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June, 2005 - Nr. 6


The Editor
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Rachel Seilern
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Invitation to Dancers
Parenthood on a Low
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Rare Books Returned
Common German Words
Potsdam Pool Designed
Water Got Cleaner
100 Millionth Volkswagen

Being a music teacher for children


Rachel A.I. SeilernSeven years of teaching children music has made one thing clear to me: my occupation involves much more than just instructing little people on the names of notes, on time signatures, and dynamic markings! In order to be a successful teacher of music to lively kiddies, I must be patient. I must also be an entertainer, a nurse, chiropractor, psychologist, mother, motivator, repairperson, manicurist and personal trainer.

(To protect the innocent, I’ve changed the name of the student I have featured.)

no comment  [photo: Rachel Seilern]I rely heavily on several motivational tactics to inspire my students (and keep lessons fun). The most effective I’ve found is bribery in the form of awarding stickers. My own very Russian teacher even told me that the secret to teaching and motivating young students is: "Steekers steekers airywhere!" So, in my class, every tiny accomplishment merits sticker praise and I do see fine results with this technique. Some children are easy to motivate. They do most of the work themselves instead of me. Other children make me think that with all the training I get, I might make a fine paediatrician one day!

Meet six year old Morgan. A typical violin class would look like this. I complete the task of placing the violin properly under her chin and curving her fingers correctly around her bow. After playing some three notes on her instrument, "Oh! My BACK", she groans and lets go of her violin and bow (which I then catch before they reach the floor) and begins twisting and stretching like a senior with arthritis. She then decides she might fix her sore back by rolling about on the floor doing gymnastic demonstrations and flapping her arms and legs as if making snow angels. "Morgan" I say firmly, "Get up". The next five minutes I spend trying to knead the kink out of her back, all the while explaining how we violinists have to be tough and strong! We are learning one of the hardest instruments in the world! I recently asked her, "Would you like to quit?" Morgan looked sharply at me. "NO", she nearly shouted-----and didn’t have any more complaints.

Frustration builds in children that demand too much of themselves. During her piano lessons, it was common that, after playing one note incorrectly, Morgan would then howl in frustration and throw herself back so suddenly that she nearly somersaulted off the back of the bench. There are many ways to deal with such behaviour. One can scold and lecture, or be creative and unpredictable! After several such burstings, I grabbed Morgan off the piano bench…pulled her close to me, cradled her lovingly in my arms, closed my eyes with a theatrically stern expression, stroked her hair and began speaking in the most calming voice short of a whisper, "There there" I hushed. Morgan went limp---- giggling at me. A few moments of the therapy had her revived and ready to continue her piano lesson. Though very independent and strong-willed, Morgan sees me as a role model. She even looks in the mirror hoping to find a red mark on her neck from her violin, just like I have. I am never to show favouritism as a teacher, but I thought I’ll just tell you that despite the challenges, this student is still one of my favourites. I look forward to see her and all my other 12 students perform at our little year-end recital coming up in a couple weeks.

Teaching music is challenging and all-consuming at times, but there are many rewards.

The best reward as a music teacher is experiencing the improvements and growth of my students. For the past month and a half I’ve been directing the music part of a children’s musical. My students are a group of fifteen 7 and 8 year olds of a local public school who love drama. On our first rehearsal, the play director, my friend Christine, explained to the children that their new play was going to be a musical. (This was only because Christine had been sent the wrong scripts!--she had intended to put on the regular, non-musical version!) When the children heard they were going to have to sing, they clutched their stomachs, moaned in anguish and fell to the gym floor. I felt slightly anxious at the sight! But when I began introducing their new songs I was soon impressed with how fast and painless these same children began to sing! They didn’t fuss about it probably because I avoided making a big deal of it. I simply asked them to ‘say ---"Laaaaaaa" as I picked out a note from the air and sang it for them! (I purposely used the non anxiety-inducing term say instead of sing.) Now the children sound like a choir!---singing as carefree as though it were just a step up from speaking!

Children are a special breed of student that need to be dealt with very carefully! As their teacher, it is largely up to me if they will see music as a treasure worth keeping!

Rachel A.I. Seilern


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