Music, a language everybody understands: “What kind of bird are you if you can’t fly?”

I got familiar with the music basics, both theory and common knowledge, in primary school. Back then in Romania the primary school was in two cycles: elementary and gymnasium. Each of them lasted four years.

I learned to read musical notes when I was 9. I was very proud of my first music notebook where I “engraved” my first musical notations. The music education in school comprised both theoretical and practical aspects of music: musical notation, theory, singing in the school choir and music history. The curriculum also included special lessons where we were taught how to listen to music and how to understand it. Like anyone else in my class, those lessons were the most enjoyable moments in the classroom.

The school library was equipped with a record player and vinyl records. I remember the school got special records as resources to be used while teaching music at school. There were records for each grade and level, especially designed to serve music education purposes in school. Each record had a unique collection of music pieces that were adapted and recommended for a certain age group.

We were so excited each time when seeing the teacher carrying the record player and a record while heading to our classroom. That meant one hour of music at school! From an early age I got familiar with Mozart, Beethoven, Hayden, Bach, Brahms, Enescu and many others. There were, of course, pieces that we could understand with the help of the teacher. I appreciated our teacher of music for being patient with us and leading us into the territories of new discoveries where sounds and meanings worked together to make us feel the music.

The moment to listen to a symphony for real came when I was 11. I heard about symphonies on the radio and TV, but I was never ready to stay and follow the music from the beginning to the end. I found the sound mixture rather complicated and therefore too difficult to imagine any meanings and stories behind the sounds.

The first symphony I listen to entirely was “Peter and the Wolf”, by Sergei Prokofiev. It is actually not a symphony for adults, but more a children’s story, which is run by a narrator and an orchestra. The story is built on a dialogue: what the narrator introduces in spoken words is followed by the equivalent of the words in music, which is performed by an orchestra. Because of its structure and format, which combines a narrative anticipating the music as such, I enjoyed it a lot.

We were all ears. Everybody in the classroom moved their eyes, nothing else. Perhaps the eyes helped each of us make a strong imagination exercise by placing the spoken layer on the music layer and making the meaningful connections. After the music lesson we used to share our feelings and efforts in a sort of recap to unify the two layers, so that we could leave school at the end of day with a richer experience.

Even today I remember the intriguing dialogue between the duck and the bird:

“What kind of bird are you if you can’t fly?”

“What kind of bird are you if you can’t swim?”

Why do I recall this dialogue? At the end of the lesson the teacher pointed out that “What kind of human being are you if you cannot listen to music?” That was the point I always had in my mind, especially when listening to music.

Preparing for a violin lesson, 1976

Preparing for a violin lesson, 1976

Years later, while studying to become a primary teacher, violin lessons were compulsory. Starting to learn violin at the age of 14 is a tough challenge. That was not easy, it was a long struggle, but it was worth the effort. Year by year I cheered myself up with the paraphrased question from “Peter and the Woolf”: “What kind of teacher would I be if I cannot play the violin?”

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