Below find #5 in my Best of Neuron Culture Moving Party — a run of 10 of my favorite posts from the blog’s tenure at WIRED, posted as I moved the blog here. This one looks at the best lesson a teacher ever taught me.
Originally posted October 2011
The fine writer Steve Silberman has posted a collective homage to good teachers at his blog NeuroTribes. The loveliest is his tribute to his husband Keith, who holds a PhD from Berkeley and teaches science in a high school. Lucky be his students.
Steve asked several writers to answer the question, What’s the most important lesson you ever learned from a teacher? Below is my answer. Over at NeuroTribes you’ll find more from writers including Deborah Blum, Rebecca Skloot, Ferris Jabr, Amy Harmon, Geoff Manaugh, and Maggie Koerth-Baker. It’s a lovely collection.
Hope you enjoy this — and then head over to NeuroTribes for the rest.
What’s the Best Lesson You Ever Learned from a Teacher?
What Malone Said
I started studying the violin in my 30s, working with a warm, intense teacher named Malone. After 5 years he put Bach’s D minor partita in front of me. “We’ll start with the Allemande,” he said. He put the music on the stand and talked me through the first movement, pencilling in bowings and fingerings, occasionally demonstrating how to get through some rhythmic puzzle, and sent me home. I practiced hard all week and came in ready to play about half the first page.
He stopped me on the second note. “Please put down the violin,” he said. I did.
“You’re skipping through that first D. I know it’s just a fucking little sixteenth note, but you have to play the whole thing. I don’t even mean the time. You’re actually giving it enough time. But you’re playing over it instead of through it. You have to play right through the center of it. It’s a leading note, but it’s not just a step into the room. It is the room, and you have to put us there. Play it. Play through every single note in the piece.”
I started to reach for the violin. He held up a hand.
“Wait,” he said. “This is Bach. And Bach, more than any other music, and these pieces, more than any other Bach, is music complete. This doesn’t just mean it’s beautiful. This means you can play this music all your life, even just this Allemande, and no matter what you do, it will expose you. It will expose everything you are and everything you’re not. It will expose everything you can do and everything you can’t. It will expose everything you’ve mastered and everything you’re scared of. And I don’t mean just about the violin. I mean about everything. It’ll show all that today and it’ll show all that when you play it again in 10 years. And people who know music, who’ve seen you play it both times, they will see you play it and know who you were and who you’ve become.
“There is nothing you can do about this. Or actually there is only one thing you can do about it. And that’s to play the fucking music. To not play scared, even if you’re terrified. To not rush. To not short anything. Inhabit this thing. Play it full.”
He took a deep breath, let it out slow, and gave me the tiniest hint of a smile. “Okay,” he said, and nodded at my violin. “Play.”
Get more over at NeuroTribes.
- How Led Zeppelin + Franz Schubert = Writing
- How to Write Like Nicolas Cage
- Why I Love Hemingway (and Why I Write)
- How I Wrote “The Orchid Children,” via Open Notebook
- Musical Audition 2.0: Live, from Carnegie Hall, the YouTube …
On folding the tent: Over the next week I’ll be leaving WIRED’s Science Blogs, moving Neuron Culture on June 7 , 2013, to a self-hosted location at http://neuronculture.com — a domain that will on June 7 cease pointing to WIRED and lead instead to the blog’s new, self-hosted home elsewhere. Please join me there.
Meanwhile, to celebrate and mark the end of Neuron Culture’s 2.75-year run at WIRED, I’m posting a “Best of Neuron Culture” over its final 10 days, spotlighting each day a post from the past that I feel embodies the best of Neuron Culture’s WIRED tenure. (Neuron Culture was previously at Seed’s ScienceBlogs as well as at my own site on TypePad.) These posts, among the stronger and more popular ones I’ve done here, characterize the possibilities that a hosted blog has offered in this period’s strange transitional time of writing, publishing, and journalism.
Why leave Wired? So I can focus more steadily for a time on finishing my book, tentatively titled The Orchid and the Dandelion, that I’ve often mentioned here. I know some people manage it, but I’ve found it hard to reconcile the demands of blogging at a venue like Wired and of writing a serious book that requires deep immersion: a matter of not just the time needed for each venture, but of the mindset and what you might call the focal length of one’s mental lens. A venue like this requires, methinks, either an unrelenting focus on a particular beat or a fairly steady tour through many fields; I can’t seem to mesh either with the sort of time and focus needed for a book. The move also frees me up to experiment a bit more. I hope to see what sort of more Tumblr-like approach I can take at Neuron Culture once it’s in a self-hosted venue.
But it has been a fun run here at WIRED. I want to thank WIRED.com, and especially Betsy Mason, Evan Hansen, Brandon Keim, Dave Mosher, Adam Rogers, and the rest of the WIRED team, present and past, for giving me a productive blogging platform here since September 2010; my fellow bloggers for their support, good cheer, and many fabulous posts; and most of all, my readers, whom I hope will come along and follow me at my new home, starting June 7, 2013, you can find at http://neuronculture.com — a domain name that on June 7 will switch from one pointing to WIRED to one pointing to the blog’s new, self-hosted home elsewhere. Please join me there. And you can always follow me at The Twitter as well.