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As it turned out, though, my performance was met with expansive pleasure; not of admiration but of relief. Never again did I have trouble getting volunteers. The students had nothing to fear; the teacher was in no position to think harshly of their abilities.

The performances the kids did in class were among the high points of the year. Once I asked Joanna, an ultra-cool habitue of the cafeteria, to play the accompaniment to a Brahms lied She got up with as much enthusiasm as someone boarding the bus to go to work at the Post Office. Like a moody Dryad, she wove her way through the thicket of desks to the piano, scanned the song she would be playing for the first time, and began.

Her instinctive sympathy for the music was apparent from the first phrase. The rest of us were aware we were witnessing something like the first meeting in what will become a love affair.

When we studied Schumann lieder and Michael D sang part of a cycle, the songs fit perfectly in that setting of twenty people. The sense of drudgery that can sneak into classes vanished and the class transformed into a single organism, sensitive to every nuance.

But sometimes we talked about subjects which had nothing to do with scores, like the art of the period we were studying. I couldn't elicit the students' ideas on the subject; they knew nothing about it. It was time to fork over hard information.

Students do not realize the extent to which their teachers suffer the syndrome commonly attributed to cockroaches: They are more afraid of you than you are of them. Although I boned up for these moments of truth, that wasn't the same as being a seasoned expert. Suppose someone asked a question? But still, my overriding fear was of being boring.

So I tried to deliver these mini-lectures with the eloquence which enthusiasm bestows. This approach backfired when I spoke so fluently that after twenty minutes, I had nothing else to say. Fifty-five minutes remained to the class.
Several courses of action lay open:

  1. Ask a general question -- preferably one that can stir up fifty-five minutes' controversy.
  2. Ask a difficult question for them to ponder while I think of my next move.
  3. Repeat the lecture.

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Copyright © 24 May 2005 Jenna Orkin, New York City, USA


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