Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Be the Music: Step 2

My Bulgarian bagpipe teacher once told me I should take some lessons with another teacher. I responded that this teacher didn’t speak English very well and it would be a challenge to communicate. He admonished me, “Words don’t matter. You just need to be in his energy field to understand how to play this instrument.”

He was right, of course. Music can go directly from vibration and vibration and it is that direct transmission that is the most powerful. We can use words to understand theory and concepts and so on, but the bottom line is just being in the presence of a master musician as they’re playing music. Most of what you need to know is in that exchange.

How many people hear this when being trained as music teachers of children? We focus on curriculum, on national standards, on some clever step-by-step process “guaranteed” to yield good results, but how often do we hear things like this? “You yourself are the musical example of the music you want to draw out from your children. The way you stand, the way you sing, the way you move, the way your face looks, the way you feel— that’s your lesson for the children. If you want great results from them, you must be the best musician that you can be, bring your whole self to the endeavor and draw them into the force field of your passion and craft.”

This is scary stuff, because you can’t package it or market it or capture it on a computer. And schools hate that. Well, to hell with schools. Yes, you need a curriculum yes, you need lessons that proceed in logical steps, yes, you need to eventually stand to the side and let the children step forth, but when you are in front of them teaching or side-by-side with them playing, singing and dancing, be your 150% musical self. To paraphrase Gandhi:

“Be the music you want to hear in the world.”

Too many in the new generation of music teachers have drunk the Kool-Aid of the Smart-Board presentation and have their packaged lesson up on the screen with the next steps a click away. And where are the students looking? At yet another bright screen with words or images or occasional sounds. And where aren’t they looking? At the teacher whose job it is to model the music. And the teacher likewise is often not looking at the students, not attentive to any pongs they’re returning to his or her pings.

The good news about Orff training is that it does attempt to train teachers to higher levels of their own artistry through dance classes, recorder classes, percussion classes, singing classes, improvisation and composition classes. But some people get sidetracked into the steps of the process instead of stepping more fully into their own musicianship. And that’s helpful to exactly no one, kids and teachers alike.

In our recent Ghana concert, we the teachers sang, danced and played with our students as we often do. We don’t take the solos or steal the spotlight, but we play supporting parts and experience the pleasure of making music side-by-side with our students now fellow band-members. The kids feel it, that level of respect that elevates them to a fellow musician rather than a trained student putting on some show. It creates the kind of musical culture and community that I happen to believe in our final aim, far beyond any measurable curriculum fulfilling someone else’s rubric. It’s vibrant, it’s musical, it’s fun!

Again, the new Gandhi-esque quote to hang up on your classroom wall:

 “Be the music you want to hear in the world.”

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