Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What's It All About, Alfie?

It's the last week of class in the collegiate world, so I have two more teaching days before finals. Although the days are long -- NOBODY is sick the last week of school, even if they're sick -- this is one of my favorite weeks. This week each student does a full run-through of all their repertoire, so I get to talk a lot less and listen a lot more.

There's nothing better than being serenaded by a diverse sampling of voices, composers and poets. From English folksong to German lieder, French Melodie to Italian arias, I love them all. It can be Broadway or Jazz, Opera or Oratorio, Secular or Sacred. The genre doesn't matter to me, because I find that every poet had something to say, every lyricist had a character to develop, and every composer has a melody line that allows a thought to soar over the spoken word, a rhythmic structure that gives life and movement to the text, and a harmonic structure that brings color to each underlying emotion. The trick for the singer, of course, is to find all these gems that hide in plain sight on the printed page. Part of my job as a teacher is to help each student in their own personal discovery of interpretation.

I don't like to TELL a student what a song is about, or how they should interpret every single syllable and note in a song. It's not that I can't -- I can, and often do -- but I prefer to let them struggle for awhile and think about it for themselves, so they can arrive at their interpretation, not mine. While I sometimes point them in the general direction if they seem to be floundering, I prefer to let them come to their own conclusions. When they do, it's a great AHA! moment.

As a teacher, AHA! moments are what I strive for. To riff the Rolling Stones, I don't get no satisfaction in cramming a bunch of facts into students, even if they successfully recite them on command. Regurgitation isn't education. I want them to have AHA! moments -- moments of personal discovery.

Next week all my students will sing for me for a part of their final grade. As much as I care that the songs are memorized, notes and rhythms are correct, and proper vocal technique is demonstrated, I'm much more excited to hear what they have discovered. It's one thing to have an AHA! moment; it's quite another thing to open yourself up and share it with others. But when it happens, it's nothing short of magical.

And then all that's left to say is, "Encore!"
Teaching accomplished.

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