Taking on a new task or skill in life requires adjustment. This can be applied to our journey early in our life when we first learn to walk, or first learning to ride a bike. These skills take time to learn the correct approach to give our bodies the correct sequence of instructions for movement, but also to learn the balance needed for success. That same learning curve can also be applied to teaching. When we first begin to teach, we begin by taking what we know and try to communicate it back to our students.
Over time this regurgitation of information from our personal experiences and learned pedagogy becomes more developed. This allows us to present our ideas to students in the most efficient ways as we grow as teachers. What if it a student has difficulty learning? What if a student is physically not capable of processing what you are telling them? These kind of questions are ones that I recently had to address when taking on a student with special needs.
My student was one who had been diagnosed with Autism. This disorder effects people in different ways depending on the severity of their diagnosis. What I noticed in my student's disability was that she lacked an ability to retain information from week to week, and often applying what we were addressing in each lesson. A secondary issue was that she had difficulty creating expressive ideas beyond what was on the page. Until this time, I had never had instruction on how to deal with a student who was diagnosed with a mental disorder, but I wanted to provide the best instruction I could for her. So I began to do research.
In the beginning, I started by giving her simple instructions and creating small phrases such as "Big Belly Breath" and "Blow out the Candle." These phrases began to slowly work their way into her responses to many of my questions and I began to see progress in her air support and connection. I utilized the basic progressions of note to note movement that James Thompson's Buzzing Basics presents. This enabled us to begin tackling a decent majority of the register from week to week. The main issue of information retention from lesson to lesson was still a problem.
I reached out to Dr. Ryan Gardener, Professor of Trumpet at Oklahoma State University. Dr. Gardener is an artist coordinator for the Music For Autism Program that presents musical concerts and events for students with autism all over the country. He also is a fellow Eastman School of Music alumni that I have had the pleasure of knowing for several years. His guidance was pivotal in helping to create a lasting instructional method that my student could slowly begin retaining and building upon from lesson to lesson. The main aspect he presented in his work with students with autism was that movement played a large part in musical instruction retention. So, I began to develop a new way of teaching just for my student while using many of my traditional methods I had used in the past.
I first began to incorporate hand movements and directional leaning into our work in the Stamp and Thompson books. This allowed her to get a sense as to when and how to move her air depending on what part of the register she was playing. This addition to instruction allowed her to make huge progress in just the first lesson, but quickly expand upon from lesson to lesson. My next step was to begin talking about dynamics and style through literal dancing. I used many of the Bordogni etudes to show her various types of styles physically on the page as well as how to dance to them. Staccato styles were presented walking around on her tip toes, while a more majestic or heroic theme was presented with a stately march around the room while showing off our muscles. With each different style, I developed or showed a new way of moving so that when we saw that same style again I just mentioned the dance or movement and she was able to play in a way that matched our movement. Not ever movement was easily transferred back to performance, but overall this gave her a huge advantage in playing in a more emotional way than before.
The step we are currently working on is to begin transferring feelings into her performance. I am showing her clips on Youtube from movies that evoke various emotions and asking her how they make her feel. Then once an emotion is established, we begin to find ways of moving that relate to those emotions. This way we can connect those movements and emotions in the same manner that the styles are connected to the music.
Overall, this has been a fantastic music journey for myself both as a teacher, and performer. Being able to see joy in a student when they know they have done something great is an awesome achievement. Finding a way for a student to perform on a level that many thought would not be achieved is a milestone for myself. Since our first lesson together, my student has placed in the top 3 best students in her All-County Band, but also in the top 5 of her All-District Band. We are currently preparing for her All-State audition next week, and with the progress she is showing now I have all the confidence she will continue to show others how amazing she really is!
*If you have any advice on how I can further help my student - Please leave a comment below or contact me directly. I am always looking for more way to help my student acheive their goals.
