March 09, 2008

Staff meeting

Part of the deal for working at the Helsinki Adult Education Centre involves two major staff meetings a year. Conveniently, these always take place on a Sunday, which of course makes us all leap into the air from joy for coming to work on a free day without pay. Call it a bonus, call it moral duty - I call it walking through slush on Helsinginkatu at 11:57, an invisible pillow still stuck to the back of my head and the whiff of pizza catching my nose as I pass Capris, our regular Sunday pizzeria.

We are divided into groups according to subject. The music teachers crowd into the classroom and we are welcomed by our head of staff, a pleasant and slightly disoriented woman who has been doing this for God knows how many years. Now, although we all are musicians, you can imagine the variety of personalities on display, particularly as we are talking about a Sunday, which somehow always brings out new sides in people who might seem completely normal on an ordinary day of work.

I spot people in my age group and join them for an hour of what is supposed to be a conversation on how to develop musical subjects at the education centre, but turns out to be a pretty boring mixture of practical things to discuss. First, we all introduce ourselves to each other. There are some new faces. A vigorous-looking young woman dressed all in black announces she gives singing lessons in jazz and pop. There is a middle-aged woman with freaky hair and an extremely haunting and bellowing voice. She, also, teaches singing, but classical, she hastens to add.

We have the theory teachers, the pianists, the violinists, and then something completely unexpected: an older man with a moustache rises gracefully from his chair, and tells everyone with a thick Russian accent: "I am the conductor of Helsinki's Balalaika Orchestra". I almost fall of my chair while others seem completely unmoved. Helsinki's WHAT?????!?!?! I must be still dreaming.

Some of these people I know and some are completely new. As I rise to introduce myself as the wacky choral conductor in the house, I have a hard time keeping from laughing as a thousand balalaikas strike up a boisterous tune in my head. Some people look at me with an approving nod ("yes, we have heard SUCH wonderful things about your work here", "what type of music do you specialise in" and "you're younger than my grandson!"....) but many couldn't care less - they just want to get this over with and go home.

Actually, the main reason I have come is to find out what will happen next year, when this whole building will be shut down for renovating and all of our courses will be exiled and relocated all over the place. However, when the time comes to talk about this, there are too many questions and hardly any answers: "Yes we're still working on this", "Yes we understand you wouldn't want to have to work too far out" and "Yes well I'm afraid there isn't anything quite concrete yes, you see, but there still is time". I start to wonder whether I should start knocking on some doors myself and secure a place for my choir to keep rehearsing in 2009 as well.

Some advertisement is made about courses which are being arranged for us, the staff. There will be some courses on accompaniment for those who need to brush up their piano skills. The dark woman is going to give some coaching on phrasing in jazz music. She stresses the importance of this, especially for choral conductors, and I try to sink lower into my chair.

As we are going through some more practicalities ("How to write an efficient and informative text about your course") the singing teacher with the bad hair day provides me with the best laugh of the day. "Excuse me", she begins, sounding very important. "But it says here we should avoid using capital letters in the texts. What does this mean? If I am correct, in the Finnish language sentences tend to begin with capital letters." I almost fall off my chair once again and check my watch.

Our head of staff ecstatically announces what will come next in the program: a lecture about teaching in a multicultural society, held by some expert on multiculturalism who will enlighten us all on the challenges and blessings of multiculturalism. I decide I have been learning about multiculturalism since 1984, grab my coat and head to Capris for a pizza.