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The Art of Teaching Music

The Art of Teaching Music

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The Art of Teaching Music

2.5/5 (17 valutazioni)
594 pagine
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Mar 19, 2008


The Art of Teaching Music takes up important aspects of the art of music teaching ranging from organization to serving as conductor to dealing with the disconnect between the ideal of university teaching and the reality in the classroom. Writing for both established teachers and instructors on the rise, Estelle R. Jorgensen opens a conversation about the life and work of the music teacher. The author regards music teaching as interrelated with the rest of lived life, and her themes encompass pedagogical skills as well as matters of character, disposition, value, personality, and musicality. She reflects on musicianship and practical aspects of teaching while drawing on a broad base of theory, research, and personal experience. Although grounded in the practical realities of music teaching, Jorgensen urges music teachers to think and act artfully, imaginatively, hopefully, and courageously toward creating a better world.

Mar 19, 2008

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  • If I never or rarely put up a piece for competitive review, I cannot know how easy or difficult it is for a young scholar or musician to become established and what it feels like when others sit in judgment of one’s work.

  • We must admit that we do not know this subject sufficiently well yet, and until we do and are competent in what we seek to teach, we should not be teaching it. To do otherwise is to perpetuate a fraud.

  • Wisdom is knowing what to do with the information, how to process, evaluate, and integrate what is grasped as valuable within one’s lived experience. It is this reflective aspect that enables our inner teachers to teach us.

  • Accomplishing this end requires balancing the claims of teaching, service, and creative activity and research. Time spent on one thing cannot be spent on another and the way we spend our time illustrates our priorities.

  • Regarding students as precious per- sons, according them love, respect, and dignity, and ensuring them a musical education with integrity need to be outgrowths of as well as contributing factors to such a person-centered music education.

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The Art of Teaching Music - Estelle R. Jorgensen

The Art of Teaching Music

The Art of

Teaching Music

Estelle R. Jorgensen

Indiana University Press

Bloomington & Indianapolis

This book is a publication of

Indiana University Press

601 North Morton Street

Bloomington, IN 47404-3797 USA

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© 2008 by Estelle R. Jorgensen

All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses’ Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition.

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.

Manufactured in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Jorgensen, Estelle Ruth.

The art of teaching music / Estelle R. Jorgensen.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-253-35078-7 (cloth : alk. paper)—ISBN 978-0-253-21963-3

(pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Music—Instruction and study. I. Title.

MT1.J667 2008



1   2   3   4   5   13   12   11   10   09   08

For all my teachers

formal and informal

intentional and accidental

known and unknown

past and present



1. Teacher

2. Value

3. Disposition

4. Judgment

5. Leader

6. Musician

7. Listener

8. Performer

9. Composer

10. Organization

11. Design

12. Instruction

13. Imagination

14. Reality





I have often remarked to my students on the similarity of teaching and music. In thinking of teaching as an art and craft, I see teaching as a metaphor for music and music as a metaphor for teaching. This double-metaphor may not seem, at least superficially, to get us very far. A critic might suggest that if music is regarded as a metaphor for teaching and teaching as a metaphor for music, each is defined in terms of the other and this smacks of tautological or circular thinking. Still, this critic has made a crucial error and is mistaken. The principal purpose of metaphors is not to define but to illumine. Thinking about teaching as an art and craft such as music juxtaposes music and teaching so that we may think musically about teaching; thinking about music as teaching juxtaposes teaching and music so that we think pedagogically about music.¹ Both juxtapositions set us thinking about music and teaching in potentially different ways. And this is one of the purposes of metaphor.

My objective in this book is not to define music education, for I have tackled this task in an earlier book, In Search of Music Education.² Nor is it to examine the changes that are needed in music education, because I have begun to do this in Transforming Music Education.³ Rather, I seek to share principles that I see as important in the life and work of a music teacher—principles that emerge out of my reading and reflection on my own lived experience. I focus on the music teacher since those of us who teach music are in a crucial position to help our students develop as people, musicians, and lovers of music and culture. This emphasis should not be read to diminish the importance of the student in the instructional process. However, as becomes clear in these chapters, as we take stock of our own lives and work, we are paradoxically better able to help our students. And so I begin with our practical work as teachers.

