Walter Bitner

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Fall 2021 Update

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Dear Friends,

at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts exhibition The Dirty South, August 4, 2021

It’s been some time since I posted an article to Off The Podium – exactly ten months today, the longest break since I began publishing my writing here in March 2015.

There were many contributing factors – 2019 brought major life changes my way: a new job, and a move to a new city 600 miles away after nearly sixteen years in Nashville. It was a big shock to my system. The arrival of the global pandemic in 2020 – about six months after we arrived in Richmond – heaped more challenges upon those I was already facing. During the fall of 2019 and the early months of 2020 I found time to write and post articles about education and community programming at the Richmond Symphony here, as well as maintain a weekly blog for ACDA ChoralNet and contribute columns to Choral Director, but by March 2020 we were in lockdown, and my staff and I made what seemed like a gargantuan effort to learn how to pivot to digital programming. I had little time or attention left to write – beyond the seemingly endless email messages, calendar invitations, slide presentations, agreements, contracts, and other written materials that comprise an administrator’s daily grind. My output of writing beyond the administrative first dwindled, and then ground nearly to a halt.

Amidst the upheavals of negotiating these changes during the global pandemic I developed – for lack of a better word for it – a kind of writer’s block. Although I have produced some writing during this time, what little of it was published was published elsewhere, and much more of it is unfinished. After years of writing every day, my output slowed to a trickle, some weeks or months going by without writing at all. I have been late or unable to fulfill some promised writing commitments, and my personal correspondence with friends and family has also suffered tremendously. If this has affected you, I apologize. It’s been a difficult time.

I hope to kickstart my writing habit back into gear now, with this update.

A phoenix burns on its funeral pyre ~ Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 1444b, Folio 244r

For many, the pandemic brought a different kind of focus to our lives, and in some cases, a reconsideration or reordering of priorities. This has absolutely been true for me, and applies to what I may choose to write about and publish here as much as anything else.


Wholehearted Attention

I have several unfinished projects here on Off The Podium. Two are in fact book projects, which I am more or less “writing in public”. One is the original purpose of this website: a collection of articles about music education, drawing on more than twenty years experience as a K-12 music teacher and ensemble director. My approach to teaching music differed significantly from that of most colleagues I encountered, and over the years I worked in a greater diversity of environments and taught more differing activities and formats than any other music teacher I have met. I hope to collect them into a book titled Wholehearted Attention, which describes what I feel is the most intrinsically important aspect of music education: the inquiry into the experience of this moment, which is the heart of the music teacher’s activity and the music student’s experience in the classroom.

At the beginning of 2019 I read through everything I had published on Off The Podium about music education: many of the articles here are in fact chapters of the book or the foundations of chapters. At that time I sketched out the Table of Contents and outlined what remains to be written. I was beginning to turn my attention towards writing these remaining chapters when Life intervened, as described above.


Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra, Daniel Myssyk, conductor, August 2021


The experience of returning to in person rehearsals with our Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra Program ensembles last month brought renewal to my commitment to writing about the importance of music education in the lives of young people. I am inspired! and ready to continue with this writing project.


The Lute

Six years ago I wrote Meet the Lute which gradually became a project as I added article after article, and even appendices to it over succeeding years. The Lute is now a series about the history of the instrument, its proponents, repertoire, and various other lute-related miscellany. These articles are among the most accessed on this site.

In 2019 I was in the midst of finally gathering my research and writing a biography of John Dowland for The Lute – a project comprised of several articles, two of which are already published – when life challenges interrupted as described above.

The Lute will continue. Although it has been more than two years since I added to the series, there is much more to come. My study of the lute and its repertoire is a lifelong project.

After more than 25 years of playing and studying renaissance lute, I received an 11-course baroque lute from Grant Tomlinson in September 2019. Unfortunately before I was able to dedicate significant time and energy to learning a new right hand technique and all other facets of everything baroque lute, (noncovid) health difficulties intervened and I was nearly unable to play lute at all for over a year. I am happily well along the road to recovery and am earnestly looking forward to both playing and writing about this beloved instrument again.


Off Topic No More

Although I have published little in the last two years compared to my previous output, I didn’t abandon writing altogether. A fair amount of my unpublished writing is what in the past I would have categorized here as “off topic” – not directly related to music or education.

I’ve decided to stop using this designation here, and relax my focus more freely at times. I have already published some examples of different kinds of writing here, such as the present tense essays The Japanese Garden,  Flying, and The Bamboo Thicket; articles about books, life experiences, or even simply advice.

The pandemic brought me a renewed sense of what is most important and immediate, and I may wish to write about some of these other, nonmusical yet human concerns, and share them here, without a warning or disclaimer.

Henceforward, all topics are on.

In the months to come I’ll be posting some things written during the last couple of years that have been published elsewhere, as well as new articles.


October 1, 2021

Quarter Million Club Milestone

In the next few days this website will pass 250,000 views! It’s been encouraging to note that the site continues to be useful and interesting to others.

Thanks for reading!




  1. Kenna says:

    I’m happy to read and even more happy that you are writing. I hope you are well. We must get together again. I am finally back to playing with my vaccinated friends!! Xoxo – Kenna

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