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I am about to go back into full-time work and could not be more nervous and excited and every conceivable emotion in between!
I will be running fast…but I cannot WAIT to be running fast in a school community and back in a Music classroom, full of the energy + teaching I totally love, even if I am going to feel like hugging a wine bottle at the end of each day.
It seemed like the opportune time to post this little gem of an idea I had when dealing with a couple of my past students…from the high-flyers who couldn’t contain their nerves to the kid who would enter the classroom by throwing a chair at me rather than a (sometimes cheery), “Hey Ms Kwok!”, I decided I would get creative on how I modelled a calm approach…and at about 2am one morning, thought of this.
Since then, for very special students, I have been handing out my (necessary) Internal Suspension Notices with a stress ball + these instructions….and relishing the perplexed looks of consternation as the student in question tried to figure out if I was serious, or if I’d lost it.
As with everything you do as a teacher, you give out the very best example without entertaining the hope of it being returned then and there, but hopefully sometime in the future, where you may or may not see the effects.
This is one of my magic moments…an email last year from the student who once upon a time threw music stands by way of greeting in my classes.
He hadn’t figured out the way to express his frustration and fear at getting braces, thereby making his progress on his trumpet – his absolute passion and an integral part of his identity – a whole new challenge.
Hey Ms Kwok,
Just wanted to say thanks for all the support last year with my trumpet playing when I got the braces on, I really needed it. I still have your stress ball and it reminds me that I can handle these challenges. I‘m sorry I was a little shit, I was just so frustrated. Thank you for helping me see that I would get through this challenging time. And thank you for just being an all round grand teacher! I’m getting my braces off tomorrow and I had to let you know!
I hope you’re doing well.
Yes, after reading that and getting teary and grinning like an idiot simultaneously, I believe I’m doing VERY well.
This made my heart glow and sink simultaneously…if it’s true, then why the bloody hell have I been working on these amazing lesson plans brimming with examples of scaffolding, differentiation of the curriculum in as many different ways as flavours of Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, and student-directed learning up the wazoo, plus a couple of bells and whistles thrown in as well?
But then I realised this intellectual learning ran in parallel to the emotional connection with my students…my wanting to strive for excellence through modeling passion and pure love of my subject area worked in tandem with how I made my students feel in my class.
And was this true for my own learning experiences? Was how I felt more important than what I achieved?
I remember my most influential teachers…some were extraordinary teachers in every sense, and my knowledge base and passion for their area of expertise blossomed under their care. Some were not the best facilitators of learning, yet I loved their lessons, I loved their energy, I loved how I felt in their classrooms. Alive, seen, and valued. Some teachers were such rigidly disciplined “founts of knowledge” that I felt like I was going into The Black Hole of Joyless Learning every time I entered their classrooms…and this was, instinctively, definitely and absolutely, NOT the sort of teacher I wanted to be.
I thought about the three teachers who affected me the most during my school and university years…Miss Lori, my first piano teacher, Clemens Leske Senior, my high school piano teacher, and Rosemary Nairn, my mentor and artistic director while working for the Public Primary Schools Festival of Music. All of them so extraordinarily different. All of them so deeply embedded in my heart, in my words, in my actions, and in my very being as a teacher. Were they all extraordinary teachers? At various stages of learning, yes. Were they as fiercely committed to excellence as some of my top-notch teachers? No. I cannot thank Miss Lori or Clemens Leske Senior for my fabulous piano technique and ability to focus with Zen-like precision on my piano etudes…I had other teachers I have to thank for those skills. And therein lies the very wording and truth…that I “have” to thank, not “want” to thank…because I did not feel safe and secure, seen and valued all the time in their lessons.
These three teachers gave me the capacity to draw the best from the teachers I did not always feel safe with. And it’s important to say here that neither of these three wonderful people ever accepted anything less than the best that I could give at that exact moment in time, or that I always felt delightful in their lessons…I didn’t. I knew when I wasn’t making the cut, and I knew how it felt to disappoint them, and myself…but never at the expense of my self-worth. My actions, my learning, my music making and my performances were an innate part of me, but didn’t define me.
The wonderful, effervescent and kind Miss Lori…you walked into the room and every 5-year old under your care felt loved, even though there were fifteen of us in each Yamaha class. You saw us all, loved our quirks, asked us about the stickers on our school uniform, or the Band-Aids on our knees, you got ridiculously excited with us when we discovered our first F sharps and B flats. You gave me 15 minutes of private piano tuition after group lessons, knowing my parents couldn’t afford to pay you, for free, for a whole year. When my parents could afford to pay you back, you told them to put the money toward a proper piano for me rather than a keyboard. You made us all shine in our grubby and beautiful 5-year-old selves. I could have hugged you forever on my final lesson at Yamaha. Your generosity then makes me generous now.
