Have you been here? It's after 9 o'clock on a dark Saturday night during a three day music camp and there's mayhem in the boys' dormitory. Exhausted from a long day of workshops, masterclasses and orchestras, I am looking forward to getting back to the teachers' room for a quiet chat (and with luck, a small glass of red) with my colleagues, but lots of excited and restless young musicians are wide awake, disturbing others - and I'm on duty. What to do?
For better or worse, I'm not a disciplinarian. In the early days I made a half-hearted effort to become one, feeling like a sheep dog, running and barking around the perimeter trying to contain an unruly mob of sheep - with limited success. I envied my music teacher friends who seemed to take disorder in their stride, easily subduing and controlling their charges with sharp, well-placed commands and reprimands.
In Japan I happily learned another way - one that came more naturally for me, but that's another story.
That night instead of laying down the law, I think of telling a story that I'd made up for my own children. " We're not interested in a story," the bigger, older kids scoff, and continue on with their chatter. " That's ok," I say, sitting on a chair near the younger ones' bunks.
" There once were three friends - a horse, a monkey and a boy, who set out on a quest to find and bring back a long lost treasure."
These three friends, as they do in such stories, encounter all sorts of perilous difficulties, impossible obstacles and weird wonders on their journey. As the story progresses, I notice after a while that the older kids have gone silent, and trying not to make it too obvious, are listening intently to the story. By the time our heroes return with the treasure, many students are asleep or smiling quietly as I say goodnight. A peaceful night follows.
Perhaps a bark or two from another teacher would have achieved the same result, but next morning the big kids come up to me and say, "Can we have another story tonight?" "Well, yes," I say, "but you'll need to be in bed by 8.30. Some of the little ones will be really worn out by that time, don't you think?"
Previous entries: August 2014