By Monday at lunchtime, we had been out of Caracas for just over 24 hours. I'll be honest- it hadn't been the best 24 hours of my life. I'm a pretty independent person, so being in a situation where I need help to do everything is extremely frustrating. The combination of having only a remedial grasp of the Spanish language and being a vegan in a meat-and-cheese loving country was beginning to feel completely paralyzing. The other fellows are being fantastic and are helping me so much, but it's the fact that I NEED that help that makes me so uncomfortable.
After a morning of incomprehension and an awkward lunch, I returned to the Barquisimeto conservatory feeling pretty useless.
Then, I met Mao.
I was walking around trying to figure out where to go when I walked past a young man practicing horn in a corner of the nucleo. He greeted me, and exploded with joy when he saw a horn on my back. We began to try to speak to each other. His English is about as good as my Spanish. We exchanged some pleasantries, but I was concerned that if I stayed and talked with him for too long I would lose the group and not know where to go, so I continued on my way. Within a few minutes, I learned that I still had about a half hour before any classes started up again. I heard Mao playing the 1st horn part to the trio from Beethoven's 3rd symphony. Obviously, I couldn't resist. I returned to where he was practicing, took my horn out of its case, and asked him if I could play the 2nd part along with him. He excitedly agreed, but was quite nervous to be playing with me. We played the passage together a few times, eventually switching parts. He asked me if I could play some of Richard Strauss' 1st horn concerto for him, so I did. Then he played some of Mozart's 1st horn concerto for me. He sounded great, but nervous. I played it for him, over-exaggerating the phrasing to show him that he could be more expressive. He understood, and played it again. It was significantly better. We then moved on to a book of duets I had with me. His nervousness began to subside. Sometimes, techniques would come up in the duets with which Mao had trouble. He would ask me how to fix them. I would demonstrate different techniques, and he would try them. It took a while, but when we got to lip trills I was even able to communicate to him that it took me years to be able to be able to do them, and that I got there by practicing them slowly and moving the metronome marking up one click per day. We played together for nearly 2 hours; I only ended our session because I was afraid I was supposed to be somewhere else.
I also learned a little bit about Mao as a person. He's 18 years old. He actually attends a different nucleo in Lara, and was just at the Barquisimeto nucleo for the afternoon to practice. He's a university student- I didn't quite grasp his major, but it's something to do with numbers. He's only been playing horn for a year, though you'd never guess it by how good he sounds.
Mao was also the embodiment of gratitude. He hugged me about every 10 minutes. He told me over and over how happy he was to be playing with me, and that my teaching was like magic. When we were finished, he asked me if he could make copies of the duets we had been playing. We went across the street to make the copies, and he had me write a message to him on the first page (in English, thankfully). We took several pictures together.
Mao and Me at the Barquisimeto Conservatorio
This gratitude is common from every student I've encountered in Venezuela. They are all so gracious for every ounce of help they are given. This appreciation is a result of their insatiable hunger for education, for improvement, for music. I have yet to come across an apathetic student. They will try anything to improve, and are exuberant while doing so. Every learning experience is one of joyful inquiry. No amount of information you give them is too much, no challenge too great.
When I return the to US and to teaching, my goal is to figure out how to cultivate this joyful inquiry within all of my students. They have this figured out here, but I can't yet put my finger on exactly how they do it. This is my goal for the remainder of the trip.
I'm so glad that I met Mao, and that I was able to make music with him and teach him a few things. I definitely learned more from him, though. Mao lifted my spirits with his desire to learn and his love of music. He reminded me that all experiences can be intensely valuable when viewed through a lens of joyful inquiry.