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“All you touch and all you see
is all your life will ever be.”
~ Roger Waters, Breathe
Forty-five years after its release, Pink Floyd‘s monumental The Dark Side of the Moon remains the most important musical document on the human condition in the history of rock music. It is arguably the most important musical recording ever made to address its subject matter: universal humanist themes that include the finite compass of human experience, the passage of time, death, greed, conflict, insanity, and the irrational.
Around the country, the school year is coming to a close. For high school students, spring break is fast becoming a distant memory as students complete projects and write papers, cram for End of Course tests, Advanced Placement exams, finals.
Performing arts programs, too, are in the last stages of preparation for the final performances of the year: in many cases, a Spring Concert is the traditional event for youth choir, orchestra, and band programs. These culminating events showcase student achievement over the course of the year, and provide an opportunity for students and parents to come together and share what has been accomplished.
The Spring Concert can also be an emotional event, as students who have completed their time in the program prepare to move on to the next stage of their lives, and say goodbye to their friends and their teachers. In many cases, the relationships students make in their arts programs are the closest and most impactful relationships they make in high school, and these provide cherished memories that last a lifetime.
Like many music teachers, I used a simple ceremony at each Spring Concert to mark this passage to the next phase for my students: The Cards. (more…)
Last month I traveled to Detroit, Michigan for the 6th annual Sphinx conference – SphinxConnect – and 21st annual Sphinx Competition. SphinxConnect was held this year at the downtown Detroit Marriot at the Renaissance Center. This was the third year in a row I have attended the conference and competition, and my second as a speaker.
This weekend saw the third time my birthday came and went since I started writing Off The Podium, and each time I thought about writing this little article. It seems like such an obvious thing to do – a “no-brainer” – like other things I have written about here, and yet…it is these obvious, little, yet essential efforts teachers sometimes sacrifice with all the demands on our time in the classroom.
Remember their birthdays.
When I was 9 or 10 years old, my piano teacher assigned me a simplified arrangement of Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer. At that point in my piano study, I had not yet attempted to play anything that required such independence between my hands – this arrangement retained the typical ragtime style of a syncopated melody in the right hand set against the left hand alternating bass notes on the beat and chords on the division of the beat.
This piece was a struggle for me to learn, but it was the right piece at the right time. Despite the difficulty I had in coordinating my hands to play the two distinct rhythmic patterns against each other, I was captivated by The Entertainer and very motivated to learn it. My parents had taken me to see The Sting and had given me the film’s soundtrack recording on LP featuring Marvin Hamlisch’s marvelous arrangements of Scott Joplin’s original rags. So putting The Entertainer in my hands at that stage of my piano curriculum was timely on the part of my piano teacher and incredibly fortuitous for me. Thank you, Mrs. Stoike.
I clearly remember the day it happened.
I think something about this idea as an axiom for work and life was always there for me. When I was a child my father admonished me many times to do my best. I remember him saying to me on numerous occasions “Be the best at whatever it is you choose to do. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you are the best at it. If you decide to be a garbage man, then be the best garbage man!” It made a strong impression on me as a young child, and I am sure had numerous (foreseen and unforeseen) consequences for the course of my life.
At some point early in my teaching career someone told me:
They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
…or something like that. I don’t remember who said it or when, honestly. Someone might have quoted it at a faculty meeting, or as part of a motivational speech at a workshop or professional development training, or I might have read it in a book or article. Various paraphrases of this proverb exist, purportedly from a number of people including the great Maya Angelou, but the wisdom of the internet currently attributes the first known utterance of this quote to a Mormon official named Carl W. Buehner.
It doesn’t matter who said it. This idea arrived on the scene for me early in my career, and made me begin to seriously consider: what would ultimately be the impact I made on my students? What would the experience they had in my classes, in my program, have on the rest of their lives? What would they remember?
“I’m so bored. What is wrong with me? This is what I’ve always wanted. I won Nationals. I’m in charge of this committee. But it feels so meaningless. Do all teachers feel this at some point?”
~ (character) Will Schuester
Glee, Season 4, Episode 3: Makeover
Although advocates for music education – especially music education in public school settings – often speak to ideals about “music education for all children”, or the importance of the inclusion of music education in a well-rounded education, the reality of the state of music education in the United States is that music education is not for everyone.
Alongside the inequality of access and inclusion already being discussed by many throughout the country, the role that competition plays in the activities of music education presented to our children has become so pervasive that by their very nature, these activities exclude and discourage many children, who as a result are not receiving a music education, or are receiving an inadequate and impoverished music education.
Confirming what math, english, and other academic teachers have known for generations, recent research indicates a strong correlation between student academic achievement and musical performance. Although a distinct causal relationship between these activities still remains elusive for researchers to pin down, a growing body of evidence asserts that students who excel in their academic classes – students who actually study, do their homework, read books, and pursue good grades in subjects like the sciences and humanities – are also better musicians, with more highly developed rhythmic skills, more accurate intonation, and stronger abilities to concentrate and memorize.
This is good news for music educators across the country, who are always looking for new ways to improve student performance and motivation in band, orchestra, choir, and other ensembles. School districts all over the United States are taking action steps based on these enlightening new scientific findings, expecting to see dramatic increases in the quality of their music programs as increasing numbers of students opt to take more rigorous honors and Advanced Placement® (AP®) classes in hopes of improving their chances of winning a seat in a more advanced wind ensemble, being selected for the honors choir, or simply moving up a chair in orchestra.
Earlier this month – February 9-12, 2017 – our entire Nashville Symphony Education & Community Engagement Department attended the Sphinx Organization‘s 20th annual Competition and 5th annual conference in Detroit, retitled SphinxConnect this year.
We spent an eventful four days attending concerts, interviews, panel discussions, and presentations, several networking (and celebratory) receptions, and other meetings. Some 500 people were there from all over the country (and some from other countries as well), many of whom only see each other a few times per year. The entire conference was imbued with a heady excitement.