A Flute in My Refrigerator, book review

A Flute in My Refrigerator: Celebrating a Life in Music by Helen Spielman; book reviewHelen Spielman

Frustrated with teachers who complain about “students who don’t inspire them,” Helen Spielman dares to suggest that “they’ve got that backwards– it’s a teacher’s job to inspire students.” Throughout her book, Helen’s book examines the student-teacher bond. The relationship goes in two directions and Helen has firsthand knowledge of both. She speaks from years of experience as a private flute instructor, but the essays I found most touching were the ones in which she examines her role as an adult flute student.

Helen’s vulnerabilities and struggles as an adult learner are endearing.

We read about Helen’s first recital in 1996. Overcoming personal obstacles such as technical facility and feelings of self-doubt, the physical obstacle of a snow and ice storm proved insurmountable. However, the concert was rescheduled and triumphantly executed. Even James Galway sends his regards in a series of emails about the concert. This is one of the many threads that are entertaining and touching.

One of the most enjoyable sections of the book is titled “Moments from a Teacher’s Flute Journal.” Delightful stories about students young and old are told with love, and Helen often makes punchlines out of her own mistakes. I laughed out loud when reading this passage:

Charlotte is 10. She’s a smart girl, but she doesn’t talk much. Only with much coaxing does she answer questions about her day at school or her weekend activities.

Today, however, she uncharacteristically volunteered some information all by herself.

“I have lice,” she announced.

Thank you very much for sharing that, Charlotte.

Oh, I can relate to these stories!

Last week I was teaching a middle school student, let’s call her Bethany. As I watched Bethany’s fingers, I thought her flute looked strange, like maybe it was curved in a gentle U-shape. I shook my head and made a silent note to have my eyes checked. Or maybe I was just going crazy– sometimes it feels like that after a long evening of lessons. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that Bethany’s flute was bent- the solder joint at the barrel had separated and stretched on one side. The flute had fallen on the floor during band practice that day and now the flute had a distinct curve upward. Bethany’s flute was quickly fixed by the repairman and my sanity was restored. Helen Spielman’s book has inspired me to keep a journal in the studio to write down these precious moments.

A Flute in My Refrigerator reminds me that we teach more than notes and rhythms. Middle and high school students need to know that an adult besides their parents cares about them. I know that my high school flute teacher was like a father to me. The weekly check-ins with my students can make me feel a little bit like a therapist. There are the general opening questions, like “So, how was your week” “You look tired. Are you feeling OK?” “Last week you mentioned feeling overwhelmed. How is everything this week?” And then there are the questions that come from knowing a person for awhile, like “What does your prom dress look like?” “Tell me something unexpected that happened at the competition.” I’ve cried when students have graduated or left the flute studio. I keep a photo album of their senior pictures, our recital group photos, and snapshots I have taken during lessons.

Helen Spielman devotes one essay to the importance of the FLUTE List, an online group that we have both been members of for many years. I first became aware of Helen’s gentle nature and insightful writings on the FLUTE List. You can find it here and join the ongoing discussion: http://www.larrykrantz.com/fluteweb/fluteweb.htm  The following is one exchange I remember from 1997

Posted by List user: I need some teaching hints to inspire (students) to keep on with their music. What do all you experienced music and band teachers do to generate enthusiasm?

Helen: Be enthusiastic myself.

A Flute in My Refrigerator is a terrific memoir about the love of learning and teaching. You need not be a flute player or music teacher to enjoy this book. This collection of writings can be distilled into three wisdoms– Be open, be connected, be enthusiastic. It’s a lesson we can all take from Helen.

 

For more information about Helen Spielman and her work as a Performance Anxiety Coach, please visit her website at http://www.performconfidently.com

One thought on “A Flute in My Refrigerator, book review

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