The flute orchestra is at the ready. The concert is starting in five minutes. Glancing into the auditorium I spot one of my colleagues seated all the way at the back. Even though she had said she would come, it is always nice to see someone actually showing up. I quickly make my way over to say hello. She has brought her little son, five years old, fair haired and boundlessly energetic.
After the concert we stay for a chat. The boy is having a great time: there’s a lot to be experienced and there are plenty of people (mums) around. I can’t help noticing that my colleague talks to the boy in both English and Dutch. As if it’s a piece of cake, the boy responds fluently in both languages. It makes no difference to him. In the boy’s home the Japanese language is spoken as well. Even though I didn’t hear him speak it, Japanese is no problem to him either.
Children are very adaptable and able to learn easily. What we as adults often regard as impossible, for kids tends to be – literally – child’s play. Why is it really that I find this boy being trilingual so impressive? This is most likely because I’m projecting the situation onto myself. I would struggle having to learn three different languages at my age, whereas the boy is probably not even aware of his accomplishment.
For children everything is new. When they learn that something is called by a certain name, they will remember this. Even when there are three different words for the same object, they will without any problems remember all three. Children’s minds are like empty pigeonholes eagerly waiting to be filled with information.
When I’m teaching I experience something similar. Young, beginning students are often very responsive. When I teach them “This is an ‘A’ and this is how you play it”, they accept this without question. The same thing goes for modern playing techniques. When I show them how to play a multiphonic, they repeat this without any difficulty whatsoever. Having been a teacher for 20 years I have instructed many students, spoken to lots of colleagues and taught many workshops in modern playing techniques all over the world, often more than one a day: one for children and one for adults. I find it fascinating to watch children effortlessly play using the most complicated techniques, whereas many adults, including professional flutists, find themselves having to step out of their comfort zone to do this.
I believe that the question, ‘who is more afraid of modern playing techniques, your student or you?’, is an important one to consider.
Translation: Elise Bikker