Adding some rhythm to the mix

Thursday: I’ve been thinking about rhythm ever since Colorado, for a few reasons. First, I enjoyed Jeremy Dittus’s Dalcroze presentation in Colorado and became interested in the Dalcroze method of music education, in which rhythm and dance are paramount. Second, in M’s group class in Colorado, her teacher (Kevin Hart) broke up the class with a clapping exercise, which engaged both the kids and the parents. Third, M has been playing 3/4 songs in 4/4 time lately.

So today, I started looking at two books on the subject

  • Joy Yelin’s Movement That Fits: Dalcroze Eurhythmics and the Suzuki Method. I bought it from Amazon and only had a chance to skim it, but it looks like an excellent resource. Yelin has taken songs in the Suzuki repertoire (e.g., May Song, Twinkle) and come up with related Dalcroze-inspired rhythmic exercises. She also has a good introduction about the Dalcroze method in general.
  • Alan Dworsky and Betsy Sansby’s Slap Happy: How to Play World-Beat Rhythms With Just Your Body and a Buddy. I got this book and CD from the library, but I’ll probably buy it. Dworsky and Sansby have a lot of books about world percussion, including some djembe books. In this book, they teach how to play various rhythms using just different types of body percussion (thigh slaps, chest thumps, snaps, claps, etc.). The CD makes it pretty easy to follow along, and the book is geared toward doing the rhythms in pairs (e.g., you can do patty-cake or slap a buddy’s hand on some beats). It’s a great package.

To ease into practice, I told Maura that for the first half of our practice, we would do things in Slap Happy. She was a little hesitant when things were difficult (it’s not so simple to coordinate your hands and feet, even in a pretty simple rhythm pattern), but we had fun for about 15 minutes. I plan to keep doing it.

We started our regular practice after dinner, and it went great. M brought in two fairy books to use — she wanted to earn the fairies for repetitions. Basically, this means that when she does a repetition (or a few), I say, “Great! You’ve earned the fairy with the red wings!” (Or I ask her to pick which fairy she earned.)

Substance-wise, we didn’t get past the second half of Meadow Minuet, which we’ve been practicing. She did well on the C section, but she got the D section in her head with bass notes in the first half but not in the second, so she stops playing the bass notes halfway through. To get her to pay attention to the bass notes and play them was a real challenge, and we worked our way around to it through a combination of trading off parts, slowing down a lot, and singing and talking. By the time we finished, though, she managed to play, at a slow tempo but in time, the bass notes that she had been dropping entirely when we started. So that was progress.

I do think that M’s foundation work is starting to pay off. We got through portions of the song much more quickly than we would have just a few months ago, it’s largely because I don’t have to spend a lot of time trying to adjust her technique, and her technique is so solid that it really supports her playing.

Opening day at the Colorado Suzuki Institute

Monday: M wakes up cruelly early — 5:30 am Colorado time. (I know, for some families this is not unusual. But we’re blessed with a good sleeper.) I let her watch some Nickelodeon while I check email, etc.

After an expensive but satisfying breakfast at the hotel buffet (make your own waffles!), we check out the surroundings. It’s a nice walk from our hotel, through the woods, up to the “village” of Beaver Creek — a complex of hotels and stores that sell everything from absurd Western-themed artwork, to furs, to jewelry, to $6 gelato (delicious!).

M and I stop by the institute to check in and pick up our tote bag and schedule. M is excited to learn that she got into the bass “enrichment” activity, her top choice. Registration goes smoothly.

The kinks come later, and there were four:

  1. My map of class locations wasn’t accurate.
  2. A promised tour of classroom locations, scheduled for 2:15, inexplicably did not happen. This left me on my own to find the classrooms and to figure out the mistake on my map (enabling me, later, to help another parent whose map included the same error).
  3. During the institute welcoming talk, someone had the terrible idea of holding an impromptu auction for a CD by the Preucil family to raise funds for scholarships. The spent ten minutes trying to get audience members to bid on something no one really wanted, after we had been sitting for over a half an hour later. Note to organizers: do not hold unannounced auctions for worthless items when a large portion of your audience is in elementary school. Just when I was about to hand up a note saying, “Cut this crap out,” the cut the crap out.
  4. The guitar “play in” took place in an incredibly crowded meeting room in one of the hotels, and the leader (a good teacher and nice man, despite what I’m about to say) played way too many advanced songs for the group. The younger kids, including mine, were forced to sit through song after song that they did not know and could not even play a simple accompaniment to. The teacher said up front that the guitars don’t do a traditional play-in (where you start with advanced pieces and just work your way down, adding kids as you go). They should.

The other thing I noticed has nothing to do with the institute per se: there are a shocking number of kids here whose technique is so bad you can scarcely call them guitarists, yet they are butchering their way through songs in Book 2 and Book 3.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised; it’s the same thing I saw at the Minnesota Suzuki graduations. But I am surprised. I would think that people willing to spend the time and money to come here would also be people committed enough to the Suzuki method to have developed minimally competent technique. I was wrong.

