Welcome Class, November 3rd, 2016

I was recently talking about music with a friend, and realized that I didn’t often listen to new musical genres. One tends to get stuck in old habits and tastes a little bit. Today I was giving a music lesson to one of my Welcome Classes, the beginners’ group.. I was a bit unsure about what I had prepared. It wasn’t what I would usually do with the kids. Last year, I had the best class any teacher can dream of. The kids were doing everything I was putting on the table, even though it wasn’t always to their taste. Palestinian kids were singing in Hebrew, on top of German, English, Latin and French. It was the funniest group to work with and we had a proper little choir.

This year is a bit different. There are a couple of kids that are very difficult to work with. Not difficult kids, just that little bit too reluctant to work for it be provide a good working environment. Turbulent kids tend to influence the others, more often than the other way around. Since I knew it would be difficult to implement French liturgical songs from the Middle Age in that group, I thought of giving up choir altogether, and focus on music theory and practice instead. Insider’s tip: don’t ever consider drums when your class is mostly composed on teens and pre-teens, mostly boys, who were school-deprived for the past year or two. Unless you also invested in earplugs.

Today though, I was coming with a new idea which I hoped would raise interest. On my way to school, I walked past two kids from the advanced class. “How are you?”, Hamed asks me. He’s the Afghan kid who thinks flirting with teachers is ok. “Fine thanks, how are you?”. He shrugs: “Alright I suppose…but I have Music right now and I don’t like it”. Knowing the teacher, I’m surprised. “How comes?”, I ask. “Well, it’s boring, the teacher speaks and speaks and speaks…I want to sing and to play music! I used to sing…”, he says. I think for a second and say: “Well if you fancy coming to the beginners’ group I can see to it with your teacher, we’re going to sing today…”. Hamed is all smiles. “Yes! I would love that!”. Great, at least one person will sing along, I think. Time for me to sort this out with the other teacher – it’s not a problem, since he’s switching music for music, and we head to our classroom. I’m still unsure about my choice but the kids look to be in a good mood. “Will we play the keyboard today?”, Amir, from Syria, asks. “Nope, today I would like you to speak better German”, I start. They’re intrigued.

A few years ago, as I needed to learn German myself, and wasn’t bothered to pay for yet another course since I had studied it long enough to, theoretically, be more than fluent in it, I had decided that I would learn it as I did English, with music and films. It didn’t have to be good (I mean, suffice to say “Tatort”), but it worked relatively well and within a couple of months I had reached a good enough level of street German. So today I told the kids: “By the end of this course, I want you to sing that song along”. They looked curious and amused. I plugged in my mobile to the sound system and introduced them to Cro. I don’t even know how I found out about that German pop-rapper since it’s not my usual choice of music, but I actually bettered my German by listening to his songs, and I figured that it would be closer to the kid’s taste than my own tastes.

On that I was quickly reminded that I was just another old teacher by Hussein, another Afghan kid, who exclaimed: “Hey, my grandfather would listen to that shit!”. Ok, not the result I had expected on that side of the classroom. However, the big surprise came from the other part: my three turbulent boys, who usually complain about everything, and are reluctant to work on anything I suggest, were half dancing on their chairs. Even the four Syrian girls are at least trying to sing along, coyly. I got the Syrians’ approval, great, the majority of the class! We listen to the song Einmal um die Welt, and they try to figure what the singer says. He raps very fast, and the kids think they don’t understand because they aren’t native speakers, whereas even Muttersprachler would have to listen to it twice to figure it out. But I don’t say that to them. I want them to try and sing along. And they do. Sentence after sentence, we explain the text. It’s fluent, contemporary German, and the kids actually love it! They understand a guy is trying to impress a girl, by flaunting his money at her. But the girl is superficial and only wants expensive stuff, so we also talk about what girls want (the boys are always happy to talk about girls these days). Apparently they’re all after money. I tell them they’ll figure out whether that’s true or not in a couple of year’s time.

Half a dozen times listening to that song later, I have a room of a dozen kids from all over the world singing “Einmal um die Welt”, shyly at first, then with more and more enthusiasm. As we sing about traveling around the world, Hussein says: “I would like to go to Afghanistan”. Hamed approves, he has never been to his country, as he was raised in Iran. “I would like to go to Afghanistan too”, I say. The Afghans are surprised: “oh why is that?”. “Because when I was your age, I learned a lot about Massoud, you know him?”, I ask, not expecting a positive answer. Hussein’s face changes: “Ahmad Shah Massoud. Of course I know him. But why do YOU know him?”. I tell him that Massoud was quite famous in France in his time and that he was a hero of mine at the time. “He’s my hero, too, he’s one of my people”, Hussein says, solemnly. Hamed looks a bit dejected, when he tells me: “You know more about my country than I do!”. I could talk about Massoud for hours, but I’m not sure it would be of interest for anyone else than the three of us right now. But I know that this instant shared with those two created yet another bound between us. I have to be careful not to get too attached to them because they’ll all leave the class at some point.

End of the course, I got my dozen kids fluently singing a German rap song and understanding the lyrics at that. I’m not sure the fellow Music teachers will approve when the kids will join regular classes next semester or year, but at least I got a couple of them interested in singing in German. And for those of you who don’t know him, this is Ahmad Shah Massoud.

French journalist Christophe de Ponfilly directed an amazing documentary on Massoud called “Massoud l’Afghan”, which you can see here (in French).

 

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