was selling my students the idea that they would “all be rock stars”, that I was ignorant of what the life of a musician is really like and that I was speaking from the perspective of a twenty year old.

While I could interpret it as flattering that from my profile picture on Facebook he assumed I was in my twenties, when I am really approaching forty, all the rest of his argument was an evident expression of entitlement, bitterness, and possibly even jealousy. My reaction was of disbelief and rage, and I ended up calling him an asshole. It was not a rhetorically sophisticated move, but sometimes you have to call things – and people – by their name. I did not tell him about the true nature of a musician’s work and passion, and neither did I say anything about the joy and pride I take in seeing my students advance, not just in music, but in life. I have never needed to tell anyone they will be a rock star because I strive to give my lessons in such a way that they, in themselves, are the benefit of attending. No need for dangling far-fetched carrots in front of anyone’s nose. Becoming a rock star as a result of taking lessons in classical music is a tough item to sell – I would need the charisma of a goddess to pull this off. But thanks for thinking I have that!

Instead, what teaching music is really about is:

Showing people that if they manage to fight their way through hours of persistent study, awaken their analytic mind and training their body to obey them, they will also have the power to pursue their goals and move forward in other areas of their lives. Music lessons are great fun, but they also promote self-confidence, self-knowledge, determination, concentration and mindfulness.

Helping people embrace, liberate and enjoy their emotions and turn them into beauty.

Keeping kids off the streets and away from hopelessness, drugs and delinquency. I have seen young individuals from dysfunctional or economically underprivileged families become enthusiastic and confident members of youth orchestras, improve their grades at school, enroll at universities in diverse areas of study, and even make first steps towards becoming professional musicians. What could be more gratifying than knowing I have been a tiny part of what made all of this possible?

Providing a space for socializing, teamwork and unwinding. Music lessons are developed through the constructive and empathic interaction between the teacher and student. They go far beyond checking if all the homework has been done. Everyone involved is required to leave behind the bullies, conflicts and obstacles everyday-life confronts them with, even if it is just for the duration of the lesson or rehearsal. Music helps to engage with the present moment and the present people – be those the teacher or an ensemble of fellow music students and musicians.

Promoting the appreciation and transmission of cultural knowledge.

Why am I pointing all this out? Because there are people who will try to ridicule or condemn your studying music or your building an existence as a musician. In fact, there are those who will try to deviate you from any path you wish to explore, inside or outside the arts. My urgent advice to you is to recognize them for the ill-intended, corroding forces they are, especially when they are attempting to serve you their destructiveness as “realism”. The moment you surrender to them and abandon your track, they will disappear and leave you standing lost in the emptiness of your defeated spirit. You have enough to chew on with the voices of doubt and self-criticism you have in your own mind. You do not need anyone else to remind you of your weaker character traits. No one out there ever gets to face them from as close up as you do every day of your life.

Please, all of you out there – students, artists, friends, family – remain true to yourselves. Be courageous, be willing to work hard for what you believe in, keep setting one foot in front of the other. Know when to save your energy for things and people that matter, and have fun calling all others what they are!

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How much is too much? Thoughts on teaching and overbearing parents.

I remember being at a friend’s place when he was throwing one of his legendary BBQ parties. In admiration of the amazingly beautiful plants he had around his house, I asked him what he was doing to make them thrive so exceptionally. His answer was “I water them twice a week and other than that I leave them alone. Plants are like kids – the less you care, the more they like it.”

Now, I have zero parenting experience, nor do I wish to acquire any. I am also not a star educator; all I have is empirical knowledge gained from giving piano lessons over the last decade, and a bit of formal teaching wisdom from trying to keep updated through reading articles and books on teaching.

Despite this sketchy background, I can see a pattern emerge regarding a student’s progress in terms of musical and personal development in correlation to parental control. To put it in one brief sentence: the more controlling parents are, the slower their child will progress and the more cognitively impaired the girl or boy is going to be. Having said this, I wish to point out that I am by no means advocating parental neglect. We all know how damaging it is. What I mean to say is that when parents are overbearing, they are likely to suffocate their offspring’s development on a number of levels. Contrary to what overbearing parents believe they are expressing, being excessively controlling does not stand for an especially high degree of attention or a specially strong affection towards their kid. Genuinely, and healthily, attentive and loving parents recognize when to be there and also when to step back. Overbearing parents are prone to forgetting the latter, instead valuing their own need of feeling in control higher than their children’s need for growth.

As a piano teacher, my options are limited. All I can do is offer my students a space for self-expression and self-affirmation for the duration of my lessons, hoping it will help them on their way into life. Parents of the overbearing type sometimes are little appreciative of this approach. On some occasions, I have had to put inappropriately interfering parents in their place, which sits quite badly with them. They send their kids to music lessons without acknowledging beforehand that the authority in the classroom is someone else but them. When they notice, they may attempt to sabotage the lesson, even if it is at their kid’s cost.

