Floating analogies

Arguments will no doubt rage forever about whether music is a language; whether music is a subset of language; whether language is a subset of music, but one thing seems clear: you can’t use the language of music to explain music to pupils who don’t already play music. Therefore analogy is our currency. The same ones rarely work for every pupil given that their life experiences, hobbies and course choices are so varied. But when one does, it’s a kind of magic.

On Monday and Tuesday evenings, the NBHS Guitar Ensemble played the traditional Catalan Christmas song, El Noy de la Mare. Although the performance on the first night was successful, it felt as though it might be thinking about bordering on rushing – as if people felt that they shouldn’t hang around at the end of a phrase but get on to the next without delay. I found myself saying in lessons the following day that the phrases should feel as though they are floating rather than marching or running. Justifiably, a pupil asked, “what do you mean, floating?” The only thing I could think of was to compare the landing of hurried feet on the ground to the falling of a leaf or a feather – the essential difference being that the latter will not be rushed but rather lands gently in its own time – a moment which can be difficult for an onlooker to predict.

It may simply have been that the pupils felt more confident and relaxed on the second night and that this analogy played no part – but the difference in feel was huge. The piece seemed to drift forward at its own unhurried pace with plenty of breathing space between phrases. I felt as though in the company of professionals and that there was genuine listening and communication taking place (the ensemble is not conducted).

If the analogy did play a significant part, then why has it taken me so long to come up with such an effective one? To where could I have turned earlier? How about using a wiki as a kind of database of analogies? Would Instrumental Instructors and Music Teachers contribute or consult?