The other notable feature of the play-in: A parent let her 18-month old toddler wander across the room, through the guitarists, not once, but twice. After the second time, I went out in the hall to ride herd on the kid, thinking that her mother must not know what’s going on. The kid tries to go in the other door for a third circle, and I block her way. She starts whimpering, and reaching for the woman standing behind me, in the doorway. It’s the kid’s mother. She’s been standing there, watching her kid stroll through the group, doing nothing. I say, “Could you keep your daughter from walking through the group?” “Sure,” she says.

As luck would have it, her 7- or 8-year-old son ends up in M’s group class and master class. But that’s a story for another day.

As for practice today, I worked on Rocky Mountain Twinkle with M in the afternoon and she was very cooperative. And then, of course, the guitarists didn’t play it at the play-in. Because guitarists are different.

One moment of the play-in was tender for me. After most of the kids had set up, M turned out to be behind some other kids, so the leader (who taught M’s master class last year at a different institute) asked if she’d like to move and sit up front. “My dad put me here,” she said. Something about that melted me — that she respected me enough to think that if I put her somewhere, it was where she should sit. Naturally, I helped her move.

Finally, I was surprised that M didn’t try to play along when they got to With Steady Hands. She knows it. When I mentioned it later, she said she just didn’t feel like she knew it well enough. Which tells me her confidence still needs building.

Oops, forgot to practice

Sunday: Today is our travel day for the Colorado Suzuki Institute. And it’s also the first day since we began guitar lessons, over a year and a half ago, that I forget to do something I can call “practice.”

In my defense, it was a long day. Because S and I made the stupid decision to go out for dinner and a little shopping yesterday instead of packing, I was up until 3:30 am getting us packed and getting various CDs ready for the trip. (It’s a 2+-hour car ride from the Denver airport to Beaver Creek, where the institute is held, so we need listening material.)

Travel starts at 9:30 with a ride to the airport, where we wait for about 2 hours. We see lots of families with instruments en route to Denver, and we run into some folks we met at last year’s Suzuki Institute at Macphail. The mom’s husband had recommended the Colorado institute to me, so I’m a little surprised that the mom complains a little about the institute’s director, who is apparently somewhat rigid and frowns on scheduling changes.

We have a nice flight, during which M curls up for about a half-hour nap on my lap. It takes a little of the sting out of yesterday’s tantrum.

We arrive and, after struggling with Budget Rent-a-Car (they couldn’t be bothered to send someone promptly to show me how to adjust the seat in my ludicrously named Suzuki Kizashi sedan), make it to M’s teenage cousin’s house for a short visit on the way to Beaver Creek. M and her cousin take a quick dip in the pool, we play a short game, and then we hit the road for the 2-hour drive to Beaver Creek.

On the way, we mostly listen to an audio CD of Old Testament stories. Good CD; grisly stories! We stop for dinner on the way at a Noodles & Co. in Dillon, which is about 1/2 hour from Beaver Creek and a good way to break up the trip.

When we get back in the car, for the rest of the way, we listen to the CD I made of Book 1 songs plus Rocky Mountain Twinkle.

Beaver Creek is beautiful, and our condo at the Charter turned out to be a good choice. The decor is a little absurd (in our room, a lasso and a shotgun are mounted on the wall, and a gun holster is draped over a bedpost), but the rooms are big, the kitchen is functional, and our view is terrific (we’re on the third floor, with a balcony overlooking the outdoor pool). The only serious negative is the terrible electronics (some rooms actually have VCRs!) and, surprisingly, analog cable. Which makes watching the last quarter of the last game of the NBA finals somewhat unsatisfactory (the picture quality is poor). But we didn’t come here to watch TV.

S puts M to bed when we arrive, while I watch the basketball game. After M is asleep, I suddenly realize that we didn’t practice.

This is not, of course, the first day we’ve gone without putting hands on the instrument. We always bring M’s guitar on vacation, but sometimes we’ve had days when it hasn’t worked out to sit down and practice. On those days, we’ve done something in the car that I called practice — singing some songs, counting beats, quizzing about music theory or note geography, or some other combination of things related to the guitar.

Today, though, I forgot to use car time this way. Which means we’ve broken our streak of practicing every day. Now, we’ll just have to say that we practice every day that we can.

I am away, but not gone

Two things have created a blogging backlog: (1) a busy life, and (2) the fact that I’ve been recording our home lessons.

It’s ironic that recording our lessons has reduced my blog output — a big reason I started regularly recording them was to improve the quality of my posts.

The problem, though, is that because I know I have a recording of each lesson, I feel less urgency about blogging every day. In the past, blogging promptly was imperative, because otherwise I’d forget what we did. Now, I think to myself, “It’s okay if I don’t blog today, because even if I forget what happened, I can just listen to the recording!”

But that’s where we are. I hope to get caught up soon.