Monday, March 28, 2011

Yale Service Tour to the DR -- Day 4 ("Let's Go With Plan E")

Monday, March 14

Thankful that we had called it an early night, Tyler and I woke up ready to finally meet our students.  Still a little unclear about precisely how many students we would see at a time, we thought we had a good plan in place.  We headed over to the Hotel Libano, ready to have some breakfast, pick up the keyboards and to head to Las Charcas to teach.

When we arrived at the school, we went to set up the keyboards in La Biblioteca, which had rows of neatly arranged desks.  We would sit on one side, facing the students, and we would lay out the keyboards so that the students would have some space to themselves.  The plan was that we would show them some of the basics of the keyboard -- you hit the keys, you get sounds.  You play the keys on the right, they make one tone. You hit the keys on the left, you get a lower tone.  Then, we thought we would ask the kids to sing a song they knew -- a simple song they all would know -- and then we could teach that to them.  With that as a basis, we could then start working with the piano books.  We were thinking that we would teach 5 or 6 kids at a time, with each group getting 30 to 45 minutes.  After the kids were done with the keyboard, they would then head over to computers, or dancing, or art, and switch with the kids there. 

We arrived at the school at around 8:30 or so.  It took us a few minutes to get set up.  We reviewed the lesson again.  Then, nothing happened.  No one came in. So, we found a teacher.  She asked us how many kids we would want -- 5 or 6, we said.  A few minutes later, she brought a group of girls in.  They were bright and inquisitive, and some of them had pads of paper out to take notes.  They sat down and Tyler started to teach.

The first few minutes went fine, although I wasn't so sure that Tyler's explanations were making much sense to the students.  (His Spanish was very good, but the students had little frame of reference for what he was talking about.  They had never been able to touch a keyboard before.)  Then, we asked them to sing.  No, thanks, they replied.  You teach us a song.  They then sat politely, and silently, staring at us.  (Unfortunately, our Spanish language piano books were in customs, so we only had American kid's songs to offer.)  You could almost hear Plan A and Plan B fly out the window.  Plan C and Plan D didn't even make it off the ground, so they had to scurry out the door.  Not good.

Tyler turned to me and said, in English, "I am not sure what to do next."  I paused -- this was a big moment and I had to come up with something.  Unfortunately, I don't play a lick of piano.  Tyler is the musician, not me.  "Well," I said, in English trying to sound confident, so as not to confirm to the students that I didn't have much of a clue, "Why don't you teach them some notes?"  Tyler gave me a look that they must teach in teenager school.  Although he was polite enough not to say it, both he and our students knew what he meant:  "Dad, really?  You don't have anything better than that?" 

With that, Tyler turned to the students and took over, inventing Plan E right there on the spot.  He went to the start of the book and decided to teach them a song, starting with the immortal classic, Hot Crossed Buns.  It turns out that the girls knew a Dominican children's song with the same tune ("Mariposa, donde esta?").  Tyler went from student to student, teaching the beginning three notes.  He then did then next three and then had them string six together.  Then three more notes, and a string of the nine notes together.  We then started going up and down the line teaching the song.  Within 30 minutes or so, most had the basics of the song down.  Those who didn't were getting more help from me.  Tyler was moving faster with the kids who were picking things up faster.  We then moved on to Mary Had a Little Lamb.  When we hit the 60 minute mark, I told the girls that they didn't need to stay, if they wanted to try something else.  They wanted to stay, they explained.  And, by the way, some of us want to learn what those notes are on that page. 

I could share story after story about what happened the rest of that morning.  It was magical.  Tyler was teaching kids, I was struggling to keep up (and struggling with my Spanish, although Tyler helped me there, too), and the students were enjoying themselves.  A few times, when I hit my limit of what I could do next, I would ask Tyler for guidance.  He patiently gave it.  As the morning went on, the group grew.  Some kids left, more came in.  The structure we had assumed we would have (and an American might expect in a school) never materialized.  Thank goodness.  The informal approach worked for the kids, and it was working for us.  One girl stayed in our classroom for three hours, mastering five songs and beginning to understand basic musical notation . . . and this was before lunch.  We didn't think we could get that far in the few days we had, let along right away.  (It turns out that this particular student had an advantage over some of the others . . . she had touched a piano before -- once.)

As more and more kids came in, you could feel the energy building in the room.  And, the noise.  During our second hour, some of the kids figured out that the keyboards were also synthesizers that played songs, made sound effects and had percussion keys.  By the end of our stay, the kids had mastered these features and sometimes the room sounded more like a Star Wars set than a music classroom.  This turned out to be part of the fun, though, and it gave some of the kids who were determined to learn despite struggling, cover to try things in front of their friends without being embarrassed. 

