I am an artist – I must suffer for my art | Tales from the Vale

I live in Mappowder. And I’m a guitar teacher (I know, not two sentences that you’ll have read before in close proximity, I’d guess). I’ve taught guitar in the States and in France and the wealthy south east of England. I say ‘wealthy’ because teenagers would turn up for lessons with expensive guitars worth thousands. I did wonder at the wisdom of such expensive indulgence to a beginner – rule of thumb is start off with a decent
but relatively inexpensive guitar.
When I started offering lessons here, I wondered what requirements rural Dorset’s rockers would have – and
apparently the first thing you need to teach guitar in Dorset is tact. Not a commodity that abounds in me, but I’ve learnt.

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Oh Hank
A new student, retired, is with me, we’re drinking coffee and chatting about what he wants to get out
of lessons. I assess his ability and whether he would actually practise (I’m always naively hopeful on that last one).
What’s the first song you’d like to learn, I asked. He replied, ‘The Young Ones by Cliff Richard and the Shadows.’
I’d just taken a sip, so after I’d wiped coffee off my old Telecaster, I said, ‘Good one, but really, what
would you like to play?’
The Young Ones? was his rather hurt answer.
‘Great song,’ I gabbled, ‘it’s in G and goes like this…’ Twang, twang (that’s Hank’s intro, obviously). It’s a good song: great tune, charming sentiments. A young couple meet (twang) they plan to have kids, so they ‘won’t be the young ones anymore (twang)’.
YouTube the song and you’ll find Cliff, absurdly, criminally handsome (so reminds me of my young self) crooning to a bunch of girls dressed like your gran, all hopelessly in love with him. Good luck with that, ladies.
And do you know what? My sniffy attitude to these old classics has left me. There’s a reason why these old songs live on: they’re well-constructed and play well. It’s charming and fulfilling for me to see that this guy is, to quote a burger chain’s slogan, lovin’ it. It’s a song which thrilled him when he was young and he has
always wanted to play it. And now he is. Not quite like twangy Hank, but he’ll get there.

The teenager
Next, I have a young teenager with his lovely young mum.
I’d had a long chat with mum, who is concerned that I might be put off because he has Asperger’s and is dyslexic. I reassure her that these conditions are absolutely no barrier to being able to play, in fact you’d be surprised at the number of brilliant guitarists with natural ability who are dyslexic. And I understand Asperger’s and we allow for that – in fact we have a bit of a laugh. I can see that after 10 minutes his concentration is lapsing, so I get him to put the guitar down and tell me about himself. Don’t know how, but I
find that he’s good on accents, particularly Australian!
‘My fingers are getting sore,’ he says, to which I reply in a bizarre mixed American accent ‘Son, all art is pain. Y’gotta suffer for your art’.
And I make him stand up and chant:
I am an artist
I must suffer for my art
Art is suffering
Suffering is art.
He’s rather pleased with this, and so is his mum who’s happy that her lad, possibly a little ostracized at school, is enjoying himself.
The next time he comes he says, gleefully, ‘I’ve been suffering for my art’.

Practice makes …
There’s a reason why tens of thousands of people pick-up a new instrument to learn. I wrote a piece about it in The Times and it was replied to by an expert who said that apart from the pleasure it gives it ‘builds important disciplines vital for success in life such as concentration, setting goals, self- confidence…’
But the trick to learning is simple: practice little but often.
I cannot stress that enough. The constant mantra I get from beginners is, ‘it’s difficult’.
Quickly growing a long white beard and adopting a pair of little Oxford Don steel spectacles, I became the philosopher and say,
‘All things are difficult until they are easy’.
And I tell them the tale of a sightseer in New York who asks a laconic cop ‘how do I get to Carnegie Hall?’
The cop pushes his cap back, breathes deeply and wearily says,
‘Lady, you gotta practice.’

by Andy Palmer

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