The teachers I have in mind include those who work in schools, colleges, universities, conservatories, community music schools, and private studios. I also think of choral and instrumental conductors, directors of opera houses, impresarios and managers of musical concerts of all sorts, programmers of audiovisual and mass-mediated musics, music critics, and others who shape the public’s musical taste in a host of ways. They may teach in religious schools, publicly supported schools under the auspices of state governments, commercial enterprises, schools operated by music professionals, family-run schools, or privately operated music studios. In a host of different situations, I think of music teachers as those whose work is intended to pass on musical wisdom from one generation to the next. Although the specific interests of music teachers differ depending on the particular aspects, genres, or musics taught or levels of instruction ranging from elementary through professional or advanced, my sense is that some common threads unite the work of teaching music. And it is these commonalities that I focus on in this book.

When I think of music teachers, I also include those who are preparing to be teachers and have yet to experience the work of teaching first hand. Becoming a teacher is a matter of beginning to think as if one is already a teacher. This does not happen overnight. We are wise to begin to think of ourselves as teachers while we are yet students. Why should this be? Since music teacher preparation programs are there to enable us to make the transition from student to teacher, if we begin thinking of ourselves as teachers while we are still students, and we seek every opportunity to gather experience by assisting experienced teachers and begin to look at the learning process from a teacher’s perspective, our musical and educational learning takes on a greater urgency. To aspiring teachers I say: find outstanding music teachers and apprentice yourselves to them; follow them around and keep eyes and ears wide open. Before long, you will receive jobs to do. For the aspiring school music teacher in the West, this may include handing out music, arranging chairs and desks, repairing and tuning instruments, filing music, conducting sectional rehearsals, and giving additional lessons in the teacher’s absence, among a host of other things that teachers may appreciate having help in doing. For the studio teacher, it may mean beginning to assist the teacher in coaching students who are preparing for recitals or need additional help. For the aspiring choral or orchestral conductor, it may mean conducting sectional rehearsals and beginning to assume the task of conducting rehearsals and public performances. There is nothing like willing learners to motivate teachers to share what we know. Looking at the classes we take as students through a teacher’s eye is also illumining. We may ask: Why is my teacher doing this? If this were my own class, ensemble, or student, would I do this? If so, why? If not, why not? What would be a better approach? How could I make this or that work if I were the teacher? How can I help my fellow students who are struggling with this technique or concept? Thinking this way clarifies the opportunities that exist for those who have yet to complete a teacher education or pedagogy program to become teachers while still students. And since there are many things to master as we become musicians and teachers, becoming a music teacher will take some time. So we may as well start now if we have not already begun to take the leap of music teaching.

Those of us who are further along the way also need to reflect on what we do as musician-teachers. Our busy working lives may leave us little time for the luxury of reflection. This book is an invitation to think through important aspects of what we do and should do. It is not intended to constitute a technical manual about music teaching. I am after something deeper than simply amassing skills and techniques since teaching and musicality are more than the sum of their parts. Rather, the things about which I write have been growing with me for the better part of a working lifetime. I want to excavate beneath superficial and demonstrable skills to think about the ideas and principles of music teaching, the things that drive and shape our practice. My observations are shaped as much by the practitioner in me as by the theorist and constitute something of the wisdom that I have been seeking across the years. By wisdom, I mean a unified and sound basis for action that is worth keeping and treasuring. As we travel through life we may amass wisdom. Sharing the practical wisdom we have gained is a central responsibility of music teaching. Still, one person’s insights, interests, and convictions may not necessarily be another’s. And my purpose is to share what I have learned in the hope of opening a conversation with teachers about what we have learned to treasure individually and collectively.

The aspects of music teaching on which I focus in the following chapters are necessarily selective. Those aspects I include seem, now, to be of the utmost importance. My criterion for selecting them has been the question "What is really important in music teaching?" There are many other aspects about which I might have written. Still, within the scope of this book, these fourteen chapters relate to a trio of questions: chapters 1–5, Who ought the teacher to be?; chapters 69, What is the nature of musicality at the heart of music teaching?; and chapters 10–14, How should music instruction be conducted? Notice that I begin with the teacher, with her or his self, values, dispositions, judgment, and leadership. I start with the teacher’s selfhood because teaching is more than personality. It is about a lifestyle, vocation, and way of being. I move, next, to the musician’s work and responsibilities, the musician as listener, performer, and composer. Next follow considerations of music teaching, especially matters of organization, design, instruction, teaching imaginatively and for the development of imagination, and practical realities in the day-to-day lives of music teachers. I conclude with an afterword in which I bring together some general conclusions and possibilities for music teaching. Notice that I have not organized this book into three discrete parts because it becomes clear in these chapters that each aspect melds into others. Practically speaking, it is difficult to say where matters having to do with each of these questions relating to the music teacher, musicality, and music teaching begin and end. Consequently, I prefer to see them as intertwined even though, for expository purposes, I move from one focus to another throughout these chapters.

