Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Paying Attention

Sometimes it seems that I need to jump backwards through hoops in order to get my community college students to pay attention to what they are listening to, but I have finally learned that getting someone to pay attention for the length of time that a movement of a piece might take is not the same as having that person (or those people, in this case) get into the habit of paying attention. It is the habit of playing attention that ultimately allows people to get the most out of life and to appreciate the wonders of the world around them.

One naive hope I have is that listening to music carefully as a group might make a kind of "light bulb" go on for my students; but I am resigned to admit that it is only through practice and freedom from distraction that people can learn to pay attention to what they are doing when it is necessary to do so. My other naive hope is that through listening to music with an ear pointed towards its emotional content, people who ordinarily would not let themselves be connected to deep and complicated emotions would find comfort and freedom in "feeling" through the emotional expressions of great composers and performers.

So many of my community college students seem distracted and removed, both intellectually and emotionally. I often wonder if they will ever think of the content of their music appreciation course as anything more than material to study the day before an exam. I guess the rewards from having taken a class like this might come later in their lives.

I know that I can always help my private students pay attention to what is required, even if they don't always do things correctly all the time. Paying attention to what is wrong (when they make mistakes) is just as valuable as paying attention to what is right. They are eager to close the window on the rest of the world and, when prompted and encouraged, listen to their intonation, listen to the quality of their sounds, observe the function of their hands, arms, and fingers, and count. I think that they actually like being asked to focus their attention on the tasks at hand, and they seem to be pleased that I care about their progress.

Then again, the are not being graded, and the only reward they get (besides an occasional sticker for the young ones) is the satisfaction of making music.


gelci72 said...

Wonderful, wise post with some terrific writing & insights! Thank you for this call to be attentive/mindful...

Peter (the other) said...

I am just discovering this discrepancy of concentration/perception, with my students. I am a first time teacher, a class of 16 (about 4 too many for me to keep a good grasp of after the first two sessions) between late teens and middle age. My job, I think, is to help these bright and reasonably willing folk, to see/hear what is right in front of them, but it surprises me how they both, ambitiously, bite off huge chunks of material yet then fail to see/hear even the basic elements. Oh well, I have been peering at this material for years, I just hope (or even, except that it may be my responsibility) that by the end of the course, they will have developed a few more tools. So much of my own educational experience consisted of time-delayed nuggets. The teaching, I am finding, is fortifying my passion for the subject, which is exhilarating.

Elaine Fine said...

The interesting thing for me about teaching this class is the fact that after the disinterested people stop coming to class, the ones that remain stay because they really do like the music. They may not have the "student skills" that make it possible do to well on exams, but once they begin, after having a lot of practice, to listen to music and appreciate the way it is put together, they get a lot more out of it. This usually happens at around the time we get to the classical period, which is fortunate because it is possible to divide the sections of music we talk about by using organizational forms.

I find that when we listen to music together, which is what most of our class time is spent doing, I HAVE to concentrate a great deal. If I let my mind wander anywhere: to what I am going to do next, to something not connected with teaching, I feel like the concentration level of the students goes down, and then it is very difficult to get it back. It is often more tiring to teach a class where I talk very little than to teach a class where I talk a lot.

Concentration is kind of contagious.

Peter (the other) said...

"Concentration is kind of contagious."

Thanks for that.