© 2016 by Aga Derlak All rights reserved.

  • Aga Derlak

Seize your Freedom! - my educational work in Panama


Since September i am working at the Danilo Perez Foundation in Panama City. The Foundation is the only institution in the whole country of Panama providing musical education in the field of jazz. What is more it is also the organizer of the only jazz festival in the country - Panama Jazz Festival. The institution provides classes of jazz harmony, jazz ensembles, ear training, production/recording, jazz theory, private instrumental classes, social change forums. Apart from jazz education, the foundation provides music classes for children between 6 - 14 years and musical activities for children of high social risk by organizing every day free  classes for them and also reaching for them in elementary public schools.

What do I do here?

At the foundation I am teaching private piano class, ensembles, piano trio workshops and I am the part of the Social Program of the institution providing musical activities to the children of the high social risk.

I have 5 private piano students, with whom I work on the basics of jazz harmony and improvisation while developing and encouraging one’s own creativity and freedom of exploration. We are working on how we can build and develop our abilities and technique on the solid basics and at the same time be open to explore and be amazed how far can we go with keeping our mind open. I try to provide them solid information about voicings, improvisation in different styles, rhythm and time but apart from that I try to prepare for every class something that can ignite the interest in them, something that they can explore on their own and something that they can practise for life - looking for some innovative paths and interesting solutions. Every student has slightly different needs and objectives that is why I prepared separate curriculums each for every student.

I have three ensembles. In “Horace Silver Ensemble” we explore Horace Silver’s tunes, analyzing the arrangements, interplay, using it as a canva for our own arrangements and improvisation. Other ensemble explores compositions of the Jazz Messengers, and again we focus on the improvisation, using different tools, storytelling, interplay, listening. The same objectives serve the Piano Trio workshops where I focus especially on the piano trio format which is more demanding from the instrumentalist in terms of building unique sound and inspiring each other and simply making THE MUSIC, arranging on a spot, looking for unknown and incomprehensible, because this is the place where we grow!

Social Programs

Another, very important part of my work is participating in the social program of the foundation. As I mentioned earlier this is a very important objective of the institution. We believe that music can be a universal language that can also heal, bring joy, release stress, be a background to have meaningful conversations and to develop imagination, creativity and critical thinking. With some of my students we run classes at elementary schools. One of those classes is a choir, where we are not only learning music, voice technique, singing in the harmony but also - cooperation in the group, respect, punctuality, responsibility.

The other class is about talking values while exploring music. We have a group of children of a high social risk that need to experience the beauty, respect, peace, joy, acceptance and love. We try to introduce those values playing music, exploring it, cooperating, giving responsibilities and roles to them, teach mutual respect and friendship.

The challenges and the best moments

The biggest challenge of my work is working on my ego. When I came here I had a certain vision of what do I want to achieve, what do I want do teach my students and how there were going to perform during my internship. But the reality showed me that everybody is different, everybody has a different pace, different personality, and also different non-musical issues stopping sometimes the progress - like lack of self confidence of self-discouragement. I had to put my ego aside, and thing only about my student because I am here not for myself. I am here only for them.

I am also thinking about my own teachers that I have had in my life. Some of them were fantastic, but some of them embedded in me a lack of self confidence and a constant feeling of being insufficient within my own capacity. That feeling lasted too long in my carrier until I overcame it. So right now I have also a mission to be a teacher that I wish I had in my youth, who encourages and reinforces one’s self-trust and a believe that you are sufficient!

The most amazing moments at the foundation are those ones when I can, sometimes instantly, hear the progress in my students's playing and excitement while we are exploring new and surprising ideas, when they "fly" in the realm of unknown and enjoy the moment of zero gravity in music. Because this is the music that this world needs - full of unpredictable moments, excitement, questions and unexhaustable drive for innovation and exploration.

Next Goal

I would live to continue my educational work wherever my life brings me and be this type of teacher that I wish I had more of them before in my life, who empowers, motivates and teaches how to trust yourself and seize your freedom. The educator's work is to raise the new generation who are going to be "the change"!

I believe that my experience during the internship is  truly life changing. I feel that my work here shapes me not only as a musician and educator but also as a human being, broadening my perspective on music, people and life.

Aga Derlak

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