Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Able Teacher...

...Willing Student

Why don't you just call Will. He'd said that he'd love to work with you.

I don't know. Wil is so busy and he's a professional who works with professionals.

What am I, chopped liver?




Never mind. Wil would be a great coach for you and I'm sure he'll let you know if he's too busy. Besides, he's told you several times that he'd love to coach you.

And so our conversation went time and time again. After months of unparalleled growth in her self-designed, music-education program, Iris had become stuck. Although her technique continued to improve, there was something missing in her performance and she couldn't quite put her finger on it.

In addition to playing guitar and singing with our blues band, Will Power, our friend Wil is a writer, a director, an actor and a performance coach. He's not only helped actors to improve their performance, he's also coached corporate executives and sales people. As we talked about Iris' roadblocks, it became clear that Wil could help her and Wil made it clear that he'd love to do so.

And for months, the offer remained in the category of "good idea", but that was it. Believe it or not, Iris isn't great at asking for or accepting help.

Motivational Tapes
A couple of months ago, our other band, No Room for Jello, performed at Club Helsinki in Hudson. Our guitar player, Pete (who's also the sound engineer at the club), made a twenty-four track digital recording of the evening. He dropped of a disk with the digital tracks and I went to work mixing them down to stereo recordings of the songs.

One night sitting at my Mac working on the songs, Iris walks into the room.

Is that us at Helsinki?


Wow, it sounds really good. Can hear something that I sang?


I queue up one of the songs where Iris has the lead vocal and press play. Iris smiles as the intro plays, but her smile fades as the verse starts, an overcast of concern spreading over her face.

Hmm... I've really got to call Wil.

Excited Student
Saturday morning. After several almost-got-togethers, today is the day. Although Wil told Iris that she needn't do anything special to prepare, she's been working all week to be ready. The house reverberates as she bounces from room to room cleaning and performing vocal warm-ups. She walks into my office beaming: today's the day.

It's 3:00. Will arrives. A few minutes later he and Iris are sequestered in the studio. Today's the day.

At 5:00 I hear footsteps in the living room above me. Iris bounds down the steps to tell me they're done. Let's get some sushi.

Driving to Bizen, Iris excitedly tells me about her lesson and all that she came to understand about herself, performing and the things that were holding her back. At Bizen Wil explains what a delight it is to have such an open and receptive student, someone who just goes for it without hesitation or question. Although I didn't participate in their session, I can't help but feel a deep sense of satisfaction in their work.

Proof of the Pudding
Proof of the pudding's in the eating. Proof of the coaching's in the singing.

It's Sunday, time for Will Power rehearsal, time to experience the coaching results first hand.

Our rehearsal schedule might be described as group stream-of-consciousness. Wil starts a jam. We all join in. The jam reminds me of Twisted, a melodically and lyrically challenging song recorded by Joanie Mitchell on her Court and Spark album. It's not a beginner's song. It's not an intermediate-level song. It's a song that's hard to sing and one that Iris and I have talked about as a some day kind of song. It's also not one of the songs that Iris and Wil worked on yesterday.

So what else would we do but try it?

After a few minutes figuring out keys and chords, we dive in and without hesitation, Iris starts singing. A half hour later, some-day has become today.

But wait, we still haven't got to the songs Iris and Wil worked out yesterday. Let's give'em a try.

We launch into Carol King's It's Too Late. Iris' presence changes as she stares across the room looking at an unseen source of inspiration. She sings. Her voice is rich and confident. Inspired, the band picks up on it, matching her style and strength. The feeling is relaxed and easy. We play fewer notes leaving plenty of sonic space for the lead vocal. We play better than we've ever played.

Able Teacher, WIlling Student
It's amazing behold the combination of able teacher and willing student. It's one of those phenomena that truly justifies that adjective synergistic. When you see it, the contrast to typical student-teacher relationships is like that of a full solar eclipse to partial ones; the partial eclipses seem special until then.

How are you as a teacher? Are you as able as you'd like to be? Do you exude passion for all you teach?

How are you as a student? Are you open and receptive, or do you hesitate and question? Do you take delight in the learning?

Happy Tuesday,

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