Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Next Thing You Know, I'll Be Assigning Term Papers

I did an unusual thing in my lessons this morning: I assigned the beginners some very mild homework.

Now, I suppose you could say that, as a private music instructor, I'm assigning "homework" all the time: Practice this, practice that. But this morning's assignment involves some actual research.

Among other things, my beginners progress through an elementary method book, passing off a certain number of lines each week. When I give those assignments, I end up writing the date of the next lesson (one week later than the current day, unless I'm on a weird schedule) at the beginning of the assignment. When I did that for this morning's kids, I realized that next Tuesday, December 16, is Beethoven's birthday.

There have been plenty of major composers in the history of music, but Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig von Beethoven would have to be among the most well-known among the general public. Ask someone to name two famous U.S. Presidents, and they're likely to say George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (indeed, when I was really little, I thought they were the first two Presidents). Ask someone to name two famous classical composers, and they're likely to say Bach and Beethoven (the prominence of the latter in Charles Schulz's Peanuts cartoons--as an idol of piano-playing Schroeder--certainly added to his fame).

So I couldn't resist turning the date of the next assignment into something more academic. I told each of the beginners in turn about the significance of next Tuesday, and I asked them to find out a little about him, including something noteworthy; this could be anything from his appearance in Peanuts to his blindness to the fact that he composed the famous four-note motif of his Fifth Symphony.

(Speaking of Beethoven's deafness: A few weeks ago, when looking through contest solos with the older kids, one of them was contemplating a Beethoven piece. I asked that kid if he knew who the Beethoven was and what was noteworthy about him, and the kid replied, "He was blind, right?" Umm, no, but that did launch into a discussion of great blind piano players throughout history--Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, et al.)

It will be interesting to see what they come up with (and I think these kids are good enough students that they'll actually do the assignment). I'll post their discoveries here next week.

The white stuff: It was lightly sleeting when I left the college tonight, but nothing will come of it; not yet. I can think of all the time that the forecasters have overdone it on the "impending doom" angle, and even they weren't hyping this much beyond a "please drive carefully" angle tonight.

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