How I was Otaka'd into submission (a simple desultory philippic)

Last summer I went to the East Tennessee State University Suzuki Flute Institute International (did I get all the words right and in the right order?) with my student, Meb, and her mother, Katie. We had a grand old time - I hadn't seen Meb in over a week because she had been at a different workshop at Ohio State, and we figured the same music would work for both. So it came as a bit of a surprise to both of us when a few days in to the week her masterclass instructor said "good, what else you got?" We met for an emergency lesson that night to try to scramble enough of the next piece together to at least have something she could play for the next day.

That's pretty much how I feel after every lesson.

Chaminade? bah. One lesson. Tulou one lesson. Today we churned through the first movement of the Otaka Concerto (that I've been working on for a grand total of 3 days) and he was ready to go on to the 2nd and 3rd (but I wasn't). So instead, we spent another hour (+) on the Lindpaintner from Book 12 (also that I've never worked on, but I've had about 5 days to practice it). Both pieces were dismissed with "Anyway, you polish."

The speed at which we are eating up repertoire is good for one reason: I want to learn as much about the interpretation of French music as I can while I'm here. The old nagging doubts set in, unfortunately, as I wonder whether he's just given up on each piece getting any better and wants to see if maybe I'll get the point with the next one. Has age given him a sort of zen sense of the futility of it all?

We spend close to an hour on tone studies in each lesson, and he generally encourages the same things - I need to resonate from the back of my throat; I need to use more air pressure and less lip pressure; I need to work on the extreme ranges of dynamics while always keeping color in the tone (the list goes on). Jet lag would be a convenient excuse, but I think it's too convenient - I think I'm exhausted at the end of the lesson because it's hard work and a lot of concentrating.

Since there are Japanese customs for almost everything else, I am sure there is something for body language and the way you're supposed to stand and listen when you're having a lesson but I don't know what it is. Self-consciously I frown my way through most lessons, angry that I missed the melody line hidden within a 32nd note passage or fell into one of my other same traps again. I know how I feel when I tell a student the same thing over and over again.

Finally today as I put away my flute, a small glimmer of hope: "you are very sharp. After I play, you catch it. Very good."

Mr. Takahashi insisted upon driving me back to Mrs. Ishii's again today and when we were in the car I mentioned that I was planning to bring some chocolate from home tomorrow to share with the students. (It's hollow, I know, but I need something to assuage my guilt over taking up some much valuable practicing real-estate) He asked if I was making friends here and I told him honestly that everyone's really nice, but most of the time I'm at the school I'm practicing or listening or taking notes. "Ah, you are studious." I just looked at him and didn't know what else to say except, "Well, that's why I'm here." To which he simply replied, "very good."