Read about me
February 28, 2013 posted by littlewhitecottage

The Countess and I didn’t really get on…

recorderMusic has always been a big part of my life from as far back as I can remember. I sang (annoying my brothers) I picked up and started playing the recorder (annoying everyone) and then started to play the ‘cello (which actually didn’t really annoy anyone) Whilst I played the ‘cello and was quite good I never really gave up the recorder.

I know the recorder has had a bit of bad press and after teaching it to 30 children all at the same time I can say that I totally understand why it has been but when it’s played properly by someone who knows exactly what they are doing it is the most amazing instrument to hear. It’s not easy as most will think and early music (in terms of historical period not music that was written before noon) is incredibly intricate with its trills and ornaments (think of a musical ‘ornament’ rather like a house one in terms of it makes the house look pretty – the musical ornament embellishes the music) that changed depending on which period of history the music was written in. I wasn’t lucky enough to have my own recorder until I was a teenager and working to earn my own money. Up until then I had to make do with the random school recorders I had to borrow from a cupboard. Lots of them had green ‘stuff’ growing out of the mouthpiece –I do remember that!

When it got to the point where I had to choose which A Levels to study and where to study them I needed a second instrument to play at the auditions. I’d tried the piano but never really got to grips with it so I came back to the recorder and started to play it properly again. When I started my music A Levels I was introduced to the most amazing recorder player and I’m not sure what stunned me the most was that she was so amazing or the fact that she was a Countess…

I was a bold in some circumstances but very nervous in others kind of a teenager. I would drive like a maniac but not go out for a drink with friends after college as I was too nervous. I went to her house which was a lovely old building which I found amazing and I started having lessons. Things didn’t really go well from the beginning as although she was amazing (I think I have mentioned that) she couldn’t really explain how she played certain parts of the music. Bearing mind I’d had no real lessons on the recorder. I found the theoretical side of music baffling at times as no one had really taught me the ‘dots and dashes’ side of music and I tended to get through musical analysis parts of lessons by winging it. I could teach myself music from a CD by ear (as I did ‘The Swan’) but I couldn’t, in an audition when asked, tell you what key the piece of music was in. Because of this her technical language confused me, I absolutely didn’t understand mostly what she was talking about and I began to dread her lessons and missed a few. She thought I wasn’t pulling my weight and I felt more that I just wasn’t very good.

The phrase ‘those that can, do; those that can’t, teach’ has one been long used for teachers. I find it quite patronising especially because I could ‘do’ on the ‘cello but chose to teach instead. Teaching isn’t simple, it isn’t easy and as I’ve learned it certainly isn’t something everyone can do even though they may be amazing at whatever they then go on to teach.  Being able to break down a concept into little steps so that the learner can move along the steps making progress but not moving beyond what they can manage is very difficult. Teachers need to be interesting, they need to inspire and they need to make sure their pupils aren’t put off by the teacher aiming too high and losing their pupils’ confidence along the way. Teachers need to respond to their pupils, to adjust their lessons so they are at just the right level to stretch their pupils but if they are becoming disillusioned they need to be skilled enough to recognise this and quickly move in a different, but parallel fashion, that achieves the same outcome. Teachers are incredibly skilled and good teachers are worth their weight in gold.

So I totally disagree with the notion of those that can do those that can’t teach having had a teacher that clearly couldn’t with me. Yes, she was the most fabulous recorder player but she could disseminate down her knowledge in ways that I could understand and learn from and in time this meant a breakdown of expectations that led to me stopping lessons with her. I didn’t have another teacher again really whilst I was doing my A Levels but still managed a distinction in my grade 6 descant recorder –the highest exam you could take on the descant then. A couple of others also played the recorder and we were entered into an ensemble exam that the music for one of the pieces didn’t arrive until the week end before the exam (things like that didn’t seem to bother me then) and we achieved a merit which although isn’t a distinction isn’t bad. I was coached by the mother of the lady that accompanied me for my ‘cello exams – Hilary Finzi – who was the sister of the very famous ‘cellist Jacqueline Du Pre. Stories of those amazing people are for another blog though…

I love teaching and I do it because I chose to not because I can’t do the alternative. I work hard to break into manageable chunks the skills of what my pupils need to learn. Whoever I have taught has always seemed to vaguely like me and although I am under no illusion that I was everyone’s favourite teacher I enjoyed what I did and still enjoy what I do. I have taught children and adults how to play various instruments; I’ve been a class teacher teaching the entire national curriculum. I’ve had larger classes -34!- and smaller classes -7 girls at the moment for sewing. I’ve taught very difficult children who had various diagnosed and undiagnosed special needs and I’ve taught children who would have learned from anyone. I now plan and teach my own sewing curriculum which I have written specially to teach children how to sew and I believe that all my various experience has fed into what I do now – I just need to believe in myself a little bit more and tell people what I do! The most important thing I’ve learned though is to look for ‘the fog’ which is when whoever I’m teaching’s eyes glaze over and a little smile may spread across their face. That’s when I need to slow down, break things down further and reassure them that they will get there. The Countess and I may not have got on but actually, in a way, I learned so much from her…

Photo credit: Phillipe Bolton Recorder maker.

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