By the time we hit lunch, Tyler and I were pretty excited.  Patrick, part of our group's coterie of Canadians kind enough to befriend Yalies and our resident photojournalist, stored his camera equipment in our room.  So, he was around during that first crazy morning.  Patrick, it turns out, is a musician, too.  Towards the end of the morning, he gave Tyler some words of encouragement that had us really pumped up to see what else we could get done during the week. 

That first morning was, I have to say, pretty fun to watch.  As we left for lunch, I tapped out a quick blackberry message to Lisa:  "Just finished the morning. Tyler did really well. Really well. I will give you details later. We struggled at first and then Tyler really clicked. I am very proud of him."

Progress on the house . . .
With that, we were off to lunch, where we got to see how much progress the building team had made.  Where an outline of a building had stood the first day, now there were walls!  It was great to see.

After lunch, we returned to school, with a whole different crew of kids.  The afternoon, it turned out, saw a much bigger group of boys.  It was louder and bit less organized.  (Nine-year-old Lucy Pratt, one of the kids on our trip, stuck her head into our room at one point to see what all the commotion was.  It was so boisterous, she decided not to join us.)  The students in the afternoon also seemed to have a bit more trouble mastering the patterns we were teaching.  They were getting it, though, slowly but surely.  And, the word had spread about the keyboards . . . we were getting kids who were not in the afternoon session of the school coming by to join our lessons. 

As the day wound down, and I could see that we were making little progress, we called it quits.  At the end of the day, I was not sure how many kids had come by.  Some had dropped by for 10 minutes and some for a few hours.  If I had to guess, I would say 40 or 50 kids stopped by our classroom that first day. 

Because our gua gua (what they called the buses we used, because of the sound they make -- say "gua gua gua gua gua gua" really quickly and you will get one of our sounds of the DR) wasn't there, Tyler went to the neighboring class room, where he taught a game that I don't even begin to understand.  Somehow, he taught the game to the kids in Spanish.  There was laughter punctuated by really loud laughter, as the kids ran around the room and out into the adjacent courtyard as part of the game.  I was sad to see the fun stop, as we had to get onto our gua gua.  It had been a great day, and it was only 3:00.

A Cambiando Vidas Home
Our hosts for coffee and cake
Even though our teaching was done, our day was not. This particular afternoon, groups of 20 or so visited with families that were living in homes built with the help of Cambiando Vidas. We visited a family whose house was built with Deerfield Academy volunteers last year. They offered us coffee and cake (which was really good). During our visit, some of the girls who lived their and their cousins (including some of our piano students) took us to the tamarind tree in their back yard. I had never had tamarind, and really enjoyed it.

Later, Tyler and I hung out with Andres, the painter helping paint the mural at the school with the Gould family and the students. Andres told us about the mountains and the local area and he discussed music with Tyler. It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.

With coffee and cake done, we headed off to our hotels to clean up. Our next stop was an audience with the mayor ... I was not sure what to expect.

We arrived at town hall at the appointed time, only to find out that we were an hour early. As Tyler and I lingered, wondering what to do, the mayor walked up to us, and introduced us to her daughter. It turns out that time is somewhat flexible in the DR, so we rolled with it.

Ultimately, Mayor Sanchez welcomed us into town hall, where she explained the significance of the murals on the wall and gave us a brief history of the San Juan de la Maguana area. After our town hall tour was done, the mayor welcomed us into a grand meeting room, where we were treated to a stage show.

City Hall of San Juan de la Maguana

The first part of the show included a slide show, set to music with a live singer who sang a song extolling the virtues of San Juan de la Maguana. The pictures were beautiful and captured well the pageantry of the local mountains. The next part of the show was a play, punctuated by dancing and music.  The storyline lost me a bit, and I had not had an explanation of the historical allusions.  The dancing and the music was great, though.

With the night's entertainment done, we headed to the Hotel Libano for dinner and dancing. (These are long days.). Instructors taught us merengue and bachata, the two most popular kinds of dance in the DR. Despite the fact that some in our group were rhythm challenged, we had a lot fun trying to learn the local dances. (The younger folks in our group, I am told, spent many/most of the later parts of the evenings during the week practicing their dance moves. Tyler and I, unfortunately, never made it to any of the late night dance clubs, although Tyler did make it to the dance floor a few times.).  Here is a video of our group dance lesson:

Once the music ended, Tyler and I made our way back to the Hotel Maguana to do our nightly wrestling with our keys and to get some sleep. It had been a very good day.

No comments:

Post a Comment