I have often found myself wondering – and worrying about – what will become of those overly controlled kids when they grow up. Which vital learning processes are they missing out on? Which survival skills are they not acquiring? And, the biggest question: how will these deficits affect them throughout their lives?

These meditations make me recall another friend, who is a secondary school teacher. We were roommates for a couple of years. One day, she told me about an overbearing pair of parents at her school and exclaimed: “Oh my God, this kid could become a perfectly normal person if it weren’t for his parents!” Back then, I still wasn’t into teaching myself and simply found my friend’s anecdote amusing in a slightly morbid way. Now, I occasionally find myself prompted to similar thoughts. Of course I can never utter them in such an impulsive way. Work ethics require you to be honest and accurate in your assessments, at the same time as well spoken and politically correct when conveying them to your students or their parents. Communicating constructively is a very important element among a teacher’s responsibilities. When I open my mouth, my priority is to create a win-win situation – a setting from which all parties involved benefit. I need green light for giving my lessons, the student needs green light for learning, enjoying and growing, and the parents should be proud of their kid’s gradual empowerment. After all, these young individuals have a right to grow into “perfectly normal persons”. P.S.: let’s just substitute the word “normal” with “healthy”.

La “modernidad” no es nueva

Muchos teóricos contemporáneos se rehúsan a reconocer que la interconexión y mezcla culturales, que según ellos son características novedosas de la era moderna, en la modernidad meramente ocurren en mayor escala y con mayor eficiencia que en el pasado gracias a los veloces medios de comunicación modernos. Lo que la modernidad está presenciando es la potenciación de un impulso que probablemente ha motivado al ser humano desde sus inicios a expandirse geográficamente, a contactar a otras populaciones humanas y a intercambiar bienes e ideas con ellas. Este impulso ha llevado al ser humano a establecer ideas de innovación tecnológica, acumulación de riqueza y de poder, ideologías políticas y sociales, así como producción cultural y adquisición de conocimiento. Todas estas visiones han mostrado el potencial de beneficiar a una sociedad tanto internamente como externamente al convertirla en una cultura dominante, a la vez de relegar a las sociedades coexistentes a posiciones secundarias o incluso establecer relaciones de explotación y de supresión con ellas. No es la modernidad la primera apariencia de los fenómenos enumerados. Desde que el ser humano ha empezado a administrar sus bienes y a organizar sociedades complejas mediante la creación de cuerpos administrativos y la construcción de infraestructura permanente, el impulso “civilizador” ha propulsado la historia de la humanidad hacia donde nos encontramos al momento. Vale preguntarse si esta motivación había existido antes de que homo sapiens cruzara el umbral de la revolución neolítica, o si incluso la habría causado porque ya estaba inherente en la psique humana.

El autor Marshall Berman, en su publicación Marx, el modernismo y la modernización cita un pasaje del Manifiesto de Karl Marx, quien afirma lo siguiente:

“En lugar de las antiguas necesidades, satisfechas con productos nacionales, surgen necesidades nuevas, que reclaman para su satisfacción productos de los países más apartados y de los climas más diversos. En lugar del antiguo aislamiento de las regiones y naciones que se bastaban a sí mismas, se establece un intercambio universal, una interdependencia universal de las naciones.”

Tal autosuficiencia no ha existido en ningún momento. La ambición de explorar tierras desconocidas y establecer comunicaciones con culturas foráneas es tan antigua y siempre ha sido tan urgente, que hace milenios, e incluso hace decenas de milenios, seres humanos se han aventurado a descubrir qué es lo que hay más allá del horizonte, utilizando medios de transporte y tecnologías cuyo uso nosotros hoy en día equipararíamos con suicidio. Lo que hoy es un vuelo confortable de seis horas, almuerzo y entretenimiento incluidos, no hace mucho era una misión de meses o años, y en potencia un viaje de nunca volver. Sin embargo, el ser humano estaba dispuesto a pagar ese precio exorbitante por la mera posibilidad de encontrar algo nuevo, algo que le permitiría multiplicar su bienestar individual y colectivo. Ni siquiera el casi mítico out-of-africa hubiera ocurrido si homo sapiens se hubiese sentido contento con su status quo. El ser humano nunca ha sido más autosuficiente que hoy. Simplemente no siempre ha poseído los medios tecnológicos que hoy le permiten vivir sus caprichos a gran escala. La globalización no es un resultado de la modernidad. La modernidad, y de hecho toda la historia de las civilizaciones humanas, son productos de una ambición expansiva que hoy llamamos globalización.