As becomes clear in the following pages, I see music teaching as imaginative, artful, and crafty.⁴ In thinking about this underlying theme of the artfulness of music teaching, much hangs on what we think about art. Without getting into a lengthy debate on its nature, I prefer to take a simple and direct approach that builds on Nelson Goodman’s criteria for how we may recognize art.⁵ Among its characteristic features or symptoms are a rich and ambiguous array of possible meanings; a carefully articulated structure that is replete—that is, it needs nothing else and all that is needed is present; and an imaginative apprehension—that is, since it is so ambiguous, multi-faceted, and dense, imagination is needed to uncover it. The richness and density of possibilities suggest, also, that it is particularistic; that is, it is made with respect to specific circumstances rather than universal laws. Having its own language, it needs to be read within the context of that language or symbolic system. Nor can it be separated from the idea it connotes or the person who generates it; that is, it is embodied in and expressed by the people and events of which it is a part. So thinking about music as art allows us to apply these characteristics to music teaching and, as Vernon Howard has done, to teaching more generally.⁶ My point, here, is to show how these artistic features apply specifically to musical instruction and, although less emphasized in these chapters, how notions of teaching may also bear on the ways in which we can envisage music pedagogically.

In choosing to construct this book as an informal group of talks that can be read in any order, I follow in the steps of others such as William James, whose practical little book Talks to Teachers is a landmark in educational literature. Its unpretentious character and the straightforward simplicity of its psychological and practical principles made it helpful to generations of teachers.⁷ Like James, I want to dignify the practical matters that are central to a teacher’s work. Much wisdom comes to us from the past and informally, and our work as teachers is as much to recover what might otherwise have been lost as it is to discover new knowledge. I am also attracted to the notion of a conversation with teachers and repelled by talks at them. With this in mind, I offer these principles in the hope of spurring dialogue about what I have written and prompting others to do their own thinking and acting, and to discover their own principles of music teaching.

A word on my notes, which were written after the text of these talks. I sense an obligation to enable others to reconstruct and follow sources that shape or relate to my thinking. I could not have written these talks without referring to other related writing and, from time to time, relevant empirical research. Since I range philosophically over a wide area of issues where I do not claim empirical expertise, I have been helped by colleagues who have pointed me to relevant research on particular points. I am especially indebted to those who have assisted me in this way and I state my indebtedness to them at the relevant points throughout this book. I also appreciate the comments of Deanne Bogdan, Patricia Shehan Campbell, and Iris Yob, who read the manuscript in its entirety; the assistance of Iris Yob in preparing the Index; and the guidance of Carrie Jadud, Jane Behnken, and June Silay of Indiana University Press. Any errors or omissions, however, are mine alone. Still, the help I have received makes me deeply conscious of the importance of a community of music educators with whom to share ideas and from whom to receive constructive advice and criticism. These notes are intended to provide a more detailed examination of particular points and can be read either in conjunction with the text or separately. An interested reader may wish to pursue some or all of the notes that accompany each talk. And while reflection of the sort evident in my talks is crucial, my hope is that these notes also make transparent the importance of taking into account a growing research literature on aspects of teaching music.

I leave each teacher and teacher-to-be with the practical challenges of how the principles outlined in these chapters might impact the particular situations in which we work or hope to work. Since my view of music teaching as artful and crafty focuses on the particular, my sense is that we cannot expect to find the one right way to teach music that fits everyone, and this book is not intended to be prescriptive. Rather, we would expect to develop a wide variety of music teaching practices as we seek to meet the needs and interests of our students according to our best lights. Through our individual and collective reflections about music teaching, we can find our own ways to teach music. And I hope that discovering and heeding our individual voices as music teachers can help to transform our teaching, our students, and those with whom we work.