WARNING: This post does not contain reflections on trumpet related material, but rather provides an opportunity to vent feelings about a recently decision in my life. This article will contain vague descriptions of two positions, as well as provide me with a therapeutic opportunity to publicly present my thoughts and feelings in a public forum.Those of you who know me can probably figure this information out, but things are left vague none-the-less for anonymity for the positions . Whether you read this article through, or skip it altogether, it is intended to provide me with closure on a hard and somewhat hurtful decision I had to recently make regarding my future and employment.
I was recently presented with an opportunity to step into a position that would have been the culmination of years of study and practice on my instrument. This also would have been an opportunity that would have enabled me to begin a career in a field that I have been working towards since I declared my major as a freshman in my undergraduate. At the same time another opportunity was presented to me, but with an outcome that was not 100% secured. This position however, would have enabled me to stay in my current location and start a similar life in my field of study without having to be separated from my wife and to start a family sooner.
Now, the subject of distance in regards to our occupational localities between my wife and I have never been an issue in our future as a couple. We knew what we were signing up for when we got engaged that this would be the life of two musicians, especially in the early years of our careers. The only kicker is that one of us has a position that does not allow for very much leniency in where we live. The other issues is that I can not just apply to university teaching positions near me without those universities posting a vacancy. The same issues exists in the realm of performing in that where I currently live is oversaturated with fine musicians and in many cases subbing opportunities in numerous major and minor ensembles are often non-existent.
The overarching issues with these positions was that the timeframe of response for one position was not flexible AT ALL, while the other (less secure, but more geographically beneficial position) was scheduled to respond with an answer 5 days after the first's hard deadline. As the confirmed position's deadline loomed, I reached out to as many colleagues and mentors as possible to discuss the Pros and Cons of my predicament. In the end, I was somewhat forced to say NO to the confirmed position in hopes of the other position would come to fruition.
The part of this story that relates to the title of this article is that due to personal health factors, the second position's outcome has drastically dwindled in it's potential! These factors are not ones I can control, but things that have been given to me at birth. Several years ago, these factors could have been overlooked or even given a direct waiver, but in the current state of these positions and organizations, tremendous cutbacks are changing their screening processes. This is where it hurts!
I REALLY wanted to accept the first position, but I needed to find out my potential in the second position. The need to know the second positions potential outcome was because it would have allowed my wife and I to live together and start our family sooner than our original plan - which is what we wanted as a family. As mentioned, I requested an extension on the deadline from the first position, but they would not budge. I was forced say no to a confirmed position in hope of position that would have allowed my wife and I to be together in the first several years of our marriage. The sad part now, is that even with the health factors that are slowing my screening process, the timetable for the second position's potential has been drastically shifted. So much so, that it almost seems like it will never happen.
That is the hurt! That is the pain of saying No. Now that I have been given the information about the second position's potential, it hurts that I had to say No to the first opportunity due to their timeline only to find out the poor outcome of the second position. I was given the opportunity to start a career in a job that would have allowed me to do what I originally set out to do, but the second positions immediate benefit to my family's near future was too appealing to let pass. It only makes it worse that I was not given a bit longer of a deadline to hear from the second position before I had to let the first know. I would have only need 5 more days, but they were not willing to bend on that deadline. 120 hours! That is all I would have needed to be given in order to not feel this pain of saying no to something that now, is in many ways, was my only potential of doing what I love in the near future.
I know that decisions in life are not all easy, especially the ones that present information later indicating that you now are not getting anything when you could have had something great. This is the struggle of life, and the pain of saying No. These are life lessons and in many ways events that help shape who I am as a person. The only difficulty is that now I am not just responsible for myself, but I have my family and potential family to keep in mind during these decisions. Was it wrong for me to take that gamble on the potential of having a position with my wife and to start our family at an earlier date? Or was it wrong of me to turn down something confirmed in hopes of something unconfirmed that would have benefited my family sooner? These are decisions that, in hindsight, are obvious now but in the moment hard to make. What would you have done? Did I make the right decision at the time, or did I gamble on something that shouldn't have?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I want to hear if you would have handled it the same way or differently.
Again, ignore the poor grammar or conversational style that this article provides. It is providing an opportunity to let me present my feelings in a therapeutic format.