The calm and loving Clemens Leske Senior…just as your name speaks of mercy and love, so are you in person. At my most angular, inconsistent and fiery, you saw me completely…for the raw and incomplete talent, for the deeply sensitive heart, for the technical difficulties I had to overcome, for the teenager I was, and person I was becoming. The gap in years could not have been wider, yet with one word you could direct my phrasing, expand my understanding of texture + colour, or explain the weight in the sound of a chord. Every lesson was magical…a crystalline world of sounds, colours and lines, and an unraveling of the heart and all defenses. Because you taught with care and love, I learnt the emotive power of my playing…and my piano playing became my own voice, not one that reflected you. Not once did you ever make me feel inadequate…or feel that it was your duty to “break me in”…you just let me grow in whatever way you could. I cried when I couldn’t have you as a teacher when I entered university.
And the playful, quick-witted and joyful Rosemary Nairn…I met you when you were 60 and I was 19…you used to joke that we were at opposite ends of the concession continuum for tickets, bus fares, and discounts meals. You would step on stage at the Festival Theatre and have 342 students sharing in your playful musical games, in your clever words…and somehow you made the most mundane bits of rehearsal hilarious, completely energised, a joyful sharing, or a witty little musical game. When I grew up into a real teacher, I told myself, I wanted to create the same joyful energy and momentum you created every day. You didn’t go overseas and to study a conducting degree. You didn’t do an honours recital in piano. Yet every skill you had in composition, arranging, piano playing, teaching, and choral conducting, you maximised…you were always learning, always curious, and always totally engrossed in the moment. Every kid completely believed you when you said that no question was too silly…and would have the courage to ask you. You never made anyone feel small…in fact, you made everyone feel special. You worked hard + expected excellence. But not at the cost of a person’s well-being.
I look at these three extraordinary teachers in my life and realise that Maya Angelo must be right. I will always strive for excellence…I will always want to see the potential realised in my students, my choirs, my ensembles…and myself. I will always want to hone and refine until I figure out where the perfect balance of joy and excellence lies.
Yet I realise my teaching mirrors the teaching of these three special people the most.
I want to make my students feel how they made me feel.
You were right, Maya.
Last year I had the pleasure of composing 2 pieces for the Pemulway Male Voice Choral Festival. This has such a special spot in my heart as I love all incarnations of the male voice…the pure bell sound of a treble, the raw fragility of a just-changed youth voice, the strident edge of a developing adult voice, and the limitless resonance, colour and strength of a fully-formed tenor, baritone or bass sound.
I always feels incredibly honoured to be part of this festival…the first time I composed for Pemulwuy in 2011, I looked down the long line of composers at the end of the final concert and realised I was the only female composer standing there, holding the only bunch of flowers…out-numbered, gloriously, and grinning and the marvellousness of this unique choral event!
In 2014, I was one of 2 female composers…slow and sure! A new world for us!
The choristers were divided into three vocal streams; treble, youth and adult. Seeing the recognition of “like-people” illuminate the choristers’ faces, especially of those from remote areas where they might be the sole strong male voice, was magic. The rehearsals oscillated from crazy to poignant, condensed masses of pure energy, raucous laughter, and controlled chaos…where men of all ages sang and celebrated their voices without limits or boundaries.
It was a wondrous happening!
I was invited to write for the Pemulwuy Youth A choir, under the direction of Jakub Martinec. I had 2 very distinct ideas for this age group of choristers; one a tender piece entitled You, and the second, a light-hearted look at the changing male voice in The Guy Voice. I ended up writing both, with You being performed by the Pemulwuy Youth A Choir, and The Guy Voice being gifted to the Birralee Blokes.
Please check out my next few posts to find out a little more about my 2 pieces!
When I grow up, I want to be this awesome! 🙂
I haven’t been thinking as fast as I should! My imagination has been asleep and I need to DREAM again and gather those dreams and throw them into the crisp morning air – wake them up and set them free! How long has it been since I’ve taken a chance? Taken a leap of faith and done something which has made my stomach flip? With common sense comes sensibility, both of which are highly valued and neither of which are productive to dreamers and do-ers. Nothing which lends itself to LIVING! Open my eyes and fill my soul again with the beating desire of challenge – of going the extra step to give someone joy or sympathy. Don’t travel the path which looks easiest – find a new one, one full of adventure and full of unspoken, undiscovered ideas and feelings. Find a pathway which is delightful as it is daring, one which requires a certain amount of strength and imagination.
CREATE! Don’t just reflect – make something more out of the puzzle pieces of reflection. Make a whole picture – something of use and service to the world. When you’ve been given a voice, don’t just whisper – sing in a million and one harmonies, otherwise you will not have used it properly.
THINK! Always think beyond the sphere and discover what makes a person laugh or cry – what affects them. The human race is so full of passion and wonderful examples of courage, if only we could make the time and space to NOTICE them and UNDERSTAND them better. Each person has something unique to contribute and the skills to write their own chapter – write SOMETHING. There is no-one else in the world exactly like you – no-one who speaks the same words with exactly the same thought behind them – and isn’t THAT extraordinary? However more loved the rest of the world appears to be, know and trust that the world needs your graciousness and good-humour more than you’ll ever realise. Somebody is counting on you to be you, somebody need you more than you’ll ever know and somebody wants you to be happy. There will always be someone who wants to know you and love you, to touch you, to treasure you and listen to your silent tears, to set you free but be your anchor – to keep you good. For someone – and if you’re lucky, for many “someones” – YOU are the person who makes the world make sense.
