1. The Beginning
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“Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth”
When I was seven years old, I experienced my very first and most bitter disappointment. I absolutely loved music. So much so, that I even dreamed of going to music school and learning to play the piano.
I am 7 year old and practicing. Sort of...
How joyful I was when I found out that I’d get to go there! With eager anticipation, I savored the image of my favorite preludes and waltzes simply flowing out of my fingers. But things didn’t turn out so easily at all… Music school turned out to be a total nightmare.
My music school in Ordzhonikidze, Ukraine
For hours, I was tormented by merciless sheet music, trudging through the notes as if I were stumbling through dense jungles. My fingers refused to do what I wished; music wasn’t being made. My teacher didn’t notice all of this and commanded that I play with “expression and beauty!” Oh, is that all there is to it? Where the heck was the beauty that she was talking about? How could I hear the music I was playing when I was just trying to make my fingers hit the right keys on time?
On the other hand, in the school for general studies, I was a star in music class! We got to dance, clapped to all sorts of rhythms, and even sang our favorite songs. There wasn’t any sheet music, plus, it was all super easy. These were two different types of “Music”: one was fun and easy, and the other was demanding and boring. Both of them taught me poorly. Actually, neither of them taught me at all.
My mom and I long before music struggles had started.
At home, Mom struggled right along with me, but she wasn’t much help; she didn’t know the notes any better than I. It came to such a point that she got a piece of paper and wrote out the entire song with the Russian names for each note, marking each word-note with the corresponding number for which finger I needed to play it with. Afterwards, she’d stoop over me at a breath’s distance and compare my every move to what was written in her ‘note’ book. In this way, we trampled along together like puppies in a ditch. Interest in such an education simply withered in front of your eyes. I don’t remember this method helping me out very much, but at least it gave my mom some comfort. For the most part, to me, piano became an instrument of torture. It is a miracle that I didn’t come to hate music.
In spite of all of this, I still managed to complete my music education. In order to fully understand how I outsmarted the system and managed to finish music school, music prep school, and then the music conservatory all with outstanding marks, one must be familiar with an old anecdote:
“Sir, how did you become a millionaire?”
“Oh, it was a long and painful process! On one street I found apples on sale for ten cents, and on the other they were thirty cents. I bought the apples for one price and sold them for the other, carefully pocketing the difference.”
“And then what?”
“Well, after that my rich uncle died and left me his inheritance.”
My unexpected inheritance came to me as a miracle. At some point, I was suddenly given a golden ticket: the perfect pitch, the natural ability to identify notes by their pitch vibration. I suddenly just knew what note I was hearing, as if I were recognizing colors that I saw. It was like gaining eyesight after a lifetime of blindness! Unexpectedly, I was provided with a key, and a beautiful world of music was suddenly opened up to me. I could write down melodies that I was hearing on paper without pause. And after writing down a multitude of different songs, I saw how all of this music stuff is really put together. It turns out that everything in music is actually quite simple and logical! All one needs is a foothold to see this, and to understand. I started feeling very sorry for those that continued to think that serious music is boring and complicated. More than anything, it made me want to show every person what music really is – to see, and to want to learn. That is when I decided to become a music teacher
My Piano Teacher Valentina Phillipovna (at my last visit to Ukraine in 2008)
At the beginning, I had a harder time with this than the average music prodigy. I collected an entire store of obstacles in music education and inspected them carefully. This became my hobby – an investigation of what teaches how to teach. After learning what I could about teaching and putting theory into practice, I could no longer believe in the accepted methods of pedagogy. I realized that without thinking about what we’re doing, in just a half-hour we can deprive a student of his ‘key to music’ for the rest of his life. Also, even if we might find a way to alleviate some of our hardship during the lesson, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the student will be so lucky!
1980. My first students. I came back to my school as a piano/music theory teacher
My difficult childhood with music helped me to find the right questions. What and how are we teaching, and what is the final result of our efforts? Why do we teach in one way, and not in a different one? How is it possible to give a person both the abilities of hearing and play? Of course, I understood perfectly well that not everyone gets the perfect pitch dropped into his or her head from the clouds… but anyone can learn to play music! This means that it’s necessary to seek out many different ‘keys,’ one for every person.
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