Sunday, November 15, 2009

Eyes of the Tailless Animals by Soon Ok Lee

This is probably one of the most gruesome books I've ever read. All the more so because it is true.
Soon Ok Lee was a dedicated member of the Communist Party in North Korea. She lived well, had status, and a loving family. All that changed when she refused to give a fellow worker more than the legal limit of a shirt fabric that she had brought back from China.

Because of her adherence to the law she was taken suddenly from her home and family and thrown into prison. Inside prison, she was subjected to tortures so horrible that I believe the only reason she survived was so she could tell people outside North Korea of the horrors that are going on there.

It seems that basically, North Korea provides goods for outside nations by ensuring a large prison class who work for free. They are also mostly worked to death. They are given hardly anything to eat and only allowed to sleep a couple of hours a day in order to make the required quotas. Many people who were in prison are there because they tried to work to feed their starving children but it was work that they had not been given permission to do.

The North Korean government controls every one of their citizens' lives so stringently that no one may leave their town without permission, or do any kind of work that they do not have explicit permission to do.
If someone is thrown in prison their family loses all status as well. They lose their homes, jobs, everything.
Lee noticed that as cruelly as the prisoners are treated, there is one group that's treated even worse, if that's possible. These are the Christians. Because they believe in heaven they are never allowed to look at the sky but must go about always looking at the ground. If they, or any of the prisoners for that matter, break one iota of the rules they are tortured so viley that they often do not survive.

This book is an account of one North Korean's journey from wholly believing in the ideals of the Communist Party and North Korea's then dictator, Kim Il Song, to realizing the brutal oppression of North Korea's citizens. It is also an account of her spiritual journey from atheism and belief in the state as God to accepting Jesus Christ as her savior.

At the end of the book, she describes her final exit from the prison to liberty.

As she leaves the prison she looks back and suddenly, at the same time, the Christian prisoners who are never allowed to look up, all raised their eyes to meet hers. In them she saw a pleading to expose what is going on in North Korea. In her forward, Lee explains that this is ultimately her motive for writing the book.
Some things the rest of us need to consider: Why are countries like Japan and France trading with North Korea? Lee mentions these countries because of the cost of life it took to meet the demands for products by these two countries.

Also, if something doesn't happen to stop this dreadful regime, will there be any North Koreans alive in fifty years? Will North Korea be the first country to completely annihilate its own people?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Got a Piano Teacher?

The following is a letter to a friend who was inquiring about how to interview a prospective piano teacher. I thought the information might be useful to others out there in search of a teacher.

Hi I-!
Sorry it's taken so long to get back to you.  I'm a hypocrite because I really, really hate it when people put me on hold like that.  I have no excuse except I kept putting it off until I forgot about it.  Shawna reminded me today so here I am.  One reason I was putting off writing you about it is because it's not an easy question.

  First, you need to decide what exactly you want your daughter to get out of the lessons.  The ability to read and play music?  'To what level of difficulty?  Do you want her to learn to play by ear?  Transpose (take a song written in one key and play it in another key)?  Sight read?  Learn church music? Classical?  Jazz? Do you want her to learn for personal enjoyment or be equipped possibly to work professionally? (Yes there are plenty of jobs out there for muscians with the right skills.)

Then I will tell you that most teachers ONLY teach students how to read and play music from method books and the vast majority of kids will quit (or want to) once it starts to get hard and it will take a commitment of practising as a part of life's daily routine.  Are you going to let her take until she gets tired of it or make her take until she leaves home?
  If you're willing to go into Memphis, you'll probably find a really good teacher who will teach her more than just method books but also keyboard (above mentioned) skills as well.  Lest you think all those skills are for advanced students or geniuses, I teach ALL my students those skills from the get go, regardless of age.  There's more to the piano than just reading notes.  In fact I teach them to play by ear before I teach them to read music.
When interviewing a prospective teacher get their credentials.  Where did they go to school, do they have a Master's or just a Bachelor's (Yes, there is a HUGE difference between the two.) What was their degree in? Performance or also a pedagogy degree?  Have they ever worked (or are they) working professionally as a musician?
  Finally, you need to decide how determined you are.  Are you willing to enforce practise times?  Are you willing to make her keep taking even after it starts to get hard (which it will sooner or later). My advice is to find a teacher who will make the experience as positive as possible and don't let your daughter quit-even if it means changing teachers.  I've never met someone who regretted knowing how to play the piano as an adult and I've met countless people who have regretted quitting as a child. 
   Shawna tells me that Alyssa is a brilliant little girl.  Studies have shown that children who learn how to play the piano develop their intellect to a higher degree than those that don't.  There are many cognitive skills that are exercized and developed from learning how to play.  From a purely academic perspective you are helping your child succeed by having her take piano lessons. 

If you have any more questions, I'll try to answer them in a more timely manner.  Good luck!