The Art of Teaching Music



The role of teacher is one of many facets of our lives or one of several functions that we fulfill as human beings. It is important to discover what it is to be a teacher and what place this persona will play in the totality of our lives. How we conceive of this function and its location in lived life determines how we go about being teachers. Will it consume us utterly, will it have a central but circumscribed role, or will it be an activity that is marginal to our purpose as creative musicians or ancillary to other things? Practically speaking, what a teacher is and the place of teaching in our lives are interconnected matters. There is no one answer to these questions and we need to discover answers for ourselves. What follows are aspects that I have discovered to be important in my role as a teacher, namely, being true to oneself, learning to listen to one’s inner teacher, accepting one’s limitations, teaching to one’s strengths, keeping an open mind, and developing one’s art-craft.

As a youthful teacher, I was inclined to devalue teaching. It came easily to me. The study of education was very accessible compared with my other subjects of study and I did not respect what came easily. It took me many years to come to see how invaluable is its work, how imperative is its mission to the wider life of music and culture, and how widespread an activity it is in our daily lives. I first learned to teach from my father, who was a teacher before me. As early as I can remember, I watched him teach. He was an expositor—a teacher gifted with the ability to break difficult things down into simple elements and present them in a clear and logical manner. I saw him preparing to teach, taking his students seriously, preparing outlines for their study, and teaching them for the long haul rather than for their immediate gratification. I suppose this extended apprenticeship, watching and listening over many years, led me to expect that teaching was the most natural and the easiest thing to do. I confess that I did not learn very much that was new during my teachers college experience. Much of what I learned confirmed lessons learned intuitively and very much earlier as a young girl. I also learned a repertoire of sophisticated vocabulary to describe what were essentially very simple concepts. And I learned sets of rules for how I should conduct myself in the classroom.

When I became a teacher myself, I quickly discovered that my father’s style and the rules I had been taught at teachers college did not fit me. I had learned rules set up by men and I had watched a male teacher at work for many years. Here I was as a woman trying to fit myself into a model prescribed by men. I was a square peg in a round hole. Madeline Grumet describes my experience when she writes about school being our father’s house.¹ For me, it was just that. It was a place where I aped what I saw men do even though it felt all wrong for me. Having never seen, heard, or read the work of outstanding teachers who broke these molds, I had no idea that there could be other ways of being a teacher and doing the work of teaching. And it seemed that to be myself as a teacher I would have to transgress the rules I had been taught to follow.²

Being True to Oneself

The answers to the questions What place will teaching have in my life? and What will be my approach to teaching? are first found in discovering who we are. We cannot teach like another because we are not that other, so we need to discover who we are before we can be great teachers. What do we love to do? If I love to do something, it is for me a form of play. It grips my attention, and the time seems to pass rapidly because I am intently focused on what I am doing. It is as intellectually, emotionally, and physically exhausting as it is restorative and exhilarating. There is a sense of ease, artlessness, and self-forgetfulness that transforms ordinary and prosaic activities into moments of pure joy.³ The closer I come to doing the things I love to do and being the person I really am, the more often I experience this sense of playing.

How do we find out who we really are? When we are surrounded by a sort of banking education or teaching by impression in which teachers believe that it is their role to fill their students with important information, as empty vessels might be filled with water or bank accounts might be filled with money, it is very hard to discover who we are.⁴ If our teachers are constantly telling us to play it this way or sing it that way, do this but not that, follow this or that method, and never asking us why we do what we do, why we approach this piece of music this way, or in what other ways we might play or sing this piece or teach this lesson, we do not have much opportunity to discover who we are and how we should teach. We learn what the rules are, even if they do not feel easy, comfortable, or artless. We learn to do things the teacher’s way and keep silent when we disagree. And we become passive, timid, self-conscious, lacking confidence in our own abilities, and disciples of other masters.

Finding out who we really are takes a lifetime. This is not something that can be learned quickly. Even if we could find teachers interested in finding out who we are, we would not arrive at the end of our knowledge during our school years. Experience as a teacher and person living all the aspects of life teaches us important and sometimes surprising lessons about who we are and the passions that are the most rewarding and the closest to our hearts. To get on in life sometimes means doing things the way others want them done. Still, too many of us get drawn into the end of getting along or getting to the top, among other external rewards that may be emphasized by family, friends, and influential others. Too few of us stop to ask along the way, What is this doing to my soul? What does getting along or getting to the top really mean? What am I giving up in personal satisfaction in order to get along or to the top? If becoming a leader is my aptitude, and I am fortunate to become one, this may be being true to my self. However, if I am going through the motions to do this because of what I think others want me to do, that is quite another matter. If my heart is not in what I do and it is not for me a source of deep and abiding joy, then I am not being true to myself.

