On Wednesdays and Fridays I teach at a primary school in Chelsea. It’s a lovely school in a beautiful neighbourhood near the river. The atmosphere is warm and relaxed but with strong discipline and codes of behaviour (when teachers shout I get the feeling it’s for the greater good rather than a power trip). There’s lots of laughter, and extracurricular activities going on all the time. Excellent music provision – concerts, bands, a choir. Children’s artwork on the walls and posters with words like peace, kindness and compassion (and a sense that these things are genuinely being thought about and worked towards). School lunch is delicious and healthy and integrated into the curriculum. I enjoy sitting with the children and other music teachers in the gentle clatter of the hall at lunchtimes, pupils asking questions (”Are you married?”) and telling jokes (”What animal says Oom?”). It’s a state school and despite the super-wealthy area it’s demographically varied. Teachers and staff seem wholehearted and there’s a tangible feeling of community.
I leave the house early to get a seat on the tube at Bounds Green, put on over-ear headphones, listen on repeat to a track by Jonsi & Alex and try to meditate. Half an hour later I’m at Hyde Park Corner getting the 19 bus which takes me through Knightsbridge and the rows of designer flagships to halfway down Kings Road. I like walking in the cold bright air through the pretty backstreets, passing well-dressed people and sports cars, to the school on a peaceful pedestrian cut-through near a big church. My experience of London is so varied. Chaos, speed, poverty, uber-commerce, refinement, threat, thrill, abundance, madness… There’s something about this little school far enough away from the noise of the main road and high-end retail, in amongst the tall, ornate houses and tree-lined pavements, that feels calm and healthy and vibrant. A kind of innocence and spirit that I find positive and grounding in my life.
Today I arrive with time to spare and play piano in the quiet of the practice room before school starts. I have 23 students over the two days, each having 20- or 30-minute lessons. Fridays I teach Guitar Club. We’ve been playing songs from a book called Guitar Basics – a 12 bar blues piece and a Spanish pastiche called “Fiesta”, both with three guitar parts of differing ability. The boys always want to play the bass part – it’s the closest we get to Rock, which is their Holy Grail. (“Can we play Rock now?” is probably the question I get asked most, to which the only satisfactory answer is Yes.) “Who knows what ‘dynamics’ means?” I ask today. Harry says, “soft and loud”. “Soft and loud, well done. Does anyone have any ideas for how we could use dynamics in this piece?” Isabelle suggests that as each line repeats we could do each first time loud and the repeats quiet. This works well. Dynamics really add a lot when working with children. Well, in general, I guess. They’re such a simple way to make things more musical and engaging. As we play, the music seems to have a new sense of occasion and I feel confident that we’ll be ready for the Spring Concert in a few weeks.