January 5, 2013

Dyslexic Tutoring

When I was in Grad school, I worked as a teacher’s assistant for a couple of music theory classes. This mostly involved answering questions about homework, grading homework and occasionally pointing out that a homework assignment was too confusing for the class to handle. One semester, there was a student with several learning disabilities in the class. After talking with the teacher, she asked about the possibility of getting a tutor for the class through a program the school had in place for students with learning issues. We agreed since we didn’t want her to be downgraded for having trouble writing notes on the correct lines and spaces when she knew the answer. The school's program didn’t have a music theory tutor at the time so I told her that I was willing. She was very nervous about this until I told her that while I don’t have the same issues she did, I am dyslexic and do understand about learning difficulties in general. Then she was delighted.

I was fascinated to see the areas of music reading that tripped her up, even more because they were so different from the ones I had trouble with. She was thrilled to have a tutor who had personal experience with learning issues. Most of the tutoring involved looking over her homework and making sure what she wrote was what she meant, not very taxing for me but a huge help for her. But she had some interesting times learning some of the music theory concepts as well. I shared one or two of our discussions about intervals and chords with the teacher and he incorporated some of our thoughts in his lectures for the class. He was quite interested in all the different ways we were looking at the material and commented on how it opened up his view of learning music theory. Of course, he was a good teacher to start with and was always looking for new ways of presenting material but it was very rewarding for both of us to hear that.

Her biggest difficulty with the homework was writing the music down. She knew where all the notes went but she just couldn’t get the notes onto the right lines and spaces

Three different versions of the same chord.
 Lines and spaces make all the difference.

My problems were always more connected to reading what was actually written (words rather than music) so we both were very interested in talking with someone who had basically the opposite issue. It worked out quite well since she could tell me where to write the notes and get credit for the material she knew. We also discussed what she would have to do if she continued on to write music in the future. Computer programs that print music, different colored lines on the music staff and so on but at the time, that wasn't necessary.

Teaching is, in many ways, the ultimate learning method. Everyone I know who teachers comments on how many things they understand more fully after they have taught them. This is not to say you can't learn without teaching but the act of passing knowledge on to someone else turns that information around inside your head in truly remarkable ways. Even understanding your own learning issues works that way. Talking and teaching others with twists in their brains made me look at how I handled my own quirks and come up with new ways to make sense of the material. For myself and others.

January 1, 2013

Lullaby's Creation

All that exists remakes creation by existing. The painter, the sculptor, the gardener, the builder all transform the universe with their tales. The rock, the flower, the ice, the air redefine the world and stories they touch. This is just one of many stories that can be enjoyed or ignored as pleases.

Long before long ago could even exist, all of creation - all that is, all that was and all that may be - still lay wrapped tight within itself. Here, in this time that is not, all creation slept. A deep dreamless sleep where all awareness dissolves into the stuff that feeds the soul. But as always happens, when the soul is fed, dreams began. And within the dreams Creation met sensation for the first time. Through sensation, Creation learned to understand itself and all that was around it within the dream, for within the dream all is understood or if not understood then accepted as if it was well known. In this acceptance, Creation learned meaning and even language but only in the dream where logic twists itself into tangled spirals. And even now, that first learning still runs through all of creation’s understanding of itself and spins tiny knots into all reason and order.

Wild Raspberry Buds
But then, creation began to wake.
And for all its learning of dreams, creation had never experienced itself when awake. In the waking, creation found itself as lost as it had been at the start of the dream, now long forgotten. All experience was equally startling, joy and sorrow as overwhelming as a drop of water and grain of sand. All the colors exploded, smells wove together, taste drowned the horizon, sound cracked atoms and touch brought the world to an end or so it seemed. And then, slowly, creation began to notice something. It was more comforting than shade in summer, tasted more decadent than black raspberries, smelled more enticing than wine and was softer than flower petals. It was the lullaby. As creation listened, it began to realize it knew this music. It had been hearing this tune for longer than it could remember, longer even than it had been dreaming. Listening to this lullaby brought a sweeter comfort than creation could imagine or even knew how to long for and brought all of creation’s sharp, new sensations into a kind of order.

Wild Raspberries

And then, creation stretched. 
As it stretched, creation realized that each section of itself heard the music differently, a note here, a hold there, with timbres shifting and rolling against each other. Each move creation made changed how a part of creation heard the lullaby and how all of creation fit the lullaby together. And as each change added to how the music could be heard, creation discovered harmony and began to find the meaning that it thought it had left in the dream. So creation began to unfold and coil round and round itself to hear all the infinite changes, and at that moment made a decision. Dream knowledge said there was no end to the changes in the music or creation itself and that this variety of self and lullaby would bring joy in the deepest sorrow.

Snow Raspberries Echinacea
Berry Canes and Echinacea
So creation made a decision to create as many possibilities as it could find within itself so that it could always hear the lullaby anew. And still to this very day, that line of music, that infinite diversity, that touch of chaos, that bit of dream wisdom runs through all of creation as a gift of joy that is given to all that is, all that was and all that may be.