Friday, February 25, 2011

Lessons to be Learned

Life out here is not always easy. Or well organised. Or cheap. However, I really don't want to spend the next four years writing a (more or less) weekly blog in which I do nothing but catalogue the trials and tribulations of the previous seven days, even though I generally find that a lot more fun than trying to find something positive to say. So although this week involved several days of sitting-in and waiting for people to turn up and then having to pay them vast amounts of money once they did, I'm not going to write about that. Except to say that we now have a wonderful new water filter installed, and no rat slowly and painfully dying behind our fridge.

Instead, I thought I'd write about something nice. It's quite minor really, in the grand scheme of things, but I think it's the little things like this that we'll look back on in years to come and remember as being part of what was so good about being out here. Basically, all I want to do is tell you about two of the ECAs (extra-curicular activities) that James is doing and how much he's enjoying them.

First off is chess, which he's only been going to since the start of this term but which he's settled into right away. James is an enthusiastic chess player and has been playing on and off for a few years now. Needless to say, he picked up the rules straight away, but after an initial burst of interest, he quickly got bored and preferred to use the board and pieces for making up his own games. However, in Ireland he has a grandfather and several uncles who are all accomplished players and who were always happy to play against him whenever we were visiting. And not just play, but also talk to him about chess; show him where he was going wrong, where he could have made a better move. And last Christmas he sat there fascinated as Gus talked him through one of his favourite old games move by move. (It was this one, by the way). At which point Johnny came in and began a discussion on how it could have been played differently. James loved every minute of it!

So I was delighted when he said he would like to take up chess as an ECA at school. Now, most schools have a chess club and it's usually run either by the one teacher who actually knows the rules, or by an enthusiastic parent who used to play and is happy to spare a bit of time once a week to let the kids have a bit of fun. This was, in fact, the case at both James' previous schools. At St Paul's, however, we have something a little bit better.

This is James' chess teacher.

Having my son taught chess by a Grandmaster who is also possibly the best player on the entire continent of South America is pretty impressive in my book! Of course, I don't know what he's like as a teacher, but from what I can gather from James, only half the session is actually playing, the other half is working on problem sheets and discussing tactics, so it certainly sounds as if he's seriously aiming to create Brazil's next generation of champions.

Yesterday, he asked me if I would be interested in receiving information about competitions and tournaments James might like to go to outside school. To my shame, my reply was not, "wow, yes, of course" but rather, "do you really think he's good enough?" Honestly, have some faith, Dad!

Finally I've joined that exalted group of chess players - which also includes my own father - whose pre-teen children can easily beat them while reading a book, or watching television, or chatting incessantly at the same time. And I now realise just how annoying that can be. Belated apologies, Dad.

The other ECA that James is really enjoying at the moment is his guitar lessons and it's all due to the efforts of his new teacher, Eder Francisco. Eder is not only a great guitarist, but also a very astute and patient teacher who was clearly delighted when James turned up. Here was someone who could already read music, was keen to learn, could play the sort of music that Eder was interested in teaching him and on top of all this was well-behaved during lessons (and not just because Helen often sits in). It works the other way as well. James loves his guitar lessons and is delighted with his new teacher. He does what Eder asks him and takes correction without complaint - unlike when I try and am met with a barrage of refusal and criticism.

And being the musical wasteland that I am, I'm not much good at noticing all the subtleties of James' playing, but Helen assures me he is a lot more confident in his playing these days and is really beginning to feel his way through his pieces rather than simply playing them. And it's not just playing technique James is picking up from Eder, but teaching methods as well. As I mentioned in a previous blog, James is now teaching me to play guitar and I'm quite sure that when he sits with his head in his hand and interrupts my playing with "again!" whenever I play a wrong note or hesitate too long it's Eder he's copying. Still, if it works for him, maybe it'll work for me as well.

Last week James got to play in one of the school's lunchtime concerts for the first time. Even though the concerts are fairly small-scale affairs, mainly for the benefit of the performers' parents, Eder took it very seriously, giving James some extra lessons in the week runing up to it in order to make sure that James would do them both proud. Sadly, it's not the best of recordings, but it does give you some idea of how well he played. Eder was so pleased he gave James a hug afterwards and it's a sure sign of how much James likes Eder that he actually let him - even though there were people watching!

These days we're getting to see a much happier and more confident James and while it's obviously not entirely due to his ECA teachers, they're certainly a big part of it. Let's hope it continues.

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