Saturday, 21 November 2009

Teaching - the hardest gig? Part Two

Last week, after a delay brought about by the half term break and a Government inspection, I presented the last of a series of woodwind demonstrations. Aimed at the 11yr old intake at a local high school the sessions were designed to educate the children about instruments they would only otherwise see on TV. There was also a hope that some children might take up the flute, clarinet or saxophone themselves.

The sessions open with a question to the audience: 'What is a woodwind instrument?" As someone who didn't know what a flute looked like until first presented with one at age 13 or 14, I should not have been surprised by some of the answers. Drums, guitar and 'cello were obviously way off the mark. Trumpet a little closer. One completely unexpected suggestion was didgeridoo. From that session onwards I brought in a 5ft (1.5m) cardboard tube to use as my first instrument and followed this up with a genuine Australian didge (pictured).

I keep the didge playing to a minimum. The embouchure doesn't sit easily with playing reed instruments so I don't practise it much. Then comes bamboo flute; children are always surprised that so much music can come from something so simple. This I contrast with the orchestral flute on which I play 'Greensleeves' accompanied by the class teacher on piano. Greensleeves is an English folk tune attributed, at least by some, to King Henry VIII although it is unlikely to have been written before he died in 1547. Perhaps as many as half the children recognised this but none could name it.

Questions about the flute, and for the other instruments, include "How much do they cost?" and "How many buttons has it got?" I can never remember how many keys so have to count them all each time. The sax has so many I don't bother.

The clarinet comes next and I play them a klezmer tune called Mazel Tov, (Yiddish for Good Luck!). I don't know many klezmer tunes in major keys but this is one and it's a hit. I mention the instruments uses in jazz and classical music before playing something from Carmen by Bizet, again with a piano accompaniment. I make a mental note to find out exactly what a character in SpongeBob plays on the instrument.

And then come the saxophones. I have brought in an alto and a tenor as this is what the school has available for study. The teacher and I play The Pink Panther theme by Henry Mancini. instantly recognised by one and all. I then play a few bars of The Simpsons on the tenor. We contrast size and weight of the instruments and the teacher tells the children about forms to take home if they are interested in learning an instrument.

And now there is time for a final question or two. "Do you teach guitar?"

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