Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Friday, May 07, 2010

Learning Is Golden

I'm a teacher by trade. My primary job is to teach something that most of the kids know they will probably never use in their lives except when taking a particular examination. In other words, I do my best to find creative, new ways to beat a dead horse. However, my second job is to try to get the kids to learn something. Hopefully, in and among all that academic stuff, they'll acquire some knowledge and experience that will actually help them later in life.

Even though I'm a teacher (or even because I am a teacher), and even though I'm more than three times as old as my youngest students, I'm not above learning a thing or two myself. As far as I'm concerned, learning should only stop at the grave. Last time I checked, my heart was still beating; therefore, I continue on the path of gaining knowledge. And during the recent Golden Week holiday season and the week leading up to is, I learned a number of things:

  • I've always known that music from different periods needs to be played in a different way, but recently I've been learning more and more that individual composers have their own signature style, as well. For example, as the Flying Eggheads jazz ensemble here at Ye Olde Academy has built up a tradition and raised its ability level over the past decade, I've come to teach them that a Count Basie tune isn't played quite the same way as a Glenn Miller tune even though they're from the same period, or that a Herbie Hancock number shouldn't be performed in the same style as a Chase one. There are all kinds of small differences in such things as attack, note length, dynamics, the pulse of the rhythm, and so on. The thing is that I didn't really understand these differences myself back when I was playing jazz in my high school and college days. It's something that I only came to realize after listening to the original recordings intensively in preparation for teaching them. (They do say that the best way to learn is to teach.) More recently, I came to learn something similar regarding classical music. The Kashima Philharmonic played a concert on May 2nd, and the program included Sibelius' "Finlandia", Smetana's "Vltava" (also known as "Moldau"), Borodin's "On the Steppes of Central Asia", and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Our principal encore was Brahms' Hungarian Dance #1. The whole thing was very educational for me for a number of reasons. Both "Vltava" and the Hungarian Dance #1 have technically difficult clarinet parts, and I had to work at them. (Actually, I didn't think I'd ever nail that Hungarian Dance! I swear Brahms had a death wish against clarinetists or something. As it was, I had to slur my way through a difficult duet break since I haven't mastered the double-tonguing technique, at least on clarinet.) On the other hand, neither "Finlandia" nor "Central Asia" looks difficult, but each has its potential pitfalls; quite often "technically easy" is synonymous with "musically difficult", after all. By far the biggest challenge, however, was the Mendelssohn concerto. The director kept getting on our cases to "play it like Mendelssohn, not like Wagner". I got chewed out quite a bit myself. Indeed, it took a bit of learning. I had to revise my playing style in a few ways both to get the style right and to keep up with the tempo of the third movement. All in all, it helped me grow as a serious musician.
  • [TECHNOBABBLE ALERT!] Speaking of musical stuff, I dusted off my home studio, got to work on a new inspiration, and wound up making a few discoveries. I really like the sound of my Marshall Reflector reverb pedal, but like so many others, I kept having serious problems with it. It would suddenly start distorting the tone, and then I'd get a constant, crackling noise until the reverb stopped working altogether. I tried all kinds of things, including following advice I gleaned from the internet, but nothing really worked beyond just a temporary fix. I debated just tossing the thing, but during Golden Week I made a priceless discovery: The pedal only malfunctions if I use an expensive, gold-plugged input cable! If I use an ordinary nickel one, it works without any trouble! (Irony of ironies!) Then, the very next day, I made a similar discovery regarding my Fishman Neo-D clip-on acoustic guitar pickup and BOSS DI-1 direct box. I'd always tended to get a little bit of a background hum with it, and while it was never a problem with more intense play (mainly because I could gate it out), it really got to be obnoxious during the soft, sensitive part I was trying to record. Then I decided to try something. Up till then, I'd always connected it to my recording input using the unbalanced 1/4" TRS output and a special (i.e. rather expensive) shielded guitar cable optimized for acoustic guitars. This time I experimented with using the balanced XLR output and a microphone cable, something sound engineers had done with my gear onstage before, but I'd never tried at home. Presto! No hum, and the sound quality was even better than before. BOTTOM LINE: EXPENSIVE CABLES DON'T NECESSARILY MEAN SQUAT.
  • It appears that basing your opinions on personal experience, first-hand accounts from people in the know, major news sources, and documented research makes you "prejudiced" and "paranoid". Apparently you're supposed to learn about life by watching reality TV. No, I promise you, this is NOT something I learned, but someone tried very, very hard to teach it to me. And when I rejected this "lesson", I wound up being viciously slandered by name online. I think it would be within my rights to sue this individual, and a lot of people probably would under similar circumstances, but I won't bother. Which brings me to my next point:
  • It seems that no friendship is too old and set in stone to snap without warning, even for reasons that seem barely relevant. On the other hand, as I also had the chance to see during Golden Week, no friendship is too damaged by needless quibbling to be repaired, and it can really feel good to reconnect. And finally:
  • Letting the weeding go can be dangerous, especially in early Spring. I know I could plop down an enormous pile of excuses, but it doesn't change the fact that, within a very short span of time, the backyard we share with my FIL wound up being all but taken over by horsetails, which are very difficult to get rid of. My FIL basically refuses to do anything his late wife used to do, i.e. take care of the yard and flowerbeds, unless we actually start to do it ourselves. I finally started digging up those horsetails, and then I somehow got my wife to help me. (She loathes yard work and usually can't be forced to do it.) Between the two of us and my son, we managed to make quite a bit of headway. That's when my FIL finally decided he couldn't let us take credit for doing the work, so he immediately came in afterward, dug up the parts we'd already finished, and cut the remaining horsetails with a grasscutter (i.e. the plants are all still there, and now they're even harder to get out). I guess I've finally come to understand the meaning of the term "passive-aggressive".
Yes, this was truly an educational Golden Week in many ways. What's really amazing was that I actually managed to squeeze in a tiny bit of R&R, too. But now vacation is over, and it's time to try to coax myself into work again.


  • You've lived a year in a week. You need to go back to work for R&R.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 12:02 PM  

  • You said it, Don.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:26 PM  

  • That's very cool that you teach your students the nuances of playing pieces by various composers in their own style.

    I love the music of the last KPO concert, but once again missed it. Perhaps you would be kind enough to drop me an email next concert and sell me a couple of tickets?

    We have been beating back the jungle here. Seems we didn't have good enough weather for so long, and the weeds are relentless. Ours are mostly those orange poppy-like ones (sans opiates). They really took over in a hurry.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:34 PM  

  • Looking forward to pictures of your yard - flowers and fruit trees.

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 5:32 PM  

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