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.