Lo que percibimos hoy como una dominancia injustificada de todo lo que es occidental, no es otra cosa que la dominancia cultural que en otros momentos han poseído muchos imperios en varios continentes: Europa, las Américas, Asia, Africa. Alguna sociedad siempre ha dominado el ámbito intercultural, ha impuesto una lingua franca, ha inundado a otras sociedades con sus productos comerciales y con su acervo intelectual, y ha dominado el ambiente político y comercial, al punto de aniquilar a otras culturas. Todos los avances tecnológicos e ideológicos que se han desarrollado para beneficiar a una sociedad internamente, también se pueden utilizar externamente para establecer supremacía sobre otras sociedades. Y aunque suene como un cliché, el hecho es que imperios ascienden y se desploman para dar lugar a nuevas potencias. El auge de la dominancia occidental ya ha pasado. Será dentro de unas generaciones cuando sepamos hacia dónde se desplazará la predominancia cultural.

Además de innovar constantemente sus condiciones de vida, el ser humano parece ser incapaz de resistir la tentación de aplicar sus inventos – ya sean materiales, ya sean ideológicos – y ver qué ocurre. Si Ramsés II hubiese tenido conexión internet en su palacio, la hubiera utilizado. Y eventualmente hubiera pedido una conexión más veloz y una cámara web de buena resolución para poder chatear con los Hititas. Ideación y aplicación práctica se retroalimentan en un ciclo que finalmente lleva a lo que llamamos “progreso”. También se podría llamar “oportunismo evolutivo”. La obsesión por maximizar la utilidad de los recursos a disposición es un impulso de supervivencia ancestral.

La conclusión de las meditaciones anteriores es que la modernidad no representa un cambio en la esencia o en las ambiciones del ser humano. El pasaje citado de Karl Marx parece estar teñido por una nostalgia romántica, y equivocada, del tipo “antes todo era mejor”. La modernidad no es el final de la humanidad como se conocía en eras pasadas. Más bien, la modernidad es el producto de estas. La historia de las civilizaciones humanas lleva lógicamente a lo que estamos presenciando en el ahora: sociedades que disponen de medios de comunicación veloces y de relativamente fácil acceso, tecnologías que relevan al individuo de tareas que antes hubiera que cumplir personalmente, un aumento en la expectativa de vida gracias a mayor conocimiento científico y mejor atención médica. Vale recordar que el ciclo de ascenso y declive de las civilizaciones ha llevado a que el desarrollo intelectual y tecnológico de la humanidad no haya sido ni continuo ni global. Más bien ha sido de dos pasos para adelante y uno para atrás, beneficiando solamente partes de la población humana. Lo que sí se puede esperar de la modernidad, es que tanto los avances positivos como los conflictos serán compartidos – para bien o para mal – a través de virtualmente todo el planeta.

 

The French, The French…

wthw 6

A man and a woman who are both married – but not to one another – fantasize about betraying their respective spouses in the nocturnal shade of a summer garden somewhere in Normandy.

In the same garden, on another occasion, another man and another woman attempt to seduce one another in order to make the elopement of the other’s partner less painful for them.

Again, in the very same place, a lady gets utterly frustrated in the presence of both her husband and her lover, who both are but annoying chores in her languid life.

Those are the very rough outlines of three short plays, that were compilated in a trilogy called What The Heart Wants by American playwright David Nicholson, and translated from French to English. The originals were written by French authors Henry Becque, Henri Meilhac and Jules Renard towards the fin de siècle.

They portray the sweetness of romantic temptation, the spiciness of seduction and the staleness of unfulfilled longings. Who would have expected that these three plays are 120 years old? The fascination love and sensuality exert on us is eternally human, making every story they permeate timeless. Appearances, rituals and customs change over time, but not human essence.

When the Little Theatre Group of Costa Rica produced the trilogy What The Heart Wants, they set the action in the roaring twenties of the last century, making a 21st century public laugh and hold their breath. wthw rehearsal rbtt 9

I was blessed to play, temporarily, all three women in all three pieces, and anticipate with great excitement doing it again whenever the Little Theatre Group decides to perform them again.

On a note apart, these flirtatious episodes turned out to be gently intoxicating and bewitching also for some of the cast. The sexy, smart and unbelievably sweet man who played my lover in the third play has actually become my partner in real life.

Vive la France!

YWGY – Whatever happened to week 4???

Hey All,

yes, week four has passed without any German insult, even without a teaser for the following week. Not that there are no naughty terms left – I guarantee you the ressources are virtually unlimited. Unfortunately, I’ve had to deal with some offenses myself, as well as with other mishaps. Everything’s fine now, so I can dedicate myself to dishing out vulgarities to you again. In the meantime, keep practising the vocabulary you’ve already acquired. And remember, the best way of learning a language is hands-on training in real life situations!

Yours,

Silvia Del Sol