In facing the everyday, mundane grind of living and working in the midst of on-going obstacles, setbacks, erosion of conditions, the need for support and recognition, fatigue and defeats, how do we keep our love of music, and our love for our students alive, while maintaining the fire of our personal passion for music, filled with purpose, commitment and positive energy?
I believe that these issues constitute one of our biggest challenges, so how will we meet it?
How often during the last year were we able to reflect on why we chose music over the many other opportunities available to us, and why we chose to share music with others in the first place? When was the last time we reflected on memories of our past significant musical moments? When was the last time we attended a professional performance, or made time to sit down and specifically ‘listen’ to one of our favourite recordings? What is our continuing commitment towards playing our instrument for ourselves, playing with other musicians, or with our students? How often have we taken a ‘musical bath’ at the end of a taxing day of teaching or rehearsing, immersing ourselves in an inspirational performance? And, have we been willing to take chances in listening to, or exposing our students to music outside our comfort zone?
I believe that staying ‘in love’ with music is essential to our effectiveness in sharing our joy and passion of music and music-making with our students. As an undergraduate music education major, I distinctly remember my course advisor saying to me, “Monte, never let your students guess what instrument you play. Play for them; play with them. Show them how important music-making is in your life”.
On the other hand, it is hard to keep our personal music-making alive when so much of our time and energies are given to helping, encouraging and inspiring our students. And, let’s not forget the continual round of protecting, explaining and defending what we have, striving to strengthen the learning environment, while straining to sustain, preserve and create the opportunities necessary for rewarding and successful learning to take place: not to mention maintaining our personal life outside our job. Extreme juggling!
Still, we must be careful to also protect, nourish and grow our own love affair with music by staying actively connected with the art form that originally captivated us. It is important to remember that our students often feed off our passions. In fact, they are aware of our inner core values more than we know. As a part of their learning process they will generally love what we love, honour what we honour, value what we value and dislike what we dislike. That is why we must be careful not to limit what we share with them as to what we think they will like, or limit our offerings to our own personal preferences.
How many of us are musicians and music educators today because of a music teacher who inspired us? What ‘artistic’, and ‘people skill’ qualities did they possess? Were they passionate about music and teaching? Were they actively engaged with their students? As I recall the men and women who impacted and inspired me, what I remember most was their love of music, their love of teaching and above all else, their love for us, their students. They cared about music and their student's welfare and were quite willing to share their personal love and passion for music with us! Their willingness to become personally engaged with their students continues to inspire me to this very day.
As I reflect on my teachers and their teaching style, I realise that these men and women were investors in ‘futures’, often encouraging me and my fellow classmates to be curious, to shape opinions; they often provided opportunities to trial our ideas and skills, even allowing for our failures. They encouraged us to think and listen both critically and independently in order to form values based on observation and personal reflection. They expected us to both develop and exercise personal integrity, responsibility, accountability, compassion, teamwork, respect and honour. Above all, they encouraged us to be inspired by great musical models and heroes.
Like them, we too can experience the joy and satisfaction of sharing what we love, believing that it can make a difference in the lives of those who have been entrusted to our care, for this may constitute one of our greatest contributions.
Nevertheless, it is also important to remember that the joy of music-making should be pursued for the powerful intrinsic rewards of personal achievement, emotional engagement, excitement, wonder, joy and fulfilment.
However, it is often easy to seek assistance in motivating our students through the extrinsic rewards of tours, contests, festivals, and yes, even AMEB or Trinity exam achievements. While each of these constitute worthy goals and incentives, they can actually impair and detract our students from developing a lifelong love affair with music when we allow the extrinsic results to over-shadow the ultimate end of their endeavours.
How often have we met adults who have suffered the loss of their initial love, enjoyment and passion for music through the pursuit of transient, short-term goals, only to experience performance ’burn out’? We therefore need to be careful that the pleasure and joy of experiencing summit moments in music performance is not tied directly to winning, losing, what an adjudicator thinks, or linked to marks or comments on a sheet of paper. Helping our students to take personal ownership of their performance experiences through acquiring personal judgment, critical assessment and evaluative skills, in line with established and time-honoured criterion will go a long way in assuring that they continue to experience the joyful and personal fulfilling rewards of music long after their final performance in our music Programme!
Having often served as an adjudicator for various festivals and contests, when presenting on-stage tutorials I generally begin with some general comments or questions, such as: “We are fortunate in that we get to do this; to make music” or “What did you enjoy about your performance today; what did you learn from your performance experience?” Some of the few answers I receive are quite telling…
My good friend and mentor Craig Kirchhoff once remarked that one should never place the love of the ‘activity’ (like being a part of an ensemble programme) over the love and appreciation of music itself. In a sense, this can be very true for us. It is easy to pressure ourselves, or allow ourselves to be pressured into the pursuit of external achievements. After all, music-making is more than belonging to a group that does things together. As in all things, maintaining a balance is very important. There is a time to pursue participation in worthwhile events, such as festivals, tours, exams and contests. We just need to know why we want our students to participate in them, and how they will enrich our student’s musical and educational experience. We can even stretch the ‘motive’ consideration to the repertoire we place before them, such as considering our educational rationale for our repertoire selections. Incidentally, I generally have both educational and musical purposes and justifications for each work in the ensemble folder.
In closing, we must learn to care for, and nourish our own musical souls; only then can we genuinely share the art, beauty and joy of music-making with our students. For the world in which we live and work today is not ‘over friendly’ toward an art form that takes so much time, effort, energy and expense to fully reap its benefits. In fact, neither music, nor any of the other art forms can successfully compete with the culture of instant gratification and limited attention span that increasingly surrounds us today.
With so many distractions and temptations for deviating from the pursuit of excellence, we must be careful not to try and support, or compete with these distractions, but overcome them through sharing the great intrinsic rewards that await all who are willing to invest in the pursuit and achievement of excellence and beauty.
Making music disciples is a glorious quest. So, will we see ourselves as the next generation of ‘futures’ investors, making a difference in the lives of our students through sharing the gift of significant and rewarding music-making?
‘Mission impossible’ you say? No! We are privileged to share a great art form with our students and colleagues that has been inspiring followers since the dawn of time. All we have to do is share our love passion for music, supported by our pursuit of excellence, and provide opportunities for music to speak for itself.