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Seize your Freedom! - my educational work in Panama

Zaktualizowano: 6 lip 2020



Since September I've been working at the Danilo Perez Foundation in Panama City. The Foundation is the only institution in Panama providing musical education in the field of jazz. What is more the foundation is also the organizer of the biggest 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 through social programs 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.

With my private piano students I was working 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 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 practice 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 canvas 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. We are deriving from Panamanian folklore as well, taking advantage of the diversity of music.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!

What I find crucial in music education is a balance between playing, listening and talking.

We need to consolidate those three aspects in order to have a full educational experience. Music is not only work with our instrument. This is a solid work with our mind, ear, soul. Sometimes it's a fight with our fears, insecurities. Sometimes it's an exploration, broadening our mind, looking for once artistic vision and maturity.

The last ensemble I am in charge of is called “Hijas de Jazz”, an ensemble created with only female musicians. We are preparing a repertoire, working on arrangements for the forthcoming concerts while discussing the matter of womanhood in the jazz world. I am encouraging them to work, empower their self-belief but also emphasize the importance of self-improvement and hard work. I believe that being a minority in general at some point creates the sense of being neglected or discriminated but it also has a tendency to go to the other extreme - the thought that the world now owes me, that now everyone is working to empower the discriminated group and that being the part of this minority entitles me to feel special. I believe that everybody is special and everybody needs to have one's own life path through work, passion, determination, motivation.This is what the true feminism I believe is about - not empowering differences, but empowering equality of the rights to self-realization. That is why I want to empower in them the notion, that a hard work, as a consequence of one’s passion, comes first and their womanhood, their unique sensitivity can be a powerful thing when in combination with determination.

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.

My ways teaching philosophy and objectives

During my internship, my main objective was to teach and explore myself as well, the idea called “zero gravity” introduced by Danilo Perez at the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, which is about going beyond one’s comfort zone, exploring unknown, enjoying not-knowing and as a result, being creative beyond one’s expectation, which embeds in a student the conviction that he or she can explore more that she or he knows and has a capacity to do innovative things within their abilities.

One way of doing this is to challenge my student with new ideas, or surprising solutions; exercises to do something in an opposite way or “start playing as if we were somebody else”, asking to play blues in G over blues in Bb, playing supposedly incorrect things to explore that the wrong can be right, to make art out of “mistakes”, to risk, always risk, to take all the concerns about being wrong away and bring pure love and exploration to music.

It makes the student always curious, excited, open and eager to explore more, have fun with music and create the novelty and the music of the future generations.

Nevertheless, of course I took care that my students have all they need to understand jazz language, bebop language, harmony, reharmonisation, arrangement techniques, to take them, explore, develop and bring to the future.

How Have I grown as a teacher and a human being

The experience in Panama was a crucial experience in my life. I discovered how amazing is to travel and discover different cultures, get close with people of different communities, societies, personalities and customs. Embracing the changes in life is one of the most developing thing in our lives. Embracing the unknown, the challenge, the deep water we are thrown into.

I can not thing about a better opportunity to grow as a teacher than the one I was given here, as I had students of all ages from little kids of 7 to adults in their fifties. Knowing that not only every person is different in terms of the learning process there are also significant differences in the personal development and functioning of the brain in certain stages of life that effects the learning process and pushes me to be more creative, flexible and knowledgeable. Nevertheless learning music is not only about the methodology, it is also about being a real person in a relationship, know the story of your student, where does she or he come from, what background, what objectives he or she has, what motivates or discourages the person and what are their needs. Because of that my work was also about how to be a good friend, being humble and a good listener to beautiful stories and dreams, which significantly increased my emotional intelligence and sensitivity.

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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