Although we cannot find the final answer to who we are all at once, we can set out to discover who we are and grow into the habit of asking continually, Is this really me? This perspective may seem very self-centered and hedonistic. How could such a question be at the root of music education? My answer is that until we set out to find out who we are, we cannot help our students begin to discover who they really are. I speak of a way of being. When we are true to ourselves, we are honest and transparent to our students. What we say accords with what we do. This transparency is inspiring to students because they are dealing with persons of integrity, not frauds or people who pretend to be what they are not, or actors who put on or take off a character or a role. The integrity or wholeness of the teacher’s example also stands in distinction to, even as an antidote to, the pervasive hypocrisy and materialism in public and private life. When we are truest to our deepest thoughts, beliefs, fears, joys, and selves, we are happy and contented. And our happiness and contentment as teachers spill over into joyful and buoyant relationships with our students.

Learning to Listen to One’s Inner Teacher

When we are deluged with information and pressed with work, it is sometimes difficult to take the time for, and realize the importance of, listening to the teacher within. A widespread preoccupation with scientific discovery in the world of education makes it tempting to gather information rather than listen, watch, and reflect on our beliefs, values, and actions as they impact colleagues, students, and others with whom we relate. We can become so busy gathering information—and it seems that there has never been so much of it—in doing our work and conducting our lives that we do not have time to reflect on what is really important. At all levels of music education it is possible to engage in unimportant busywork of limited value, and this is possible even in the academy—in the focus of research, for example. Given the importance of the work of music teaching, music teachers naturally want researchers to focus on matters of real importance that can make a genuine difference to the work of music education rather than on studies that seem unimportant or trivial. And it is important to consider whether the research conducted is mere busywork or genuinely engages issues of practical and theoretical significance to music education.

The utility of book learning has been questioned ever since books were invented. Plato thought that books would undermine the work of education and, in particular, the cultivation of the memory.⁵ He preferred the old oral tradition as a means of acquiring wisdom. Descartes was also impatient with the study of philosophy and with books in general as a source of learning.⁶ Instead, he wanted to go slowly and carefully, and test his ideas by the world of experience through travel and interaction with fellow learners. Today, there seems to be a widespread anti-intellectualism among educators and too many music teachers have read comparatively little of the literatures in music and education.⁷ For example, only a small proportion of the membership of MENC—The National Association for Music Education—subscribes to research publications in the field.⁸

To listen to the teacher within is to recognize the importance of opportunities to expand our knowledge. Reading is a sort of food. It is a basis for our thinking and action. The books and essays we read and the repertoire we study are part of the traditions from which we draw nourishment and sustenance. We need to take in ideas and hear others speak and write just as we need to study the important repertoire in our fields of musical practice. For this reason, attending conferences, classes, seminars, and lessons, reading books and articles, searching the Internet, and watching and listening to mass media are all important means of gathering information. We also acquire knowledge in the classroom, studio, rehearsal space, or concert hall as we participate in musical and educational activities. When we are at home, on vacation, attending cultural events, and going about all the activities of living, we may also acquire perspectives on music, culture, and life. Descartes was right in his observation that book learning is not the sum of education. Education is much more than this. Still, there is as much of worth in reading and reflection as there is in practical activity. In all these ways, we can learn and thereby nourish our inner teachers.

What is important, here, is that in all our getting information and knowledge, from whatever source, we create the time and space for reflection, for critically examining what we read and thinking through the validity of ideas and their relevance to our teaching situations. Acquiring information is quite a different thing from developing wisdom. Wisdom is knowing what to do with the information, how to process, evaluate, and integrate what is grasped as valuable within one’s lived experience. It is this reflective aspect that enables our inner teachers to teach us. In the silences and contemplative spaces, we can ask ourselves, Is this really important? What does this mean? How shall I go about this? among a host of other questions. It is important to learn to listen for the questions and answers that come in these silences. These are our own voices. They cannot be heard in the cacophony of information. It is only in stillness that we can hear them.

