minutes read
John Santamaria
May 10, 2023

Playing the same tune: The importance of empathy and connecting

In the previous episode, we met John Santamaria, who is not only a dedicated guitar instructor but has donated old Filipino recordings to America. In this post, we dig deeper and talk about the mental challenges children face, and how to cope with them even if it is not so easy task.

Playing the same tune: The importance of empathy and connecting

In the first part of our interview series with John Santamaria, you can get to know the guitar instructor from the Philippines, who donated modern recordings of old Filipino music to America and now is an official contributor to the Pollak Library. In this article, we take a deeper look into John's thinking about childhood development, and he tells us how he deals with difficult situations through personal experiences.

Eniko: Every child is different and has different needs. You need to adapt to this too, right? How do you handle a difficult situation? 

John: Absolutely. I noticed that the kids who have been raised in a positive environment had a faster way of comprehending information. On the other hand, for those who have been exposed to a lot of trauma, it takes more time. 

When we come to a tough part I tell them, "Do not worry! I think I was one of the worst music students to have ever existed." And I don't mean that as a humble brag, but it's really true. My teacher, David Isaacs, can attest to this.  

At my first private guitar lesson with him, he told me that everything I knew about the guitar was completely wrong. And I knew he was right.  

I said, “I don't know what to do. I'm completely clueless. I don't know how to read music. I know how to do any of the things.” And he told me, “Take this class while taking lessons with me, and it will all make sense.” 

And I realized if you're open to experiencing something new, and you are humble enough to accept the things that you cannot do, that's when the learning begins. I never once tried to brag about things I can do because I don't think I was 100% sure of myself about doing anything. I think music was the tool that gave me the chance to learn something properly.  

Eniko: What is the key to maintaining motivation? 

John: For example, I'm horrible with technology, with computers. My students have to help me with my iPad. I said, “If you guys can teach me, I'll do it." I don't think there's anything that I cannot try to learn. I'm pretty sure there are things that I cannot do 100%, but I will try.

And sometimes that's more than enough if you want to try so hard. 

Eniko: I think a teacher is not only teaching. He or she has to be a mentor, a psychologist, and so many things at the same time. What do you think? 

John: There's been days where students would lash out, about what happened with their day, and it would eat about 15 minutes of our time.

And I said, "I think this is part of your lesson, too. Learning how to spill the bucket when it's full." They can't learn with a bothered mind.  

It’s not that they can't, but it's hard for them to retain information when they're in that state of mind. So I say, “What happened? Are you okay?” I'm a person, too. I care about them, too. Not just because they pay me. But there are 7 million of us in this world. Why don't we talk to each other?  

Eniko: There is obviously a lot going on in the world and unfortunately most of us are frustrated. What do you think about coping with this increased amount of stress nowadays? 

John: I think it all started or at least escalated with the lockdown. There are a lot of people who didn't do a lot of things during the lockdown. They were just in their house cooped up and not everybody has a healthy state of mind. It takes a lot, especially nowadays.  

I think keeping oneself busy manages mental health. Because when you're learning something you have steps and patterns to follow and your coping mechanism gets better as you go through learning new things in life.  

So I think I think it's a good coping mechanism to keep busy and it happens when you learn new things. I'm trying to constantly learn and grow and I think that’s something everyone should strive for and then it might be a little bit better, but that's something! 

Eniko: And what is going on in schools? Do you have any students for whom music can help? If so, can you tell me a little bit about it? 

John: I would say it's different in every part of the world, but at least in the US. I have not read the statistics recently, but I'm pretty concerned. Things are only getting rough in the US. At the moment, it's very hard to live over here.

I'm pretty sure that the one very important thing in life is keeping children busy.

Most of my private lessons are attended by children whose parents can afford them, but the government also helps out. I'm not sure exactly which section, but there is one that specifically supports children in this area. So they can learn music.  

Children who come through a publicly funded project, enjoy it a lot, and they're always in a good mood when they come into class. Those who are "obliged" are mostly grateful but not always in a good mood and not always motivated. 

It feels like they're being forced, and I tell them, “We don't have to do this. If there's a lot going on in your mind, you can always share it, and you could just relax.

This is a safe place. You don't have to be scared. We're just playing music.” 

It's part of teaching. We need to connect with the children, not only for them, but we need this too.

In the next part, we paddle into exciting waters. We'll be discussing the impact of technology on classical music and education.

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