Friday Photo: Choir directing and cultural translation

Graduation choir 2012

When I tell my students that I’m resigning, they often ask what I am doing next.  Higher education of any kind is not necessarily easy for them to imagine, and I’ve gotten a few vague questions about what I’m really going to be doing. Am I going to be reading stuff in another language?  Am I going to be translating?  The answer is yes, in part.  However, I can answer to them that I already have been translating and reading languages as I’ve taught in my mother tongue.  This kind of translation has not been from French into English but from life into life, comprehension into comprehension. Translation is my definition of teaching.

The first step to literary translation is to become very familiar with the source text that you are working from so that you can decipher the meaning of not just individual words but also of complex thoughts.  I took one translation class at Susquehanna University in 2007 and learned that translating is a very slow and tedious process, one that requires much more patience with the nuances of both languages than I’d thought.

Teaching is the same way.  When I was given the “bad kid” as a partner in math class to tutor in fifth grade, my mother gave me great advice: Teaching is going from the known to the unknown. With teaching, you also have to figure out where a person is, understand the source, before you can move him further.

Part of my duties as a high school teacher included working with the graduation choir to explain music to students who did not read notes, a task which required the use of words such as “faster” and “slower” or “higher” and “lower” to explain the complex language of pitch, rhythm, and meter.  We rehearsed for an hour twice a week and performed selections from 9 songs from complete memory by the end of May.  The choir can only sing in melody, and some of the boys could barely sing at all, but after the performance when the students rushed up to ask, “How did we do?” with shining eyes, my answer was always honest and positive — that they’d amazed me, because they had.  We had translated music, which is not easy, and they had translated the music to a live audience — even harder.

I’d like to think that working as a teacher, working with a choir, and translating are all one in the same — taking the time with person, an idea, a concept, a text, and simply moving it to something where the meaning is the same but broader. Bolder. New.


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