In the same way that no two students have the same experience at Music House, this learning structure serves different purposes for different people. Factors such as learning style, previous musical background and other things going on in the child’s life determine Music House’s function for that individual. The following sections describe the three different functions of Music House that I have observed.
Informal Exposure: Emma
For some, Music House offers the essential informal exposure that is so often missing for children. It offers these children a broad sampling of ways to be musically involved, and serves as a springboard from which the child may choose a specific instrument to study in the future.
Emma came to Music House for one year. After an initial period of resistance, mistrust, and clearly feeling stifled by an adult presence, she gradually opened up to many ways of making music. As trust developed between us and Emma’s need to test my integrity and commitment to her decreased, her interest in exploring a variety of things she’d never tried increased. She dabbled in barred instruments, sang, made puppets dance to music, and spent an ever increasing amount of time at the piano creating pieces and learning others by rote. At the end of the year, Emma felt ready to make a choice; she began piano lessons with a different teacher and has now been studying for two years. Had Emma begun piano without having had the broad exposure, she might well have wondered what else she might be missing and whether piano was what she really wanted.
Mortar Between the Bricks: Shakira
Some children come to Music House during the time that they are studying another instrument with a different teacher. For these children, Music House may be thought of as the mortar between the bricks. It amazes me how proficient a student can become on an instrument without having any musical understanding at all. Such a student benefits greatly from a holistic musical environment that pulls all the bits and pieces together into some sort of musical sense.
Shakira, a sixteen year-old from the South Bronx, showed up at Music House one summer day. She had read my ad in a paper, gotten permission and money from her parents, and organized our meeting by herself. At first, Shakira was shy, awkward and giggly, and acted as though she didn’t know why she had come. After around twenty minutes of conversation that didn’t seem to be going anywhere, she suddenly announced that she had played some piano in school, in a keyboard class with several students learning at once. Great! Would she like to play for me? She guessed so, and proceeded to play “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” her pudgy hands dancing effortlessly over the keys with an elegance and musical intuition that left me staring, open-mouthed. When I recovered from the surprise, I asked for an encore, which she obligingly produced.
As advanced as her technique was, it turned out that Shakira knew nothing at all about music. She had never tried to play by ear, though as time went on, it turned out that her ear was remarkable. One day I showed her chord inversions, and that was the beginning of her musical understanding. “Oh! That’s just like this piece!” she exclaimed gleefully, and played a section from Fur Elise that sounded just like what I’d shown her. Each time I introduced something new, Shakira made an analogy to some piece she knew how to play. At each revelation she would giggle with the thrill of discovery. At the end of the summer she disappeared as mysteriously as she’d come, several weeks behind in payments, never to be heard from again.
A Taste of Everything: Sam
Then there are children who just need something different – a child-initiated approach that is an open-ended substitute for traditional lessons. These children thrive in the non-intrusive atmosphere and are not ready – or may never need – to go in a specific direction. For these children, Music House is a complete experience in itself.
For two years Sam came to Music House, during which time he did nothing that you could put your finger on. He plunked a little on the piano, danced with the puppets, jammed with me on percussion instruments and conducted classical CD’s. He thrived on flitting from one thing to another, seeming to revel in the fact that he’d actually found a grown-up who allowed him to do this.
Interestingly, while I had no agenda for Sam’s learning and wasn’t trying to “teach” him specific things, in school, where I saw him in music class, others had the impression that he was attending some sort of music conservatory in his spare time. Sam would namedrop composers, offer to demonstrate various modes on the piano (he got the biggest kick out of the hypomixolydian), and in general indicate that he had managed to absorb a wide range of knowledge and skill, appearances notwithstanding. His parents said that at home he was constantly talking about music and doing musical things.
The Music House structure’s malleability allows it to fill these different needs. Perhaps there are others that have yet to be revealed.
© Meryl Danziger 2004