Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Autistic Achievement via Bartok

One of my longtime (16 years) students is blind, autistic, and severely developmentally challenged.  Underneath all those opacities he is a real human being and music is his only access to shared experience and to real expression.  He has long been fascinated by the music of Bartok, specifically For Children.  His many problems are complicated even further by the absence of a sense of touch. From the very beginning my pedagogy with him has been based on two fundamental principles:
  • Variation, variation, more variation.  Never repeat yourself; never play the "same" piece twice the same way.
  • Dissonance, dissonance, more dissonance.  Whatever the problems he has learning, he is bound to grow into some kind of unexpressible awareness of his limitations.  Dissonance is the musical equivalent of what he cannot otherwise express.
Today he enjoyed a spectacular lesson in which he accomplished some coordinations which had, not long ago, been impossible for him: He opened his left hand to play an octave then promptly returned to a closed position for the rest of the figure.  He could combine this new challenge with the melody which is itself deceptively simple - it has asymmetrical phrasing, and is not consonant with the accompaniment in the same way in any of its three verses.  

Why could he make the effort today that he could not begin to imagine several weeks ago?  I think it's because he has grown to love the piece, to such an extent that he is fascinated by its complexities. I know he loves it because it's what he played when I asked him to play anything at all at the start of the lesson.

What a student loves is the key to learning, no matter who the student and who the teacher.