A three way mirror: The incredible secret of great teachers

(Excerpt from the Tao of Gigging©, all rights reserved, 2015, Piero Amadeo Infante)

Teachers. I have a deep and abiding love and respect for teachers, even when I think that some of the best of them, have played a little trick on me.

In the disciplines I grew up around, namely Afro-Cuban music, rock ‘n roll, R&B, Funk, Ska, and classical, I noticed a striking similarity among all of the successful and loved teachers of all these different disciplines.
When I use the expression teacher, I am not only referring to those who have braved academia and institutions to earn long and impressive sounding degrees, and who themselves dealt with teachers of the same stripe, but also, close-contact teachers, who would put their arm around while I was playing and actually physically correct how I was playing, or to pull me aside at a bar and tell me about how I sang a particular run, or queued a particular song.

There were also several nonmusical teachers I had who also influenced the music I played and wrote, even while they themselves were not performers, or artists by their own designation. Still, they seem to populate the institution of teaching, formal or informal in great numbers.

Being a great teacher, requires having a great memory, some of the best teachers, include in that memory, Crystal clear and resonant recollection, and empathy of when they themselves were students. It keeps them in contact with the receptive side of the exchange, and sometimes puts them in a state of what can only be referred to as “Vulcan mind meld” with certain students. I could easily use the word disciples.
I have also noticed that some of these teachers, including a particular veteran of Afro-Cuban music in our area, who everybody knows and loves, remain all their lives, constant students. Always learning something new, even sometimes from their so-called students.

I recall a particular interaction that I observed between the 77-year-old percussionist from Cuba, and 13-year-old DJ, who was fairly proficient on the turntables and faders, as they traded licks back and forth. After some time, the elder percussionist got up and started playing with the turntables, and the young DJ went and sat down behind the Congas. When it was over, two new friends had been made, and the percussionist mentioned to me in Spanish, “For Pete’s sake, I learned more than he did!”

This ability to stay perpetually open, perpetually excited, and perpetually receptive, endows teachers with an incredible level of spiritual flexibility that one would normally associate with students who are in the experimental stage of their creative lives. And that is the lessons students teach so well. You never have to leave that experimental stage.

Basically, the best teachers, are exceptional students. And the more they become established as teachers, the greater their skills as a student become.
Students on the other hand, with their burning youth, and natural flexibility, and often a disregard for convention, that some might call reckless, are teaching a class, that every single teacher my age or older should sign up for.

I call it open-heart theory. Babies are the best at this, and I believe that if babies could speak perfectly, and vote, at two years old, they would probably be running the world, alas that is not the world we live in.

Suffice it to say, that these young hearts and minds that come to be close to the fire of the creative experience, bring with them an enormous fluidity, and the natural ability to change and reconfigure, conventions, traditions, and methodology, even in the most set, and the most regimented of disciplines.
The white-hot fire of the true student-teacher relationship is a three-way mirror in which each sees the other, and in the other, sees themselves. I have been honored several times in my life to have been honored with this kind of relationship. It exists almost ethereal, and non-dimensional, and is very hard to explain, though I am just lunatic enough to attempt to do so here.
I have always said, that the young are here to teach us, and to remind us, a fluidity, flexibility, excitement, and risk-taking, while we the older artists, (which I’m rapidly becoming, if I’m not one already), are here to teach them, form, method, and to share with them the roadmap of where we traveled, from the time we once held the same sentiments and marching orders they did.

The two of these disciplines together, this open-hearted fluidity, and this deep regard and knowledge of the science of methodology, together form an indestructible spiritual material, like Kevlar, far stronger than its component parts, long-lasting, and multipurpose. it is how tradition and knowledge is shared and passed both down and up.
It is a sharing of these qualities that makes the student-teacher relationship a student relationship for the teacher and a teacher relationship for the student as well.

It is beautiful in my sight, and as I watch children come into this world and elders depart, a beautiful and fascinating ongoing human drama, of love, dedication, emotion, and learning for everyone involved. I’d like to thank my teachers for that. And my students.

By Piero Amadeo Infante, for the Tao of Gigging™ all rights reserved 2015

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