Sometimes, the silences in my classroom and the long pauses while we all reflect on the matters at hand seem more important than the times when there is sound, verbal, musical, or whatever. These are the moments when the inner teacher can speak, when possibilities are explored, ideas are framed, and moments of decision are arrived at, however tentatively. I used to be very afraid of these silences. Some of my new students might be uncomfortable with them at first, rushing to fill the airwaves with sound to drown them out. No one taught me what to do with them as a teacher. My first instinct was to fill up the space with my own sound. Then I began to realize that these silences were precious and my students also began to treasure them. These were transformative moments when the quick, facile answers did not do, when we all came to grips with something terribly important, and when insights were formulated and worked through as a prelude to the most significant conversations. I began to see that in these reflective moments, we were listening to our inner teachers. When the babble of sound stopped, the inner voice could speak and be heard.

Accepting One’s Limitations

It is a wonderfully freeing thing to realize that we cannot be all things to all people and that we have definite limitations in dealing with students. I discovered this principle when I began thinking about the many different types of teachers and students in the educational universe. When I have an opportunity to watch my colleagues interact with my own students, I see how successful they are in reaching those whom I may not impress in the same way. I see how the very fact of their being—their gender, physical appearance, age, ethnicity, personality, and musical expertise—makes a statement that I could never make. Likewise, there are students with whom I am much more successful than with others, notwithstanding my desire to reach them all. This principle has been understood by musician-teachers from antiquity, and it is not surprising that some of the most successful and transformative teaching is done when teachers and students come together by choice rather than force. My interaction with students is most profound where we share similar values, aspirations, hopes, even beliefs. This is not something that can be dictated. I have colleagues who are immensely popular and appeal to many students by virtue of such aspects as their personality and their subject matter. There are also those who are surrounded by a comparatively small group of devotees. All these teachers are different and limited in one way or another.

Probably the most important limitation we need to acknowledge is that of our expertise. Our authority and integrity as teachers arise from our knowledge of the subjects that we have made our special study. We need to acknowledge that this teaching expertise is limited. Even though we desire to expand the range of our expertise, there is not the time in life to do everything equally well. We can do harm to our students if we attempt to teach what we do not truly know, and we would do well as musician-teachers to first do no harm to our students.⁹ Ruining voices; developing poor instrumental posture; allowing faulty embouchures to go unchecked; permitting students to graduate from programs of general education ignorant of the world’s great musical traditions, students’ respective musical heritages, musical histories, theoretical structures, and contextual meanings, and unable to sing at sight or to imagine how musical notations sound—all these perpetuate or excuse ignorance where education is called for.¹⁰ Yet, regrettably, some music teachers are inexpert in their teaching fields. I began my own school music teaching as a piano/choral specialist assigned to a band program because it was believed that a music teacher should be able to teach everything, so I know firsthand this sense of not knowing what one should know as a music teacher. Nor am I alone. I have seen exemplary choral programs ruined when successful choral teachers were reassigned to instrumental programs or other schools only to be replaced by teachers without the necessary expertise. Occasionally, I hear of choral music teachers at high schools teaching a musical diet consisting entirely of popular songs learned by rote. I know of sensitive wind ensemble conductors trained to perform the concert wind ensemble literature but pushed into leading marching band programs where much instructional time is spent performing arrangements of a few popular songs with militaristic discipline in the name of spectacle and entertainment. When I think of these disjunctions and the harm that may be done to teachers and students over the long term, I realize that somewhere, somehow, we have to draw the line. We must admit that we do not know this subject sufficiently well yet, and until we do and are competent in what we seek to teach, we should not be teaching it. To do otherwise is to perpetuate a fraud.

Even if we have what our peers might regard as a basic level of competence as a music teacher, there is always more to learn. One way of acknowledging our limitations and building our expertise is to seek help. When I see music teachers doing this, I am filled with admiration for them. My own teaching experience has taught me that when we become learners along with our students and invite experts to our classrooms or studios to assist us in developing the skills we need, we gain the respect of our students. Like many choral majors, I left graduate school unable to achieve a choral blend of the sort that I wanted to achieve and knew could be accomplished. In my first years of teaching at a high school, I asked an experienced choral conductor to help me. He literally taught me in front of the students, who had never seen such a thing in their lives. In this transformative moment, I learned that calling upon experts can expand our musicality and bring our music teaching and performance to new and higher levels of excellence. I also learned that universities and colleges, among the places where teachers are prepared, also need to find ways to take advantage of the practical experience of expert music teachers in elementary and secondary schools and other settings. In places near universities and colleges, undergraduate and graduate students in music may also wish to have the opportunity to coach bands and choirs alongside a school music teacher or to teach individual lessons alongside the studio teacher. These students could be put to work as experts in the various instrumental families to lead sectionals, provide private lessons, and help out in the teaching of repertoire, history, theory, ear training, and a host of other activities. They are budding experts in classroom instruction, technology, jazz, and many other areas, with skills from which music teachers could benefit. Some might be enticed to volunteer their time, or awarded scholarship assistance to further their educational studies. Music teachers who are retired from active teaching or who teach privately might also be co-opted into providing advanced instruction for students in school ensembles or coaching teachers in how to more effectively organize their music programs. Opportunities for distance learning abound and collaborative arrangements with universities and colleges could be forged to spread around the expertise and help music teachers expand our musical horizons. And acknowledging our limitations by forging these sorts of links can only benefit our teaching.

