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Sir Year 7: “Can I please borrow a set of headphones?”
Me: “Sure. Please give me a shoe.”
Sir Year 7: “A what?!”
Me: “A shoe.”
Sir Year 7: “You mean, like a SHOE shoe? Like, on my foot kind of shoe?!”
Me, internally: “What other type of SHOE is there?!”
Me, outwardly: “Yep!”
Sir Year 7: “Wow, it’s hardcore here at Pulteney, isn’t it?!”
And the thing about having brand new shiny Year 7s is that you get SEVERAL kiddies with the same size foot, and the same level of newness/scuffness to their shoes, so when it comes to actually collecting their shoes at the end…well, GOOD LUCK. 😝
Sir Year 7 No. 1: “Nah, that’s mine!”
Sir Year 7 No. 2: “No way! Mine’s newer-looking!”
Sir Year 7 No. 1: “Okay, well…does it smell like your shoe or mine?”
Sir Year 7 No. 2: “I AM NOT SNIFFING MY SHOE! JUST PUT THE THING ON, I DON’T CARE IF IT’S THE WRONG ONE!”
Miss Year 7: “And the saxophone was born in 1846…”
Me, inside voice: “…after an unexpected fling between a clarinet + a member of the brass family…!?”
I have loved this quote forever. But this week, I had the extraordinary and unsettling experience of really living this quote. I thought I understood it, I’ve shared it with my students, I have it written in my journal. But when you actually walk through the very essence of this quote, my goodness, you cannot help but feel full and lifted up to overflowing.
I was preparing a special medley of pieces for the Class of 2017 Valedictory Dinner. My Year 12 Music class and I shared a lesson of laughter sorting through songs that best represented their cohort last term, where they each threw their suggestions into the ring. The most cringe-worthy, memory-stirring, funny, and meme-riddled top 10 numbers were chosen. Over the holidays, I crudely “frankensteined” them together on Sibelius and the Year 12 Valedictory Medley, in all its cringe-worthy glory, was born!
In recent weeks, my poor Year 12 Music class have been madly scrambling to get themselves ready for their final performance moderations. And I have been unrelenting as a teacher. Gone is the Mama Kwokkie, and in place, is “The Smiling Gestapo Kwokkie”; as one of my students fondly describes, “Ms Kwok in this state is like a Disney princess who can ninja kick your ass to the curb.”
Yet despite the intensity of preparation and the lack of time, every single one of my gorgeous Year 12s was invested in this medley. So we made rehearsal time. We scrimped and scrounged 15-minute and 30-minute time-slots when we could miraculously get the crew together to practise, and my 12s came in over weekends, during the holidays, and before and after school to make up the time they missed in lesson with me. To see them come together like this just made my heart double in size.
Putting this score together cost me 15-20 hours of my time over the holidays, but I love arranging, and was glad to take on this special project for this very special crew.
Our challenges started when we weren’t offered a spot to play. Now granted, just because last year’s Year 12 Music class performed as a band, didn’t guarantee us a spot. No worries, go speak with my Head of Performing Arts, ready for it to fall either way, yes or no, take it on the chin. The support was basic at best; go and negotiate with the organiser of the Valedictory Dinner of Head of Senior School and if it’s a yes from them, you’re on. No worries, go do that, and done, done, done! We are on the program.
But somewhere along the line, communications broke down not once, but several times, and there were problems and roadblocks to our musical performance, over and over, through no fault of anyone. So I kept making noise and negotiating, restating, recalibrating. How much could a musical item take from me, and one that I wasn’t even sure was going to be a hit with the Year 12 cohort?
On the day of the Valedictory Dinner, I felt as if I had carried this musical item and my Year 12 Music class one by one through the whole preparation process. I had never wanted so much to throw the towel in and quit on this performance, and I have never quit on any performance. I felt like I had had to fight every step of the way to get this on the program, without actually wanting to fight at all. I am not someone who does things at the last-minute, I’m super-organised and love being that way, I always endeavour to be inclusive in my decision making, and I’m transparent in my teaching. For some reason, this preparation run for this performance felt like a battle the whole way.
But as I sat in on the final Year 12 assembly that morning and looked at the faces of that cohort, I could feel my heart brimming all over again, and the motivation rise up. Specifically, I looked at and for the faces of my beautiful Year 12 Music kiddies, the crazy and hilarious personalities, the big hearts and amazing souls I was working with.
Damn it, I was going to go through with this no matter what.
That evening, when I announced the Valedictory Medley to the Class of 2017 cohort + attending staff, I was shitting myself. My words were clear and witty, but my knees were shaking and I wondered if I’d get over to the keyboard in my heels without tripping over.
And you know what?
WE PLAYED THE ARSE OFF THAT PIECE.
It just went OFF.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen such a unified expression of connection, enthusiasm, and rowdy joyful singing within group of Year 12s, most of whom are not musos. I couldn’t help it. I was grinning like an idiot all the way through.
