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It’s been over a month since my last lessons with my students in Pennsylvania. Recently, I received an letter from a parent about the recent success of her daughter who was a multi-talented voice/piano/guitar/songwriting student of mine. The article she linked to commended my student for her passion, originality, and strong audience response.
My immediate response was pride. Pride in Sarah, her work ethic, her passion, and her dedication toward music. However, as much thankful as they might be for my hand in Sarah’s success, it ultimately was Sarah herself to truly earned it. More on that in a moment.
I recently taught a band of students who frustrated me. I was simply substituting while their usual teacher was out. The frustration stemmed from several sources. Their behavior was mostly of teen-aged horseplay and acts of defiance. They were clearly trying to get a response out of me and test my patience: intentionally playing and singing poorly, criticizing every critique I had for them, questioning my musical abilities, mocking my “elevated” vocabulary, hinting ethnic slurs, and doing everything except trying to work on music. They clearly weren’t interested in taking any direction from anyone, let alone some guy they were seeing for a day.
So I let them goof off. And they got nothing from me.
Here’s the sobering reality: teachers are paid to have students fail.
Whether a child is learning piano or arithmetic, the teacher will get paid regardless of the student’s success. That said, it’s not a sustainable business model to do nothing and fail all students. In my experience, most teachers want to see their students succeed and thrive. However, our living doesn’t depend on that success necessarily.
As a teacher, I don’t think I can inherently teach anything. My role is to guide students down one of several paths of my expertise. However, if the student’s destination is opposite of mine, I can’t guide them. I can lecture. I can spout facts. I can demonstrate. Yet, if the student is not receptive, nothing is heard. Nothing is learned. Nothing is taught.
That said, it would be completely irresponsible of teachers to do nothing every time they meet resistance from students. Yes, part of our role is to be babysitters. For those poor souls teaching a public school class filled with students unwilling to learn, their role is simply a government-sanctioned babysitting service. The teacher can try to teach in class, but his/her ultimate job is to make money to support his/her family.
But beyond babysitting, parents rely on us, our training, our experience, and our expertise to help think of creative ways to frame the lessons in ways where the student becomes willing and able to learn. After all, a large part of being an adult is doing things that you really don’t want to do. Kids have to learn that lesson some time or risk staying in a state of arrested development. (Or they can become musicians.)
I’ve had many students like Sarah. I’ve also had many students like the band. Most students fall somewhere in the middle. In my experience, many lean a little closer to Sarah. I’ve had many students go from being apathetic or even hating music to becoming music lovers. I was one such student. All it took me was the right guidance, the right way of framing music, a way that made the lessons relevant to me.
I feel sad and guilty that in the short, single lesson I had with the band, the parents wasted their hard-earned money. I feel sad and guilty that the students didn’t even appreciate what their parents were trying to do for them. Even more sad was that the students were talented and capable of doing great things with some guidance.
Yes, I’m paid to see my students fail, but I want to see them succeed. They don’t have to become musicians, but I don’t want them to be among the millions of people who say, “I used to take lessons, but I was never any good at it. I wish I stuck with it.”
Students like Sarah make my job easier. They also make it rewarding. They help me grow. Progress can be seen with every small effort made on both the part of teacher and student. The teacher’s experience becomes an open well of wisdom and ideas rather than a dousing hose to get misbehaving students to cool off. Parents are happy because their hard-earned money is going towards guidance that helps make their child’s life more full, rich, and fulfilling. Kids are happy because they realize they have a talent that empowers them to be active parts of their communities.
There’s only so much time in the day, so many calories to burn, so much emotional investment I can give. And as much as it hurts me to say it, I would rather devote that time, attention, and energy toward those who want my guidance than to let lessons with the willing suffer for the sake of those who actively resist my efforts. I would rather.
But a flaw in my personality makes me want to try harder with the difficult students. To try and reach them. I mull over these things (even write blog posts about it to process my thoughts!).
So what happened to those students in the band? The ones who got nothing from me? They ran out of energy. There was only so much fooling around they could do. Once they got it out of their systems, they played. They practiced. They got better. And they didn’t need me. Then they hit a wall and needed some help. And our time ran out.
We’re a culture obsessed with punishment. “Bad” behavior is returned with punishment. The original intent is to deter the undesired behavior, but soon, the focus becomes finding the right punishment/avoiding punishment, often on technicality rather than doing the assigned task.
Many religions have this idea of the afterlife where one’s ethics and values throughout life are measured and assigned appropriate judgement balancing punishment and rewards.
It’s a metaphor for how life is. We can be terrible, selfish, cruel people, but it catches up with us. After all, who wants to be around a person like that, let alone help them? Those who choose the path of kindness, love, generosity, mindfulness, gratitude, and diligence find great rewards in life.
There are many techniques and styles of playing guitar, and one of the least common and most interesting is percussive fingerstyle, perhaps best known by its portrayal by Kaki King in the movie August Rush. While many artists dabble in the style, the truly experimental combine it with other advanced techniques and technologies to push the art of playing guitar forward, and four such artists gathered on Friday night at Doc Watson’s. The opening act was Suzi Brown, a young singer-songwriter who began with instrumental guitar performance before adding lyrics sung in a style reminiscent of Alanis Morissette. Her songwriting tends toward the didactic, with a strong focus on social justice issues on which she frequently speaks from the stage. The complex instrumental techniques of her roots are not always hidden behind straightforward songwriting and ’90s styled vocals, however, as she still finds herself explaining instrumental pieces and their inspiration somewhat frequently through her set, perhaps the best of which is “Logan’s Pass”, a rendition of which you can see above.