Teaching to One’s Strengths

Finding out who we are and what feels comfortable in our own teaching styles is an important part of teaching to our strengths. My own responsibility as a teacher of future teachers is to help my students discover their own styles of teaching. I do not want to make clones of myself—people who act and sound just like me. So it is important to help my students identify their strengths. Some are enormously successful at the sorts of teaching I do, namely, employing questions, leading discussions, and probing ideas. They seem to do this naturally. They listen well and are receptive to others’ views, inclusive of minority opinions, and very gentle in their approaches to their students. Others are more forceful, didactic, funny, charismatic, and spend rather less time inquiring of others. In a variety of activities, I watch for signs of an incipient and emergent style and try to help students see their strengths, label them, embrace them, and work to acquire the various skills that are going to be necessary in doing their particular kinds of teaching. Our class comes to see that we are all very different and we all have very special strengths on which to build. When we validate these strengths, we validate our personhood and gain the courage to teach with honesty and integrity.

Teaching to our strengths suggests that we need to carefully consider what and where we should teach. Once we know which students we are most suited to teaching effectively, our next step is to prepare ourselves to be able to work in these settings. Regrettably, some of our best teaching talent in music is located in universities and colleges. This is upside-down thinking and doing. Zoltán Kodály and Émile Jaques-Dalcroze were right that our best music teachers also need to be found in the kindergarten providing a solid foundation for the musical education yet to come.¹¹ Yet music teachers are often rewarded by moving up to the high school, college, or university, or out of teaching into administration. The resulting pyramid teeters on a narrow base of musical expertise at the kindergarten rather than being grounded on a solid and wide base in the pre-school and primary grades. Small wonder that so many in the public-at-large are ignorant of musical culture beyond the immediate popular repertoire heard in everyday life. Nor should it be surprising that if cultural sophistication plummets, people no longer know how to deal intelligently and musically with the great and little musical traditions of the world, and cultural life fractures as musical enclaves retreat into their narrow confines.

Some of my students have strengths in areas that have not historically been included within music education. They are church musicians, popular musicians, private teachers, technological wizards, software developers, music business executives, arts administrators, performers, musicologists, theorists, and composers. Their approaches and styles would probably not fly in a public school as music education is presently conducted in the United States, but they do the important work of music education in their various spheres. I think of a musician who now administers a children’s museum in a large city, a music educational software designer in a multimedia corporation, a music director of a large parochial school, a member of an orchestra who visits schools to talk with and play for the children, a freelance musician and chamber music player who teaches a large class of private students, a church official who dictates musical policy for an international convocation and chairs a denominational hymn book committee. All of these people need to be directly involved in forging music educational policies. Music teachers need to co-opt these strengths and work with those who historically, at least since the mid-nineteenth century, have been marginalized in the profession. Like Elam Ives Jr., who broke with Lowell Mason and founded his own community singing school, music teachers have played to their strengths and inner convictions even though they have been sidelined from the mainstream of music education.¹² For example, a private teacher in a community music school or studio may not be successful leading a large wind ensemble, orchestra, or choir. Still, the work that he or she can do in individual contacts with students is every bit as important to the work of music education as that conducted by traditional ensemble directors or school music teachers. And we forget this to our peril as a profession.

