Clark teachers play to the beat

April 29, 2014

A young student nervously approaches the piano bench, where he will be sitting for his first piano lesson. After the initial struggle of learning where to place his fingers, and keeping with the right rhythm, he may decide to keep playing the piano. He may even take on the challenge to learn how to play a new one.

This situation is representative of many young children who are interested in playing an instrument. According to 2009 U.S. Census data, only about 8% of Americans play musical instruments on a regular basis. This low percentage indicates that the people either never learned to play an instrument, or just simply forgot how to play. At a school where technology is an emphasis, you can still find some staff members who are a part of that 8%.

English teacher Conrad Pruitt is one of those people. He currently plays both the acoustic guitar and electric guitar. Types of music he plays include rock, blues and classical songs. Pruitt did not learn how to play the guitar when he was young, but instead gained an interest in 2007, when he stopped kickboxing and needed something else to occupy his time.

He learned by looking up tabs and gleaning information from friends and family who played. “I got into it recreationally — really, casually — and then for a birthday present four or five years back, my wife bought me lessons, and I’ve been going ever since,” Pruitt said. “It wasn’t until I went to lessons that I actually started to know what I was doing a little bit.”

He still takes weekly lessons. During these lessons he learns about mechanics, proper technique, and how to play songs. Although he enjoys playing the instrument, he does face some challenges. “Currently, one of my issues is once you develop one thing you realize something else you need to strengthen” Pruitt said.

Some of the things he is working on strengthening are playing to time and rhythm, and well as fine-tuning to small mechanics. He wishes that he had started from an earlier age so he could have been a better player now. “Sometimes I look at you guys with a little bit of envy because I realize if I had started at your age — sixteen or seventeen, I could imagine how much better I would be at it,” Pruitt said.

As a parent, he wants his own children to play instruments. His overall view about playing an instrument is that it is a “mix of tranquility and also a little bit of frustration as you try to master an instrument.” Despite the fact that the joy is tempered by a realization that you have so much more to learn, enjoys playing as much as he can.

Because aside from the opinionated aspects, there is also the scientific aspect that music does help your brain function, development, and hand eye coordination.

— Narine Tatevosian

Other teachers at Clark, including English teacher Narine Tatevosian, pursued playing the piano at a much younger age. Tatevosian started playing the piano at the age of five because her sister played, and she has “always copied everything she has ever done.” She studied music at a music school called Lark Musical Society, where she participated in private lessons and group musicianship classes on Saturdays. She attended the school for nine years and graduated in 2006 when she was sixteen years old, making her one of the “younger graduates.”

Graduating from the school consists of playing a concerto with an orchestra. Tatevosian played the 3rd movement of Saint-Saen’s Concerto in G Minor titled Presto. She said that she does not like to perform but the six minutes of “fame and glory” was the best experience she’s ever felt. Looking back, she said that she finds it amazing that she was able to experience concert performance as a teenager. As of now, she still plays the piano, but does not get to practice as much as she would like.

She currently teaches at Lark Musical Society and has been working there since she was old enough to have a work permit or volunteer. In fact, she started her senior project at Lark Musical Society because it was based on learning how to teach a class. She did have the musical background, but education was a new thing. “From then, I substituted classes and helped teachers until I was old enough to have my own classes,” Tatevosian said.

She has been teaching there for about four years. As a person who has grown up playing the piano, she says she believes “music should be incorporated and almost mandated even in education.”

“Because aside from the opinionated aspects, there is also the scientific aspect that music does help your brain function, development, and hand eye coordination,” Tatevosian said. “It gives you a different way of thinking.”

For her, playing the piano put “a lot into perspective.” No extracurricular activity that she can think of has the same responsibility that music does. Along with responsibility comes discipline, she said. She says that she believes music makes you disciplined and it takes a certain type of person to be determined enough to get through all the challenges.

The people who actually “survive” are the ones who “have a different type of endurance and motivation.” She can relate to the challenges of “surviving” because she never really enjoyed waking up early on a Saturday morning to go to classes, but she knows that the outcome is worth it. “It really is about persevering through that struggle.” She strives to help all her students — both at Clark and at Lark — to persisting through something they believe in. For her, it is more than just about music; it is about a way of life.

Tatevosian is not the only teacher who plays the piano. Other staff members who play include records clerk Karine Varuzhanyan and counselor Susan Howe. Math teacher Fred Blattner plays both the piano and the guitar. He learned how to play the piano when he was about 5 or 6 years old. He wanted to learn how to play Beethoven so his mother signed him up for lessons.

Blattner said he eventually stopped taking lessons in high school, but he never stopped playing. He can still play today, but does not have much time. “I wish I played more often,” he said. “The question is finding time.” As for the guitar, he taught himself how to play it in college. “Music touches us in ways nobody understands,” he said. “They can’t explain it as an evolutionary response.”

Sometimes students find it difficult to imagine teachers actually leave school and do something remotely fun, such as play an instrument. Elementary students at Turtle Lake Elementary School must have been surprised this year to see their teachers singing and dancing around to the tune of “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen. How would Clark students react?

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