We’ve gotten some really fantastic comments on last week’s post about discouraging professional performance ambitions in music education students–this post obviously struck a chord with many readers. You can check out all of the comments on this post here, but I’ll share a few of them here as well:
Jerry Fuller writes:
I found your comments on performance/education very interesting and I would like to push the conversation even further. I find professional performers too often are very highly, and narrowly, trained technicians.
The artist can rise above being merely highly skilled with exciting and provocative musical interpretations. I hope and believe that the next frontier for the artist is to be an integrated, contributing member of the community which to me means performing at a very high level, teaching, providing hope by introducing the joy of music to the less privileged among us, and to be able to critically think about and articulate the role of the artist in society. So rather than an increasingly narrow technical focus, I believe we are being called on to do more than anyone (certainly your instructor) had previously thought possible. And I think it will be those among us who teach well that can and will inspire that possibility.
Joshua Nemith writes:
This is a superb defense of what most performing musicians do to make a living through a number of related and rewarding professional activities. Jason, you hit the many nails of this issue square on the head!
I’m afraid I wouldn’t have been as temperamentally even-handed as you with this list of critically misinformed hash that your instructor foisted upon you and your classmates. Most of it wouldn’t be taken seriously by any widely-experienced pedagogue and I can safely assume that the implications would be refuted vehemently by many of the educators I’ve known over the years, including conductors, applied instrumental/vocal teachers, pedagogy professors, and respected music theorists and musicologists who excel as performers. I don’t know if I can add much to your quite complete rebuttal, but for the sake of supporting a position worth defending, here goes:
I can’t speak for numbers 1 and 2, because I did not pursue a music education major. But the compartmentalization dynamic of “us” (educators) versus “them” (performers) inherent to this list denies a fundamental reality in musical communities around the globe and throughout history: Most performing musicians teach. It is (as you state so clearly in this post) more often than not an integral part of our whole path as professional musicians. A lot of musicians take it very seriously and do it extremely well, because so much of the future of our art form absolutely requires the successful transmission of musical knowledge in all of its various forms. Teaching is not separate and distinct from our performance activities. The lines, at least for me, between performance and education are not merely blurred but thoroughly entangled and interwoven.
Numbers 3, 4, and 5 in the list are hopelessly silly, overly defensive, ignorant, and unnecessary. Perhaps your instructor is not mean-spirited, but these statements reflect a carefully cultivated inner attitude that is uncharitable to hard-working, teaching musicians who happen to also care for their students’ education. I’ve taught hundreds of students (95% of whom were/are K-12). Yet according to this instructor, my activities as an educator have been preemptively “hindered” by my professional performance ambitions.
Nonsense. Here’s a statement I think most educators could agree with for the most part:
Teaching well takes experience, knowledge, training, preparation, sensitivity, communication skills, and engagement.
Does this refer to the music education major or the performance major? Or are these general facets so overwhelmingly intermingled in music education as to be attributes needed in teachers who are not performers as well as for those teachers who do perform? Don’t these attributes require and demand some level of proficiency at an instrument (or at the podium)?
And why leave this criticism just at the doorstep of performers? Let’s see what numbers 3 through 5 look like for composer educators, who also dedicate substantial portions of their daily time to creative activity:
3) Professional compositional ambitions are a distraction from becoming a good teacher.
4) Good K-12 teachers compose as an avocation, not a vocation – i.e. for relaxation and enjoyment; one should sort out their vocations and avocations.
5) If a student wants to compose, they should be a music composition major.
Hmmm, pretty absurd, right?
Numbers 6 and 7 do have their merits. But the present context poisons and twists their meaning. Do the intensely dedicated applied music teachers in universities and conservatories merely “dabble” in their teaching duties? Many not only teach their primary instrument but also teach music theory, history, music appreciation, ear training, orchestration, electronic music, world music, etc. I don’t think many of these educators would appreciate being labeled as “dabblers”. Tenure files at universities require a wide variety of service components that involve EDUCATIONAL activities. Those files are not filled with meaningless exercises. Number 7 is redundant: I don’t believe anyone “falls back” on teaching. Wouldn’t it be more positive and inspiring just to simply say, “Teaching IS a calling, not a fallback”?
I think that the issue of crafting useful and positive messages for music educators is indeed part of what is at stake here. I should also make it clear that I do not want to offend or diminish “pure” music education majors: upon employment those individuals make massive, incalculable contributions to the field that help keep me in business as a performer. But I think this instructor’s list will only continue to inspire ill will between educators and performers, even as those vocations become more and more deeply intertwined in social reality. It is unfortunately banal and tragic that this instructor insists on taking the divisive stance when so many of us have to play the role of “educator” and “performer” day in and day out in our pursuit of a meaningful career in music today.
Scott Chaurette writes:
As someone who went through pretty much the same process (ie – performance degrees/career, discovering teaching and falling in love with the process) I agree with you arguments totally. I’m always amazed when people about music ed as a backup plan. If you don’t love teaching, it is the worst job in the world. It’s tough, and if you don’t give it your all you are doing more harm than good. Kids have an amazing way of seeing right through teachers who do not really want to be there and the also have a way of making life very difficult for those people. On the other hand, if your there 100%, kids will be completely devoted and wonderful. It is a very rewarding profession in ways that some people find hard to understand.
The best teachers I have met are usually active performers. I’ve found that I can not maintain the same active performance schedule I could pre-teaching but performing is still and always will be an important part of my life. And it makes me a better teacher!
I do some work with the music teacher prep program at UConn and as a fellow teacher educator I would have some very strong words for your methods teacher. This is exactly the opposite of the attitude I try to inspire in the education students I work with.
There are many other excellent comments on this post, so check them out if you haven’t already, and feel free to add your own two cents! You can access this and all other bass blog longer posts under the Articles link in the menubar at the top of this blog.
- This Crazy Business
- Advice for Aspiring Music Performance Majors
- Tainting the Academic Waters with Pay-Per-Student Teaching
- They Locked Me Inside and Made Me Conduct Violas!
- They All Started Laughing at Me
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