I wrote an article about this music school a year ago, about how I did not like the approach so much but approved of the results. A conservatory for children as young as four, all about memorization, about training and testing, about pushing and pushing, and competition. Every time I saw E learning, I felt it was a good test for her, maybe a preview of what real school will be like in this upside-down world. As parents are required to sit in the class and follow along in order to train the children at home, I knew she would not be alone in this harsh and unforgiving classroom. I asked her again and again if she liked it. She said yes a lot of the time, mostly because it was something we did together, something we shared. I would whisper to her in English during lessons, translating vis mushkie into eighth note. I know the teacher resents us. She dismisses my questions with the back of her hand as she struts out of the room. There are no men here, only nannies and mothers. They are respectful and do not ask questions except "what is the homework."
That article won a little award. The summer came, with no lessons and then we started the year by adding individual guitar classes. The teacher they found us is a man. Not young, not old. Serious. A bit like William Shatner in his zippered boots, his fitted trousers, checking his hair in the mirror. He is strict, but kind. He pushes her, and she rises to the challenges. He laughs with her. She loves his class.
Sitting in the big white room, a sadness turns in my stomach. I see E given a solo. She sings quietly but correctly. The children are acting wild, shoving and laughing as their mothers smile blandly and say nothing. The solo is given to a little boy instead. He sings very loud, but off key. They say E sings so beautifully, and will sing in the next song. She stares at me, mouth sewn shut as the room turns into a playground.
The next song comes, and she sings barely louder but still on key. The fat teacher scolds her, saying louder, louder. E does not rise to the challenge. She surrenders. She retreats, as a tiny girl steals her part, fiercely out of tune. Everyone coos, smiles at her pigtails, her mouth wide open. E's face turns red. She is going to cry in a minute. Now she is invisible, as she often is in this class, even when she answers correctly. This is the petty machine of Russia, the piece of shit we stepped in today. Everything is reduced to nothing so a handful of simple minds can prevail, take a picture and pretend they have done oh so well.
I have always thought that conservatory education is a bit brutal, but the idea of dumping a child in the deep end to get them to swim is a way to get them past their fears. In E's case, it is a good way to make her fold up like a wet newspaper. I push her all the time, but never past this point.
Everyone is singing, and she is lost. She stares at me. I open my mouth, mime to her that maybe she could sing along with them. Her lips pursed, she stares at me with those big eyes. The months of humiliation have added up to this moment. Every time she did well and the teacher ignored her. Every time the four year old boy in her group got the answer right and the teacher sang his praises, asking and re-asking how old he was then staring at the rest of the children with a raised eyebrow, going "hmph". The months of mothers asking me in broken English what certain things were taught that day, all saying "but you are a musician", and that is why E is so good. Once, I shook my head and told them when I was E's age, I studied music alone in school, with a very different kind of teacher. My entire family is practically tone deaf, so there was no one to teach me. You don't need a musician in your family to learn music.
You just need to enjoy it.
We are outside, her tears hot on her cheeks. I take her for an eclair. I sip an espresso. We talk it though. We will stop this group class for now, and concentrate on guitar. We will sing at home, do lessons from the workbook at home. She stares up me, and says thanks, Poppa.
A few days later, she improvises a song in the street. I record it as soon as we get home.