Saturday, 11 October 2014

Don’t Shoot the Pianist; She is Doing her Best

The schoolteachers here seem to cultivate an almost preternatural ignorance of all subjects except their own speciality. Fair enough, they should not be required to teach subjects in which they are not experts, but one might expect them to have a layman’s competence in other subjects. At the moment, certain subjects — including ones necessary for university entrance — are simply not being taught at the gymnasio, the intermediate school. Now I’m afraid that in England most pupils would be only too delighted by this, here pupils actually want to be taught those subjects. So the other day, in protest, pupils fitted padlocks to the school doors and refused admittance to staff. They then occupied the school overnight. Yes, it has to be said that this was partly a prank — though as Oscar Wilde said, some things are more than a duty, they are a pleasure — and an extra day off school, but some at least really care about these things. The E.U.’s punishment of Greece for its economic faults is, as usual, hurting the most vulnerable.

Another case of a teacher being ignorant of all but her own subject has just arisen on an individual level: the 17th of November is ‘Polytechnic Day’, on which we remember the brave students of the Athens Polytechnic who were killed for resisting the Papadopoulos dictatorship. One of the teachers here has decided that on that day pupils will gather at the Town Hall to sing a song relevant to the occasion. ‘Oh, and you can play the piano for it!’ she added to a pupil who is learning to play. She is not a music teacher, but surely she should know better than to think that it is just a matter of sitting down and playing. Quite apart from the fact that the Town Hall piano is a crime against music and virtually unplayable even by an expert, where is the music, meaning the written notes? And what are the chances of a comparative beginner being able to learn it in time, even were we to find the music, which is proving elusive? (The internet has not really helped, because however you hedge a search about with words like pdf, partitura, notes, written music etc., search engines insist on assuming that what you ‘really’ want (because it’s what most people want) is a video of someone singing the song, or at best a set of guitar chords.) And anyway, as I suggested above, the ability to just play a tune after one or two hearings it is rare, and usually possessed only by a kind of idiot savant who can’t read music and knows nothing of keys and harmony, but can nevertheless keep a pub entertained all evening, vamping away at all the old favourites and often, on request, new tunes. It’s not usually something even an advanced serious learner can do.

Which reminds me: such a chap was thumping away in the pub when a customer, looking over that way, noticed the pianist’s flies were undone. ‘Dear me,’ he thought; ‘I’d better discreetly tell him.’ So over he goes, leans down, and says quietly ‘Do you know your flies are undone?’ ‘No, but hum a few bars and I’ll try and fake it.’


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