What a breath-taking, marvellous responsibility!
Appreciate. Truly appreciate the inexplicable, spontaneous acts of love. Sometimes beauty is hard, like the jagged edges of the coastline rocks, mellow like the twilight, fresh like the new grass or wise like the ripe heavy clouds of Autumn. Beauty has many faces, as does love.
So go out and paint with wide brush-strokes! Cover the world with your colours. Grab every possibility and bring them to life – who knows which will flourish and grow into life-long lessons? No-one can EVER take your spark and spirit away – not without your permission. And it would be a very great tragedy if you did not allow yourself to shine completely because of fear. This is what I hope for each day – this is how I want to live my life in joy and sorrow and hardship and delight; this is what I hope for the ones I love, this is what I hope for my students. On this awesome journey of discovery, I’ll run down the corridors of LIFE, kicking up the sands of imagination and knowledge and dare to dream with all my heart because that is how I’m built and this is what I understand best. So I hope I have the courage and grace to be the sort of dreamer who wakes often enough to make new and exciting realities – simply because I can!
What if you pedalled to learn?
Gillian Lynne needed to move to express her art, and look at what she created in the world of choreography and dance! As a teacher I fail miserably on the professional development days where I am required to sit for longer than 2 hours. And we expect this from our students EVERY DAY.
In the same zone as bubble wrap for stressed-out Year 12s, choreography and co-ordination exercises in choir, and any sort of tactile connection to the learning at hand…what if we got creative with how to manage the energy in the classroom?
From The Velveteen Rabbit…How Toys Become Real, a children’s novel written by Margery Williams and illustrated by William Nicholson.
Is it any wonder that kiddies understand the concepts of being authentic + loving completely far better than we do? This is beautifully written. 🙂
because I want to create a link between what I see to what I live, what I feel to what I experience…
to breathe life and colour into happenings which are ordinary and tender, wondrous and awesome, achingly beautiful…
to wanderings in life that are so intensely anguished my heart throbs with beats too big for it…
to whisperings so exquisitely, delicately melancholy I don’t know whether to let them slip away or not move at all…
I love the music of language; words are notes in which to create the harmony of understanding
…words are a palette of communication.
words resonate with such life and power; a word can soothe or sear, caress or cut
…words can flirt with decency, can stand with integrity
….can be fashioned to describe any situation.
a word can change the momentum of a moment in time…the power of a single breath…a simple voice…my single simple voice…breathe…simplicity…voice….
I write with warmth, humour and hope…
warmth, because words shiver with life, glow for a moment in time like embers…
humour…sparkle…laughter…beads of joy!
I write because I celebrate life.
I write because I celebrate understanding.
I write because I have a passion for raw beauty
a desire to bring to notice the little ordinary moments in life which, when truly examined, are so extraordinary…
I write because life is a gift, a rich, mysterious, aching, joyful gift too full of experiences to be silent about.
I write because I want to share this wonder…
11th February 2007
This piece was written on a train between Munich + Milan during my travels last year and almost wrote itself! It is based around the ship on Cockatoo Island, Vernon, which was used as an industrial school for boys. While the conditions + the thinking behind the school were better than the girls’ reform school, the Biloela Reformatory School for Females, the boys attending the school were put through such intensive days of work + training that it left them little time to be themselves. The program was designed specifically to exhaust the boys, so the school leaders would receive little trouble from them when they were put to sleep at night.
I wondered how a boy, most likely between the ages of 9-15, would find time for themselves in this oppressive environment. While they were not abused + treated better than the girls, they had no time to just be….silly, playful, crazy, imaginative, raucous, quiet, still…all the things you need to be at any age to be you. I thought that if those boys could find a little moment for themselves, perhaps looking over the harbor, they might be able to hold tight to the idea of who they were and retain some sense of identity and self-worth…finding their own “corner of the sea.”
The piece has ended up with a few additional poignant and special layers…if you read the words without the story of Cockatoo Island behind it, it can be interpreted as wish to someone important to look after their mental health; finding a place where they feel “weightless” and “still in the soul”, even if they don’t know “a perfect life”, when they are in the place which makes them feel at peace, they are whole + renewed. There’s a thread of not just running through life at a crazy speed, and that each of us matter enough to take time out to be ourselves…to just be, without having to create anything or prove ourselves, that we are enough.
My favourite place in the world is the end of the jetty at Henley Square, Adelaide; this is “my” corner of the sea. It’s where I grew up + where my Dad used to take me as a kid when I was so worked up I couldn’t figure out how to de-stress myself. I still go there often when I’ve had a day where life has whumped me and I feel totally wrecked. There was a particularly funny day was I was about 14 when I walked down there to de-stress + found my Dad already there at the end of the jetty. When I reached where he was standing, he looked over and said, “What took you so long?!”
Finally, this piece was written in the week of Harley Mead’s passing. As someone who was enthusiasm + energy personified, I hope he’s at peace, knowing he has positively affected the lives of so many, and that he is standing (perfectly still, which never happens!) looking over his corner of the sea.