The impatient music teacher

It’s Steve Reich’s eightieth birthday year.

And the Cambridge Corn Exchange audience was expectant. Steve Reich would be there.

On cue at 7.30 the man recently included in the BBC’s tea-time Pointless programme as one of the fifty composers who had changed the course of music history, came on stage with Colin Currie to perform Clapping Music. Above is a performance by Reich and X in another place.

A quick internet search and you will find the score of the music and a free app for your phone to challenge your rhythmic performance skill.

The Cambridge concert culminated with a performance of Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, a fifty-five minute piece. The audience was ecstatic.

The experience served me well as I prepared to give my U3A session this week titled Steve Reich, Minimalism, Ways of Listening and Different Trains.

I am a newish member of the U3A group of twelve who meet monthly to listen to and consider music. As my first contribution I decided to present a topic that would be fresh to the group (they like this), and that I would start with the group clapping a simple rhythm and then, in two groups, seeing if we could phase it in the way that Reich does with his Clapping Music. My method, pretty orthodox, was then to listen to Reich’s Clapping Music.

As expected this provoked a good number of comments and questions from the group, all of which took us further into the minimalist ways of Reich.

I asked whether there were any changes in dynamics in the performance, a kind of leading question as I didn’t think there were. The music was in my view essentially mono-dynamic, Reich  eschewing a key mode of musical expression found in the music that I assumed the group to be most familiar with. However, in the event, group members pointed out subtleties in changing accents and there were questions about the shifting timbrel and dynamic qualities of cupped and uncupped hands. Oh and now there were questions about the music’s cyclical structure. Computational minds were at work.

But I was impatient, for I had a plan and I did need to get to Different Trains by the mid-point of the session.

For now, and in order to drive the point home that here was a different way of thinking about music, a kind of music that was not goal-orientated (and in a sense pointless), I needed to play a recording of the Prelude to Wagner’s Rheingold: 132 bars of Eb major – and with a goal in mind assisted by a steady crescendo, and unlike the Reich, creating expectations of future events, the first being Rhine Maidens coming into song. Ok, Wagner being minimal in a sense, but not in the Reichian sense. Hence ‘ways of listening’ in my title.

Point made or not I didn’t stop to find out for I was impatient. I had a plan.

I was forgetting my recent exhortation to ‘embrace complexity, resist early closure and allow time for pupils to explore unexpected pathways into deeper learning, responding with flexibility to follow new turnings.’

I was on the one hand eliciting responses that opened up complexities while at the same time ensuring early closures as I moved on keeping to plan.

In my blog  https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2016/11/03/interesting-musical-practices/  I had gently chided the GCSE OCR syllabus for having too much content, too much breadth, not enough depth.

What I had brought to the Reich session was enough for much more than an hour and a half. And this had led me to being an impatient teacher.

I was teaching without much grace.

You should read Danny Brown at http://www.squeaktime.com/blog/teaching-with-grace

That is, until we reached Different Trains.

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