When I first began writing these Life Builders posts, I made a silent decision not to write any about my students. It wasn’t that I don’t see the students as Life Builders. I am one of those who, like my father before me, believes that you can learn from anyone. My father was the one who told me that he learned more about electronics when he had to teach it (at Army electronics school) than he ever learned before. I do learn from my students, and they are a steady source of income for me. Even though they give me the opportunity to try and perfect my methodology, I decided that I would not write about them as Life Builders.
The reason for this decision has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with misunderstandings I’ve encountered in the past. I remember the day I mentioned to a colleague that I believe each student has at least one thing they can do better than I can. The man’s reaction was to say that I had no business teaching if I believed this to be true. He, and many others I found out later, believe that a teacher must be all knowing, and superior to his students in every way.
So I keep these types of thoughts to myself. And yet, I find myself making an exception for one student, John Nelson.
John is an adult student who began taking lessons with me several years ago. Most of you know that I am a goal oriented teacher and that I help my students achieve their own goals, not the goals that I set for them. It has been John’s goal to become a jazz trumpet player, specifically a jazz trumpet player who plays in the style of Chet Baker.
To that end, John was one of the first to use my new beginning jazz method. He was one of my guinea pigs, one of the students whose progress helped me tweak the method along the way to what it is today. Although he hasn’t reach his ultimate goal yet, if you heard him play, you would not know that he was an adult beginner only a few years ago unless I told you.
So, as I’m sitting here writing, I’m listening to Woody Shaw on my computer, diggin on his angular melodies, breakneck technique, and extremely advanced harmonies. I’m thinking how sweet it is to be able to enjoy this music again. But I cannot enjoy this music without thinking about John Nelson, because it is John who brought this music back into my life.
This is the first reason why I am making a Life Builders exception for John. Let me explain…
For many years I was a heavy listener to art music. It started the day I bought my first CD player and I continued to listen, almost every day, until November 16th, 2004. That was the day my ex told me she was leaving me. From that day forward, I could not tolerate to have music on in the house.
This distaste for listening to music continued long after I had emotionally recovered from the divorce. It went on for years. In fact, when I began teaching John, I still wasn’t listening to music yet.
I am a firm believer that students must listen to the music they want to learn how to play. In fact, I have something of a rule that I often repeat in the lessons, “listening is more important than practicing.” To that end, I actually give listening assignments for the students to do each week. I give them a CD and expect them to listen to the entire CD before they return it at the following week’s lesson.
Yes, it was a bit hypocritical of me, in that stage of my life, to require music listening when I knew that I wasn’t doing any listening myself.
When John began doing his weekly assignments, he had this great idea to offer me a CD to listen to in exchange. He had no idea that I wasn’t listening to music at that point in my life. He had no idea that just the thought of listening to music literally repulsed me. I would squirm and get irritated and never made it through a track or two before turning it off.
But then I was confronted with listening assignments of my own. At first I dreaded listening to the CDs he lent me. I didn’t want to listen to jazz, especially NOT jazz. Of all the music I could listen to, jazz irritated me the most. But I forced myself to listen to the CDs he brought me every week.
Thanks to John, I have been cured now for a few years already. I listen to music just fine again. No irritation. No disgust. Nothing like that.
I will admit that there are some very ugly recordings I used to listen to in the past that I probably will never return to again. The truth is that I never liked those recordings to begin with. I used to force myself to listen to that stuff for educational purposes.
But yeah, having to listen to a new CD each week finally brought me around to where I needed to be in that area of my career.
And I owe it to John Nelson. He probably never knew it, but he was something of an accountability partner for me at that time of my life. I always ask the students what they thought of the assignment. With John, he would always turn the question back to me and ask me what I thought of the CD he lent me.
You know I don’t like to lie. I wasn’t going to say “yeah, it was nice” if I hadn’t even listened to it yet. Right?
And that’s the main reason why I wanted to write a Life Builders post about John.
Very Intelligent Adult Beginners
Aside from just the listening, John is one of the very intelligent adult beginners that I wrote about in my post titled My Favorite Beginners. When we teach the younger beginning trumpet players, it is often very difficult to get feedback. The students don’t typically have the communication skills it takes to tell us what is working and what is not. This makes it hard for the teacher to get into the head of the students.
But John is highly educated…emphasis on “highly.” So when I see that something is not working the way I had expected it to, John can tell me what’s going on in his head. He can tell me how he practiced the previous week and can articulate his overall attitude and approach. We don’t get that with the younger beginners!
I already mentioned that working with John has helped me tweak the jazz method, but he’s done a lot more than just that. He has provided a sounding board. I tell him all of my crazy ideas and he puts them into practice. Then he comes back and tells me how it went.
Because of this type of feedback, my teaching skills and my overall methodology has improved more in the last few years than any other period in my life. No exaggeration!
John makes his living as a programmer. You could say that his life is something of an inversion of my own. He programs for a living and plays trumpet for fun. I play trumpet for a living and program for fun. Only lately, John’s skills as a trumpet player have long surpassed my skills as a programmer.
So it’s nice to have someone in that industry to talk to about some of my projects and ideas.
I am not formally trained in software development. I don’t know how things get done. I don’t know the standard conventions or anything outside of what I’ve read in books. So hearing John talk about how things are done really gives me ideas of how I want things to be in our projects.
As with every other person I’ve written about in these Life Builders posts, this is just a basic summary. There have been other things that John has done to make my life better. He has been to more of my live performances than any other current student. He is an impeccable dresser and has shared some of his thoughts about that with me (like “never be afraid to be the best dressed person in the room”). My father was right, we can learn from everyone, and from John I have learned a great deal.
Thank you John. Thank you for being a good student and for bringing more to the lessons than just your horn. You are appreciated.