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He hit a chord… February 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Noelle Bickle / Abby Brooks @ 8:54 AM
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My father got a guitar for Christmas when I was about nine. I only have a few snapshots of memory surrounding his guitar phase though, as it was a short-lived passion. I recall his over-the-top joy when he opened the guitar case. Months later, my sister and I stood in front of him waiting to be dazzled and amazed with the song he’d learned to surprise us.

S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night!  S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night!

For those of you who didn’t grow up in the seventies – it was the Bay City Rollers  – my day’s version of a boy band. I remember being thrilled. My dad had that Donny Osmond look that women and girls alike went crazy for. As his daughter the swooning sort of attention he got used to drive me crazy, but in our living room as he serenaded us with what in the day was very cool stuff – well – I swooned a little myself. Guitar does have that impact on girls it seems.

My parents did a house overhaul recently and my dad decided that 35 years later it might be time to let the dusty guitar go (because even though it hadn’t been played in 33 of those years – you can’t throw out a perfectly good guitar). My son, who also demonstrates similar hoarding tendencies, claimed the guitar as his own. (My daughter claimed the 60-year-old accordion). We figured since the kids were tuned in to music, we would sign them up for lessons.

Finding a teacher is easy – you can google music lessons in your area and get a few dozen local teachers, probably hundreds if you live in the GTA. No problem. But finding a good teacher – that comes from word of mouth or luck. We don’t know anyone who takes private lessons up this way, so we had to go with luck alone. Lucky indeed – we hit the jackpot.

Enter Albert. I couldn’t have tailor-made a better teacher for my kids, though I wasn’t quite sure upon first meeting him. He’s young  – about 23 and lives with his parents. He’s a little odd – wears mis-matched socks and finger-less gloves and is about as off as most artists are. He’s a little shy – almost socially awkward, that is until he starts to teach. It’s true when they say people come alive with their passion. When he starts to teach and play music – he completely transforms and the interaction between him and the kids is moving and almost magical. The kids both love him – Sam says he feels like family, and I think it’s because it feels familiar and comfortable in the music room with Albert running the show.

Sam takes guitar, Lainey insisted on piano. Albert is equally adept at both instruments (though his preference is piano). The unique part of his teaching style is this – he treats them as fellow musicians in a jam session. He lets them write music. Most people who have taken lessons or have their kids enrolled tell me that they endure weeks of Mary had a Little Lamb and endless scales. That’s what I was expecting. Both the kids started the first week with Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, but by week two and three, they’d both written their own songs that they come away and practice each night. They compose the song in class and practice it as he plays along with them, the whole time saying things like – “yeah, that’s cool – it sounds awesome, right? ”

A few weeks ago, I watched my daughter wiggle and jiggle on the piano bench as she struggled to answer a question about a note or chord, and Albert waited patiently – he seemed almost oblivious to her anxiousness at getting the wrong answer. When she stayed silent for a long time – too long – he prompted her again.

“I don’t know.” she admitted.

“Take a guess.”

“I’m not sure.”

“Just guess then,” he said. “But if you get it wrong, there will be dire consequences.”

And the room broke out in laughter, and she took a guess, and sure enough she chose the right answer. And somehow in this, she lost her fear to make mistakes with him. It was mesmerizing to watch. The kids now take his “pop quiz” portion of the lesson as a fun challenge. Both of my born-to-a-perfectionist kids who don’t like to make mistakes, plunge right in devil-may-care. It’s quite delightful.

I sit in the music room and witness each of them take their 30 minutes to learn music with someone who is teaching them passion. It is almost overwhelming to see, and certainly heartwarming. My kids have found a passion, and so far, I have Albert to thank.  Bringing my kids to a teacher who insisted on repeating scales, or chastised a rendition of chopsticks, or was impatient with my son’s meticulous positioning of fingers on the strings – that teacher would have been sudden death to their interest in music. What a sad thing that would have been.

So, I’m grateful for many things, but today, I’m grateful for Albert – a teacher who just gets it, and who is making a difference.


12 Responses to “He hit a chord…”

  1. Noelle, talk about striking a cord. Another brilliant post: I’ve come to except nothing less.

    Both my kids were musical. So much music-making in our house that we never needed a stereo system. Even a radio was M.I.A.

    My eldest is a musical phenom, self-taught, can play any instrument by ear, in any key. So freeing.

    My youngest was “conservatory” trained and it killed her passion for this art form. I can’t tell you the number of weeks spent solely on proper hand position at the piano: she was only five-years-old at the time.

    Bravo to you for not following the pack. Even if your kids don’t pursue a career in music they will have lifelong, positive memories of the craft to pay-it-forward to their own children.

    By the way, loved your description of Albert. He sounds like a dead ringer for Glenn Gould.

    • Glenn Gould – yes! Driving home the other night we were talking about how much he was like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory (albeit younger and better looking). If Sheldon were musical and quirky instead of scientific and dorky – that would be Albert. With better hair. I think he would prefer the Glenn Gould comparision!

      Thanks for reading Deb.

  2. I am very happy your kids found such a neat music teacher, it makes all the difference in the world as to how they move forward musically.
    I’m beginning to wonder if we live in the same time warp Noelle as when I was seventeen the Bay City Rollers were my absolute favourite! LOL
    You rock.

  3. Janis McCallen Says:

    Noelle – reading your post brought tears to my eyes. Albert is teaching music the way it should be taught. Getting Sam and Lainey involved in writing songs right from the start is brilliant. Then it’s their music, and they can’t wait to play it, especially with their teacher cheering them on. I loved your vivid description of Albert’s eccentricities and your kids’ joy.
    As children, my sister and I used to visit an elderly great aunt in an old Victorian house in Toronto’s west end. She had a piano and let us play it as loud and as long as we wanted. Soon we were finding familiar songs on the keys, and making up tunes. Some of the seeds of my joy in making music were sown on those unbridled visits.
    Thank God your Dad’s old guitar was taken out and dusted off, and you found Albert. Loved your post.

    • Thanks Janis. I feel blessed to have found him, and that my kids have found something that brings them joy. You can never go wrong with music – look how much it added to the writing retreat. Music speaks to all languages and builds a bridge no matter where you are. I can’t imagine a better tool for life than that to give my kids.

  4. Lisa Llamrei Says:

    You did hit the jackpot with this teacher. It was the memory of endless rounds of scales that kept me from putting my kids in music classes because I knew they’d just be bored and I’d have to fight with them to get them to practise and I just never felt like starting something I knew would end in fighting. Your kids are really lucky to have Albert. I hope they continue to love music.

    • I hope they continue to love music too. I took vocal lessons and was always in choir and drama club (go figure), but I never learned how to read music – which tells me how much ADD I really had back then. I never learned an instrument, and have often thought I would love to learn guitar. Maybe my kids will teach me!

  5. Dale Long Says:

    What a great story about your dad and that guitar.

    I struggled for years, trying to learn guitar (on my own, mind you) but I’m just not a chord guy. Single notes? I can pick out a song on any instrument that hits my hands, one note at a time. Not particularily useful, but fun at parties.

    Both my girls have developed the music bug with my eldest picking up my dad’s old, cheap, warped guitar. The very same one I bled over to no avil. But, she not only got my ear for music but understands chords.

    I wish Emmy’s high scholl guitar teacher was more like him. Because of her, she is not taking guitar again next year. She kinda reminds me of Jim from Taxi. BUT she does want to continue, thankfully.

    We found a voice teacher very much like Albert; Mrs. Wilson. She is fantastic.

    Teachers like Albert and Mrs. Wilson make learning easier.

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