#47 Random Thoughts on Teaching

My classroom this semester is a large space, filled with instruments, and usually reserved for large ensembles to rehearse. Upstate New York is getting cold, and the heat hasn’t been turned on yet, so the room was empty and chill. The rainy weather made it even cooler today. After teaching two lessons, I decided to teach in the hallway. As I often tell my friends, I grew up in Hong Kong, and my body was made for subtropical climate (although I have been living in Upstate NY for 10+ years).

As I was teaching in the afternoon, I was so surprised to see one of my students, because he just had a lesson with me in the morning. He said he came back to practice! I asked him to use my classroom, since I wasn’t teaching in there, and there were amplifiers he could use.

As a first year arts student (ceramics), I thought he signed up guitar lessons for fun. He’s been making a lot of progress, and does not mind when I drill him on technique. We have been working on blues improvisation, and from his video assignments, ideas he came up with went above and beyond what I have shown him.

A dedicated student like him is a teacher’s dream. I have had colleagues who told me they only teach to the best students, and wouldn’t care about students who don’t do well. It doesn’t matter if the “bad” students were trying hard or not, beacuse if they were not performing well, they have not put enough time and effort into the materials.

I am still conflicted with that thought. I always thought “good” students wouldn’t really need a teacher and would be motivated to succeed no matter what. It’s really the “struggling” students who need a teacher. But my colleagues aren’t completely wrong. I have had students who couldn’t care less about class materials, no matter how much feedback I provided on their assignments. But is a student “under performing” due to my bad teaching?

Back to my super dedicated first year student – after I finished my teaching, I went to the classroom to collect my belongings, and he was practicing what he learned in the morning with a metronome. Since he has been doing so well, I have decided to show him something more challenging – the first chorus of Freedie King’s Hideway. We are six weeks into the semester, that’s how long he has been playing guitar, and I understand why he is improving so fast. I couldn’t help but sat at the drumset to play with him. He had a background in playing drumset and percussion, and so we switched instruments and jammed a bit on Pipeline! He later told me he is considering adding music as a second major. I couldn’t be happier.

#46 Dilermando Reis, Darcy Villa Verde

Nothing captivates me more than Brazilian music. For the longest time, I had a hard time deciding whether Garoto or Luiz Bonfa is my favorite. But amongst all Brazilian guitarists, Dilermando Reis holds a special place in my heart , as his repertiore contained numerous romantic waltzes. Now one can find so many of Reis’s recording on Youtube, but back then, I spent quite a lot of money buying his CDs. Reis played a lot of Brazilians dances and choros, and wouldn’t be considered a classical guitarist at his time (not to mentioned he played a steel string guitar), but his repertoire included quite a lot of classical pieces. His technique was also definitely of the classical guitar tradition. His hyperromantic approach made his playing so unique – excess vibrato, rubato, portamento, extreme tone colors, and… some just can’t be explained.

He must be familiar with Tarrega, as he played Tarrega’s arrangements of Nocturne by Chopin and Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven, as well as Tarrega’s own Adelita. He also played Choro #1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Excerpt from Op.10, #3 by Chopin, Estrellita by Manuel Ponce, Spanish Romance, Guitar Concerto #1 by Radames Gnattali, and La Catedral by Agustin Barrios, and an arrangement of the second movement from the Concierto de Aranjuez.

Often times, I wish I was born 50 years earlier, so I could witness (or maybe even meet?) great artists from the past. But what’s better than “meeting an artist” by playing his/her music? And I have heard stories from friends who were so excited to meet their musical idols, only to find out there’s nothing great about them other than their music. Perhaps it’s best to not realize our dreams, leaving room to romanticize.

Much of what I know about Reis came from the book Choro: A Social History of a Brazilian Popular Music by Tamara Elena Livingston and Thomas George Caracas Garcia, The Brazilian Guitar of Dilermando Reis, by David Jerome, as well as Jerome’s article in Soundboard magazine, vol. 31 no. 1, 2005.

There is a Chinese proverb – 溫故知新 – that roughly means, by reviewing what one has learned, he/she would reach new understanding and gain new knowledge. And that’s exactly how I feel by reviewing these sources regarding Reis – born in 1916 (very close to 1915…), Reis was associated with the “old fashion way”, “the country”, and “nostalgia”. He studied with Americo “Canhoto” Jacominio, who was a left-handed guitarist and played the “standard” right-hand guitar without re-stringing (Elizabeth Cotten and Jimi Hendrix come to mind). Reis lived with Joao “Pernambuco” Teixeira Guimaraes, and played in Pixinguinha’s group (per Joao Pernambuco’s recommendation?). Apart from teaching, Reis frequently performed live on the radio. He was also closely related to Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek.

What’s completely “new” to me from David Jerome’s article is the students of Reis – Bola Sete (1923 – 1987) and Darcy Villa Verde (1934? – 2019). I knew Bola Sete primary as a jazz guitarist who had performed with Vince Guaraldi (what is that “lute-guitar”?!). But I have not heard of Darcy Villa Darcy at all. That lead to a search on him.

Villa Verde had only one out-of-print recording, but luckily there’s a live recording from 1971 on Youtube. Coverted from a casette tape, the sound quality was not the best, but one can still hear his virtuosity. He performed a program which included a piece by Domenico Scarlatti, a minuet by Haydn, Turina’s Rafaga, Lauro’s Waltz No. 3, Villa-Lobos’s Prelude no. 3, his own arrangement of Felicidade, and an arrangement of Canarios with orchestral – kind of like Rodrigo’s Fantasia para Un Gentilhombre. Verde’s arrangement of Tom Jobim’s Felicidade was extremely entertaining, with an elaborated percussion breakdown. His interpretation of Villa-Lobos’s Prelude no. 3 used some pretty extreme tone color – an influence from Reis?

Almost all materials related to Villa Verde on the internet are in Portugese. Thanks to Google Translate, I learned more about him from a obituary: his virtuosity won him a competition in Paris, where he had a chance to study with Ida Presti. He also performed at Georgetown University and the Carnegie Hall. I couldn’t find much about his studies with Reis, but he played by ear, and was “was a pioneer in promoting the instrument in the media, appearing on TV shows”. On his radio show, renowned Brazilian guitarist Fabio Zanon played a few recordings of Villa Verde (see the track listing here).