Both hands

I’m going to release an album this year and I’ve been reading how-to articles – how to get on a Spotify playlist; how to create a one-sheet; how to grow a fan base. As might be expected, they all talk about online presence and so I’ve started to engage more online – posted videos of me playing to Instagram, put this blog on Facebook, updated my Spotify profile and uploaded my back catalogue for digital distribution. Releasing music can be an anticlimax; after everything that goes into creating a piece of work it’s disappointing when ‘not much happens’. Of course, you do it for the love of it. You love the process of writing and creating and you want to keep doing it, you have to keep doing it. But art is also about having an audience – a listener, a viewer, a receiver. That’s how an artist feels connected I think, feels they’re doing something useful in the world. It’s what makes it real. Sometimes putting music out has felt like letting go of a handwritten note into a big windy city and hoping it somehow reaches the right person. What I’m realising increasingly is that this side of things – promotion, visibility etc – requires more energy and engagement than I have been willing or able to give it in the past – that the thing people say about ‘putting yourself out there’ is kinda true. And whilst online is important, lately I’m thinking that putting yourself out there is perhaps best taken literally – going to gigs, playing live and being part of the music community.

In the morning I teach two guitarists in the secondary school before going downstairs for three beginner piano lessons in the primary school. I set up a keyboard, two small orange chairs, and get a piano book and a set of rhythm cards from the office. My first student, Kiara, is in Reception class and just four years old. She’s so small that when she walks down the stairs she has to bring both feet on to each step one at a time. I say she can sit on the left to play the low notes today if she likes. We start with some copy rhythms – I play a bar and she copies it back then I ask her to make some up for me to copy. I pick up her notebook to see what I wrote in it last week. “‘Sheep In The Farmyard’ – colouring in. So how did that go?” “Good,” she says, looking down, smiling tentatively. I flick through her book to find the page she’s coloured in. “Wow,” I say, “that’s fantastic, well done! I like these green bits! Okay, shall we have a go at playing the background music now?” I point to her starting notes – C in the left hand (do) and C together with E in the right hand (do and mi) – and count us in. I sing the words over the top and she joins in, playing with both hands and singing – a small triumph. 

Sometimes I ask do you want to play it faster or slower or do you want to play it louder or quieter but today instead we play it in a new key. I point to F and explain that now this note is going to be the ‘do’ in the left hand and show her the corresponding notes for the right hand. Then we try it in F# – using the black notes – before moving on to “Rabbits In The Rain”, singing it in tonic sol-fa with hand signs for each note. As we transfer it to the piano, it’s painstakingly slow. She finds it very difficult to coordinate her hands. Fingers do things she doesn’t want them to, go in the wrong direction and trigger other fingers inadvertently. But she does manage to play the whole song, at her own pace, and it is an improvement on last week. We do a few more songs and we don’t have time to play Switch today. I write in her notebook what we have covered and a new colouring in task for the week. 

“Okay, let’s get you back to class.” Out we go, up the stairs, taking the shortcut into the light rain and wind, through the infant playground to Kiara’s classroom. I help her put her books back into her book bag and the bag into her drawer. Off she turns without a goodbye into the blur of children in maroon sweatshirts walking around, building stuff, some noticing me, looking up, curious, smiling for no reason.

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