Come to the end of the piece, and the room erupted into applause, the joy and appreciation was palpable. My 12s also forgot themselves and were hugging each other, and hugging me, in pure joy and elation, while we were still on stage.
My moment – The Moment – came when I was called forward to collect the gift on behalf of the Music Department. Now, this job is NEVER meant for me, it’s always Head of Performing Arts, but I had done the work this time, so it fell on my shoulders.
So I walked up, with this incredible envelope of love and achievement around me, buoyant from the Year 12s around me, knowing I had gone against the tide and STILL we had performed and given such joy…and I felt a shiver of uncertainty shoot through me. I couldn’t smile. I wasn’t embarrassed or feeling small; it was the sheer amount of battle and adversity I had gone through that made me too exhausted to step into the light, my light. I walked up so serious and totally unlike myself. Why couldn’t I fully lean into this extraordinary moment?
And then I realised. I was at that moment afraid of my own light. It had become so bright through this moment, borne from adversity, that even I didn’t know how to handle such a brilliance.
I took a breath and kept walking, and when I turned around to look at the hundreds of faces in the room, I burst out laughing! I couldn’t contain the relief, the joy, the exuberance, myself, and all that blinding light.
That amazing light that was shining from me. That’s what it feels like to step into it and own it.
Own it like a boss lady.
I’ve had my Year 12s performing their Solo Performance + Performance Special Study programs to my Year 6s + 8s, and then hang around for a Q+A to mentor my junior kiddies.
Miss Year 8: “Do you have any advice for people who know they are going to go on and do Year 12 Music?”
Sir Year 12: “Whatever Ms Kwok asks you to do in terms of your performance preparation or assignments, just do it. Seriously. And do it BY THE DEADLINE that she asks for. Your quality of life will be SO MUCH BETTER if you do.”
Spoken like a survivor of war!
Did anyone else use to sing with their vacuum-cleaner as a kid? And in this order:
1. Use the hum of the vacuum cleaner as a drone pedal note for “Amazing Grace”
2. Work your way through major + minor arpeggios, and then dominant 7ths
4. THE SEMITONE
My exceptionally calm Dad would actually extricate himself from whatever he was doing to go to the room I was vacuuming and tell me to stop. Vacuuming or singing, he didn’t really care which.
Why do I bring this up? My God-girlies have just discovered The Semitone. Thank God 75% of my house is tiles.
Miss Year 12 doing a health survey this week:
Miss Year 12: “So what sort of yoga do you do? Bikram? Ashtanga?”
Me: “Uh…the normal, stretchy kind.”
Miss Year 12: “And why do you do it?”
Me: “So I don’t pull any muscles conducting.”
Miss Year 12: “Ha! That’s hilarious, Ms Kwok. But I’m going to need a real answer for my survey.”
Me, deadpan: “That IS the real answer!”
While I was in Sydney, I decided to be a little decadent and get my nails done. Beautiful. glossy, bright red on my neat, blunt fingernails; nails that were normally clean, clipped, and purely dedicated to the piano…I loved them! They gave me an air of “chic-ness” that I wore to the nth degree while I luxuriated in my first week of holidays in Sydney.
Today, it was time to get the cleaned off. Nearly two weeks later, and the chic-ness was starting to grow out, and I was keen to get back into some serious piano playing again. They had a top layer of bio-gel, so I needed to drop into a nail salon to get them removed, otherwise I would have gone the cheapskate version and removed them myself for sure. 😉
So into the nail salon during my running around this morning, and the conversation went like this:
Nail Lady; a tiny fast-talking little nymph of a Vietnamese girl: “What do you like done?”
Me: “I’d like to get the polish removed, please.”
NL: “And what colour you like?”
Me: “No colour, just back to normal for me.”
NL: “You no like?!”
Me: “No, I liked it very much! But it’s starting to grow out, so time to get rid of it.”
NL: “And get new colour?”
Me: “No, just taking off the old colour.”
NL: “But we have so many nice colour! More red, and yellow, and green, and…”
Me: “No, I’m happy with just the polish taken off, thanks.”
NL: “Oh, I know what you want! You want French manicure! Very classy!”
Me: “Um, no…”
NL: “You want little flower? Star? Sparkle?”
NL: “You want clear polish? No colour?”
Me: “No, really, just the colour off.”
Nail Lady looked so confused + stressed that I offered, by way of explanation: “I’m a music teacher, I play the piano a lot at school.”
NL: “Oh…you like THAT, hey? Okay, I take off colour. No charge.”
Me: “Oh, but I’m very happy to pay…!”
NL: “No charge!”
Oh my goodness, I started laughing in the shop!
Not only did I get totally NAIL-SHAMED by a person HALF my size about being a short-nailed, polish-free MUSIC TEACHER, I got a PITY POLISH REMOVAL!
All back to normal again, but not without that hilarious exchange!