Alex Brubaker, on the other hand, kept things strictly instrumental throughout, preferring to integrate his technical prowess with further technological advancements for added interest rather than lyrics and singing. His heavy use of looping and processing is fascinating, his pedalboard a gearhead’s dream that enables virtually limitless self-expression. Building songs by bits and pieces as he’s been doing for years, this show was an opportunity for many to hear new material from his forthcoming second studio album, The Architecht The Engineer. He included some material from his debut, Deconstructing the Temporal Lobe, as well, but the evolution of his style was certainly the focal point of the set, as the material seemed to get newer and newer throughout. Fans will have many opportunities to experience the new songs before the album drops, the first of which will be on April 24th at the Lancaster Convention Center for Launch Music Conference. The key difference is more of a sense of space and minimalism, skewing away from the multi-tracked, guitar-switching antics of his early material in favor of a more restrained, mature style. The video above is situated about halfway between the two.
The gathered musicians were all clearly friends, a fact that became clear to those unaware when Brubaker heckled Henry Nam a bit for his newfound vocal focus before finishing his set. The joke turned around when Nam took the stage and pointed out that he would be sticking with primarily instrumental material that night. Rather than integrating a keyboard into his performance as he was at one time known for, he focused on his stringed work as well, delivering a tight set of comparatively high-energy rhythmic work, even including a surprising interpolation of Outkast’s “Hey Ya”, with markedly less exposition between songs. Letting the music speak for itself was even his approach when he performed at TEDxStanford about a year ago, and probably will be again when he plays at Princeton’s Communiversity on the 26th.
Rated one of Acoustic Guitar Magazine’s 30 Under 30, Trevor Gordon Hall is an accomplished performer and composer who has been touring internationally for a few years now. Based locally in Collegeville, PA, it is a rare evening that finds him performing in such an intimate space, a treat that those gathered surely appreciated. The Candyrat Records artist played two unique instruments at this show: his distinctive “kalimbatar”, an acoustic guitar with a kalimba mounted to the body, and a guitar strung with just the high strings from a 12-string. Both sounds were alternatingly familiar and surprising, integrating strange techniques and notes into otherwise ordinary formats and vice versa. Perhaps a bit peaceful for the lateness of the evening, his music was quite calming, certainly decompressing the audience from a week’s work should the preceding performances have yet to do so. The other artists and their remaining fans, friends, and family gathered close to the stage with an enviable communal spirit, focusing intently on the details of each piece in a way much more expected of a smaller listening room than a bar. He’ll be bringing that experience to The Artscenter andGrey Eagle in North Carolina in May, before stopping home for Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church Concert Series in Phoenixville and heading up to Stowe, Vermont in June for The Gathering.
By Dave Fox | Philadelphia Ambassador | @philosofoxthedj | Beat-Play and Music Without Labels, LLC
Diggy Kat and Miss Mouse happened to swing by during one of my performances at the 2014 Winter NAMM and asked to interview me. We managed to carve some time to hang out and chat outside of the press room. Here’s my interview and a slightly out-of-tune live performance:
This January, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Sara Lambeth from Da Belly Magazine an arts, entertainment, and lifestyles publication that is rooted in a wide variety of music. Without further ado, here’s the article and video interview!
Sheltered Turtle’s Meridian Eclipse
By: Sara Lambeth
I was checking the appearances and events scheduled for this years NAMM music trade show in Anaheim, California when I came across the name Henry Nam, Sheltered Turtle, scheduled to appear at the Engler Innovations booth. They described Henry Nam’s guitar playing as following in the in the footsteps of Leo Kottke, a guitarist favorite of mine. I watched the video, “To Be Again,” off the album, “Runaway Sketchbook” (2013), where Nam uses the Engle Guitar Hammer. Before I knew it, I had watched every video on Henry Nam’s YouTube page, Sheltered Turtle. **Nam’s masterly and characterful approach to percussive fingerstyle on acoustic guitar is awe-inspiring. It is something you have to see with your eyes to believe with your ears. Nam uses the entire body and capability of his guitar to create layered harmonies, melodies and at times, Nam plays his guitar as if it were a piano, which I learned was his first instrument.
Currently, Henry Nam is a teacher at Meridee Winters School of Music in Pennsylvania. His is releasing his third album, “Meridian Eclipse,” February 9th, 2014 under the name Sheltered Turtle. DaBelly publisher, Dave Schwartz and I had a chance to sit down with Henry Nam before one of his performances at the NAMM show. We talked about his impressive growth as a musician and unique approach to the guitar, or as he calls it, “fancy elevator music.” We learned how Nam didn’t start playing music or even appreciate music until he was a teenager. He was inspired by a teacher and soon after Nam was winning piano competitions and gaining international recognition. Then, in his early 20s he picked up a guitar, and what he has accomplished in five years is remarkable.
“I have probably put in about 10 years worth of practice,” Nam stated.
He also talked with us about his future plans and the fascinating story behind the Brick Chapel of 1667, where “Meridian Eclipse” was recorded.
After the interview we watched Henry Nam perform with flautist Steven Rushingwind and percussionists Nelson Rios and Adam Riviere Long. It reminded me of why I love music so much and is a performance I will never forget.
Please enjoy our interview with Henry Nam.
Meridian Eclipse Tracklisting:
2. Ithaca…In America!
3. Lexington Park
5. The Stalker
6. Swimming Upstream
7. Unsung Heroes
8. I Spilled Soup On My Shirt
9. Overcoming Sickness
10. Chasing Muse
11. Cracked Mirrors
12. The Six Years