Keeping an Open Mind

It is always a pity to encounter young people who are old in their minds well before their time. Without a mind open to new possibilities, unconstrained by dictums and ideology, and eager to learn, fossilization sets in. One becomes rigid in one’s thinking, unwilling to entertain alternatives, and altogether narrow-minded. I am glad that I work with young people because I frequently find an idealism, eagerness, and openness to different perspectives that is refreshing in a world so often plagued by cynicism, ennui, and despair. When I see the lights go on in my students’ eyes, when I am struck by a different perspective that another brings, and when my ideas are challenged and better ones are offered, I bless the opportunity and honor that I have to be a teacher of music and education. Sometimes, already in youth, the mind has become prematurely closed. I am saddened when I see possibilities bypassed, challenges unmet and overlooked, and views set in stone at an early age. There is nothing much that I can do when confronted by such a reality except to lament the educational forces that led to this intellectual rigidity and closed-mindedness. Despite my best efforts, I must sometimes unwillingly accept defeat. Without an open mind and willingness to learn on the student’s part, I cannot teach that person; there is something that the student must do as a learner. When he or she is unwilling to move beyond preconceptions and past beliefs, attitudes, values, and practices, we are at an impasse. And I am thankful that most of my students have minds that are open.

How shall we keep an open mind? The only way I know to do this is to continue to test my assumptions and convictions. One of the regrettable effects of a recent upswing in religious fundamentalism in the United States has been the willingness of adherents of various faith traditions to allow others to do their thinking for them and to rest in the dogmas and dictums of others. The witness of history is that wherever dogma and closed-mindedness thrive, turmoil and conflict are not far behind. Dogmatism, or the refusal to test one’s assumptions and convictions or to accept contrary evidence, is to be deplored, and the work of education is soundly against this sort of narrow-minded thinking.¹³ John Dewey would go so far as to call such narrow-mindedness mis-educative, a form of indoctrination that stunts and thwarts personal growth.¹⁴ Rather, our work as musicians and educators ought to be liberal in the grandest sense of the word. It should tend to inclusiveness, breadth of vision, and willingness to challenge our dearest beliefs, should hope for a rich musical and cultural life on the part of all the world’s inhabitants, and should bring together diverse peoples rather than divide and destroy them and the cultures of which they are a part.

Continuing to be a student, a fellow traveler with our students in a community of learners, can help us to keep an open mind. It is difficult in today’s world to hold convictions, and being open-minded does not stand against having convictions. However, we need to be willing to test those convictions and we can best test them when we are in the company of fellow students who may also be our teachers and colleagues and who may see things differently than we do. As music teachers, it is important to learn the art of disagreeing with ideas rather than with the people who promulgate them. Just because I disagree with a part of what another says does not mean that everything the other says is unreliable, untrustworthy, or lacking in any merit. My conversations with philosophers over the years have taught me how complex and nuanced ideas are. It is better to be sympathetic and generous in dealing with another’s ideas than to disparage that person unfairly, and I have learned that it is difficult to express complex ideas. Iris Yob is right when she says, What we write is wrong.¹⁵ We never say exactly what we mean when we speak or write, and what we say is inevitably flawed. We have the responsibility to seek the truth for ourselves but that undertaking needs to be pursued in a spirit of humility and openness to the possibility that we may be wrong. Such a fallibilist stance is the only way I see to retain an open mind. If I ever think that I only am right and that I am right in every respect, I become closed-minded, doctrinaire, and ideological. And this attitude needs to be avoided and deplored by those who seek to keep an open mind.

Developing One’s Art-Craft

As with every art, music teaching incorporates techniques and skills that may be called arty-craft and crafty-art.¹⁶ I like this view of what we do as music teachers because it is necessary to accumulate tool-kits of techniques that we can employ—knowledge of instructional planning and delivery, techniques of rehearsal and lesson management, conducting, exposition, questioning, assessment, and the like. Beginning teachers sometimes do not see the place of these crafty elements until they have been in teaching situations themselves. They cannot learn to teach until they actually teach. For this reason, my approach to teacher education is to ensure that teachers-in-training are in classrooms, studios, or wherever they will teach as soon and as much as possible. Simulation exercises may be helpful in developing their confidence as teachers, but the actual process of doing the teaching, even of a small segment of a class or lesson, is invaluable to neophyte teachers. Such experiences make relevant the tool-kits of techniques, management strategies, and the like that are so essential to the work of music instruction.

Craft and art are practical, done rather than simply thought about. Knowing how to do something and actually doing it are quite different things but both are essential in the making and taking of music. Although Charles Leonard and Robert House as well as Bennett Reimer propose musical and artistic reasons as rationales for musical study,¹⁷ David Elliott and Christopher Small seek to refocus the work of music education on the doing of music.¹⁸ Notwithstanding their different emphases, these writers agree that the receptive and active elements of musical

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