412 | New Books, New Bands

December 6, 2015
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #412: New Books, New Bands


Dear Family,

This week marks one year since I was moved across the prison to this compound to head up the piano teaching portion of the music program. So many positive changes have taken place this past year, and I have sensed God’s hand of blessing, for which I’m grateful.

A recent addition to my blessings list is the arrival of over $125 worth of brand-new adult piano teaching curriculum, sent by close family friends of mine. Not only did they send several courses for me to choose from and multiple levels of those courses, but also scales and arpeggio studies and a massive book of piano solos of popular music. My existing students were thrilled to see the new books, and we are all excited to roll out the new curriculum to the new batch of students when we start our next semester sometime after the first of the year.

What difference does great curriculum make, you may be wondering? Then again, you may not be wondering this at all. In fact, you may not care what difference great curriculum makes in the slightest. If this is you, kindly wait just a moment while I launch into an analogy to bring the curious readers along on our simultaneous journey of useless trivial knowledge.

Suppose you are gifted in the culinary arts, and you are tasked with imparting your experience and abilities to fifty newbies, all chef-wanna-bes, some much dumber than others. You have ten stoves and ovens to use, all the equipment you need, and access to food supplies. Oh, and one more thing: an old box full of pictures of plated dishes, from simple desserts to complex main courses. You pile through the pictures and do your best to inspire your class to learn what you know, hoping that some will make some sense of it all and end up as competent chefs themselves, or at least able to make dinner for themselves.

Now, let’s also suppose some kind-hearted experienced chef, sensing your plight, decided to send you the latest and greatest step-by-step cookbooks and culinary textbooks. Wouldn’t you find the instruction less daunting and path to success much clearer? (A rhetorical “yes” will suffice from you at this point, thank you.) This step-by-step method takes the guesswork out and ensures everyone goes home a little smarter.

In my particular case, since I am the only one here with piano teaching experience, having great curriculum means I can easily use my brightest students to teach the next semester of students. The more that they familiarize themselves with the curriculum, the easier they find it is to teach others what they know. I’ve noticed already that my workload is lighter, in that it won’t take as long to get my next group of tutors to the point where they feel ready and able to teach.

Additionally, I fully expect the new students to be even more successful than previous ones. All I had at first was paper keyboards and a box of old music someone had bought at a garage sale. Curating a semblance of curriculum out of that proved daunting, but the real burden was on my student-tutors who had to use those sheets of music in place of carefully crafted piano curriculum. I’m grateful for the experience, of course, since it grew my resolve and resourcefulness, but I’m definitely keeping these books with me wherever I go. That way, even if I have to leave this prison yard, I have all the tools I need to make an impact with a teaching piano program at any institution I go to.

As you may recall, the band room here, located in an adjacent unit, was supposed to be a place where experienced musicians could form bands, practice, and eventually perform. I was finally able to get to use the band room and its sound equipment nearly six months after being hired on as a music tutor. Meanwhile, the other music tutors had the band room firmly in their hands, not allowing anyone else to use it but just themselves. Those seven guys, though designated as tutors, never taught classes of any kind, either, preferring to simply hang out and have fun with the band equipment.

With any introduction of five new bands with all new musicians, the band room junkies had to fit us all in to their schedule, and for the most part, they made it seem as if they didn’t mind. Meanwhile, I’d hear from friends of mind how furious the other bands were that they were being forced to share the band room with others. The main guy in charge said some pretty crazy things about the new guys, about me, and about friends of mine. Yet, I chose to ignore these small annoyances, because we usually had no issues with getting to use the room.

Then, just recently, my boss, who manages the entire music program, heard from several staff members about a lot of bad activities taking place in the band room and involving several of the other “tutors.” The day he heard about it, he immediately fired several tutors and shut down the band room in the adjacent unit. He then told me that his original goal for the band room had never materialized and that he wanted it to be run as smooth and drama-free as our piano program. Soon, he plans to move all the equipment to our unit’s multi-purpose room and have me manage the bands and teaching schedule. I thank God for His favor and ask Him for wisdom for what is ahead!