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Oboe d'Amore specialist JENNIFER PAULL
reflects on education, linguistics and the muse


Music is a life force. Those of us who love it and try to serve its cause know full well the impact it has upon our lives.

To love music and enjoy its mystery, its passion, and its hypnotic message, it is not necessary to be a professional musician. In fact, being a professional musician is not the aim of most who are touched by the structures of sound sculpture we call 'music'.

Many people who make music a career in life limit their horizons of it to one or two genres at most. This can be beyond their control, or by their choosing. We are all very incomplete therefore as we try to place our fragment of the jigsaw puzzle into its place in our individual landscape. None of us can capture the complete picture of music's dimension. This is its magnetic field and its mystery. No matter how much we learn and digest, music will always be greater than our personal fragment of knowledge and understanding.

Many of us come to music because we were put before the Muse at an early age. Far more reach out to it later in life when they have found their own path towards the journey of discovery.

Of all the instruments, the doublereeds seem to enjoy many late starters. So often I receive a letter from someone exclaiming, 'I heard that wonderful sound and just knew I had to play it '. I used those very same words when I first heard the oboe and later again, when I fell in love with the sound of the oboe d'amore, my own personal path to what has become the diversity of my career.

We have just as much right to approach music and music making at a later stage in life when after all, mental dexterity can greatly compensate for stiffer fingers. At least, in today's computerised world, many fingers are exercising at keyboards. As I'm certain teachers everywhere have discovered, dexterity on one keyboard will inevitably help and strengthen technique upon another.

So, let us brush away both the prejudices that still prevail: the taking on of the late starter as a student, and the seeking out of a good teacher when starting late. Being able to work with the adult beginner is one of teaching's great joys. The satisfaction in awakening the mature mind to the beauty of music is a tremendous reward in itself. The fact that music is not going to be a career choice in no way minimises the delight and positive influence it can bring to bear upon those who seek out this magnificent chameleon in any of its forms at any stage of their lives.

I have recently been working with a class of 'Special Ed' children in the United States. All these children had learning disorders of one sort or another, and in many cases, there were additional factors and medical conditions present. Music became the catalyst that triggered off better reading and an improved memory for detail. In some cases, music was the first thing to which they had reacted in a positive and interactive fashion during the entire school year. Working together with their class teachers, I was able to introduce a programme that took away stress and installed self-confidence.

The graph of music is very easy to follow. After all, its axis north-south shows the pitch of notes, and its other the east-west, their relative length. The simplest of explanations and a print out of a short melody will soon bring results. I created human characters for each note and illustrated them by simple poems that were easily learned by heart. Coloured crayons identified the note on the staff. The satisfaction of being able to interpret this new 'alphabet' became a positive force in mastering those elusive 26 letters. The children performed in front of each other, which helped to install their new confidence, and further strengthen it.

I separated word syllables and wrote them under notes. Reassured by the presence of the music, the child forgot his past failures at reading, and focussed on finding the note on the keyboard and saying or singing the word fragment at the same time.

Most of the children with whom I worked were in the 9-10 year bracket. One boy was 11 and was still unable to read. I gave him individual piano lessons. With the right hand, reading middle C and D and playing the notes consecutively with thumb and index was easy. The litmus test is always how to play from middle C down to B with the left-hand thumb and index. Going down to the left is invariably much harder than going up to the right. Working on this one problem of lack of co-ordination had the most amazing results. Dyslexia, word blindness, lacks of concentration and memory -- all these improved dramatically.

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Copyright © 26 June 2001 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland







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