Thursday, October 20, 2011

Free Jazz

Last night, Zwe took me to this great little corner restaurant in Melville, Jozi called "Wish!". It was not great for the awe-inspiring food (it was good, but not amazing), nor the decor, which is actually really pleasant and suitably artsy. They have abstract paintings that are awash with colour on the walls, and red chairs that look like they come from an alternate time that never actually existed. If that makes sense. And our waiter was more than a little distracted as a famous DJ was sitting at the table behind us.
The reason it was such a gorgeous evening was because there was a live jazz band playing there that you could listen to...for free. Not just any jazz band, a jazz band consisting of Marcus Wyatt on trumpet and fugal horn, Afrika Mkhize on keyboard, someone called Clement Benny on drums and Thembi Nkosi on a huge, gleaming double bass (in my next life, I will be a bassist. No question). Benny is a drummer who seems to make the rhythm section melodic, and Mkhize is prone to flights of incredible, fragile beauty on the piano. Nkosi thrilled me down to my toes with his masterful handling of his bass throughout, and Wyatt is, well, there's a reason he is such a famous musician.

They played a standard or two, but their real strength last night seemed to lie in the music they had worked on together. After a particular passage, several listeners (including my own dear boyfriend) actually shouted with joy.
Being able to sit a few feet away and listen to such great music is something we all experience too rarely in these days of widespread recordings and such easy access to the music of almost any band one could wish to hear. Seeing a band live in such an intimate setting is really exciting. You can hear the scatting Mkhize sometimes does to accompany his playing, and Benny's zen-like expression that seems to be completely unaware but is actually taking in all the subtleties of his fellow musicians. You can tell when someone has lost their place because of the sheepish smile that creeps over their face, and you could watch Wyatt pacing and soloing nonchalantly from the door, or taking his place as frontman.
The four players achieved excellent balance last night, not something I have often been fortunate enough to hear. Each note of each instrument contributed to a seething Jazz whole (jazz music can never simply be "whole": that implies some kind of completeness. Jazz is never complete) and I enjoyed being able to hear the bass in particular, which is often drowned out in live performances.
I was particularly pleased to see that there is free jazz at "Wish!" every Wednesday night. Whether or not next Wednesday brings the same excellent quartet or another band, I am looking forward to returning.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tutoring: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Working with students is an education.

I have been receiving essays on the English Renaissance sonnet and lyric over the past two days from my tutorial groups and I have seldom ever experienced such disorganisation and misunderstanding.  I have clearly over-estimated our country's school system and it ability to teach students anything about poetry, and about the ability to learn new things.  I discovered on Friday that several of my students had never done poetry at school.  More than this, after almost an entire year at University (three-quarters of which involved two tutorial sessions a week on various poems) a student had no idea what I meant when I had talked in class about abab rhyme scheme.  She said none of her friends had been able to explain what it meant either.  Her previous tutors had told her not to worry about it if she didn't understand it.  Anyone who has ever studied Renaissance poetry (even if it was just a Shakespeare sonnet in high school) will know that the rhyme scheme is an important component.

Once I had explained the concept to her (it took less than three minutes) she caught on immediately and was able to apply the principle to another poem.  She is not stupid, she had just never been taught about it, and was obviously too terrified of something which seemed so abstract to work it out.

Since all the essays have been handed in, I have had one essay comparing two sonnets from the Harlem Renaissance (from the wrong century and the wrong continent) and another that is not an English essay, but a history essay: handed in a day late to the wrong place.

I have had two essays, however, where students have taken their own initiative to do relevant extra reading and have drawn parallels that surprised and pleased me.

There is much (or at least some) that is not yet lost.

Monday, October 17, 2011

On re-reading "Pride and Prejudice"

I was rereading Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice the other day.  It was strange to re-read because I can still remember the last time I read it so clearly.  I was fourteen and living in Durban on the Berea.  I was sleeping in my sister's room because we had a guest staying with us, which always meant I had to move out of mine.  Sarah and I would argue quite a lot: mainly about mess, always mine.  I stayed up until 2am to finish it, and was really tired at Sunday School the next day but I felt really proud that I had stayed up so late to finish something I considered to be high literature.I had already read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and I considered Pride and Prejudice to be my next foray into the world of really adult literature.

That was the first year I'd had boy friends since I was nine years old.  Going to an all girls' school and it only being my sister and I at home meant I never spoke to boys, never mind made friends with them.  It was also around this time that our parents would take us to see the strange, wizard-like house next to the ocean on the South Coast and everything would change when we moved there.  And then everything would change again when I left small-town South Coast for the smaller Grahamstown and Rhodes, and then again for Pretoria and finally when I landed in Johannesburg for Wits.  Starting over again in a new place again four times over will change things, never mind the change in years and situations.

Yet some things don't change that should have.  I had a strange sense of travelling back in time reading this book.  I have found, over and over again that though I considered myself to be pretty advanced when I read classics at relatively young ages, I understood very little more than what I had garnered from their movie versions.  While I have watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice many times, for the excellent Jennifer Ehle as Lizzie as much for the sublime Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy (did anyone else notice they were both in The King's Speech as well?), this is the first time I have re-read the book since my raw fourteen year old self finished it in the wee hours of the morning.

I still appreciated the charming romances and brilliantly drawn characters.  The jealous Caroline Bingley is a treat,  as is Mr. Bennet who is far shrewder and funnier on the page.  The relationship between Jane and Lizzie is also an inspiration to me.  I love my sister dearly, and can appreciate the celebration of sisterly support.

What really intrigued me about the book was its unexpected wisdom.   Jane Austen is very astute about human nature and, as I discovered re-reading this book, human failings.  I don't mean the kind of human failings that mean you lose your sports match, are missed for promotion or fail to make it into the course you want to do.  I mean moral human failings.  I found her exploration of the "pride" and "prejudice" of the title nuanced and engrossing, and her portrait of the effect of a selfish, indolent mother and self-involved father and their unhappy marriage on the family was, as always, quite astounding.  What really moved me, however, was Lizzie's own regret at her gossiping about Mr. Darcy.

The one thing that has not changed about me since I was a self-important fourteen year old is my penchant for a gossip, and for simultaneously holding grudges.  I have often deeply regretted what I have said (always after the event) when both friend and foe alike have been at the mercy of my occasionally vicious tongue, and could not understand why I enjoyed indulging in either more often than I want to.  When I read Lizzie's own reason for gossiping about Mr. Darcy, I realised why:

"And yet I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike to him, without any reason.  It is a spur to one's genius, such an opening for wit, to have dislike of that kind.  One may be continually abusive without saying anything just; but one cannot always be laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty"

I have always treasured my intelligence (perhaps too much) and holding a grudge and gossiping about someone is an easy way to show it off.

So from now on: an undertaking to be humble about what intelligence I have, and so avoid other dangerous pastimes.

And to read more Jane Austen instead.