Monday, July 30, 2012

What Music Has Taught Me

Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just, and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.  -Plato

Trail behind HSU.  Taken 7/26/12
Every summer for the last fifteen years I've attended the Brass Chamber Music Workshop at Humboldt State University.  With 80 participants and 5 days of different ensembles, there are many opportunities to create music with incredibly talented musicians.  I don't get to play my tuba as often as I'd like, so the Workshop has become an important part of my summer where I am able to play all day, recharge my musical spirit, and reconnect with the incredible friends I've made over the years. It is an exciting, inspiring, and fulfilling week.

I've always felt that being a musician has benefitted my practice as an educator. As I sat through rehearsals last week, worked with coaches, and talked with friends, I began to see the parallels first hand.  Here are just a few reflections on what being a musician and tuba player has taught me about teaching:

Good communication - verbal and nonverbal - is essential within a group.  Communication builds relationships and trust among individuals. Sometimes eye contact or a slight movement may be all that's necessary to convey a message.  Other times, we may need to voice our needs and opinions to our colleagues.  Being able to read the group dynamic and act accordingly can set the tone of the rehearsal or classroom community.

Practice (with good technique) every day.  Do it to maintain. Do it to improve.  Do it to transform.

If you're wrong, own it, and then fix it.  Mistakes mean you are learning.  That doesn't mean you should keep making the same mistake over and over.  Own it, fix it, and then move on.  Similarly, if someone else is wrong, give them time own it and fix it before you say anything.  It is important to respect that we all learn differently and at our own pace.   

Give specific feedback.  Positive or negative, feedback helps us to evaluate ourselves and our performances.  Telling someone you'd like them to do something differently or that they did a good job is one thing.  Specifically telling them what or why takes the conversation to another level.  Either way, appreciate it, but don't wallow in it.    

Blend. Be loud enough so your voice can be heard, but not enough to stand out.  Harmonizing with the group creates a more pleasant sound than constant dissonance.  If you've got an interesting part, play it out, but always in good taste.

Everyone's part is important.  Sometimes you get the melody, and sometimes you get the "oom-pahs."  Regardless of the part, music is created when everyone works together.  So, support your team by playing your part well, trust that your colleagues are doing the same, and work towards the greater good.

Look ahead. Take time to think things through before they happen.  Having a general idea of what's ahead helps a lot when it actually happens.  When in doubt, take the repeat and do better the second time around.

Feel the beat and move forward.  Music and education are both dynamic - they need to go somewhere.  It's easy to get caught up in what happened a few measures (or days) ago, but it's what's in the moment and what's ahead that matters most.  It's up to the players to feel the pulse and keep the line moving forward.

Keep an open mind when working with new people or playing new pieces.  You never know what may happen, or what opportunities may arise as a result.

It's not always about the performance.  Take time to enjoy the process.  Performances are just one moment in the journey and they may not always go as we imagined or hoped.  Being able to appreciate growth as a player (or learner) and see how far you've come is a more valuable experience than a perfect performance, anyway.

I feel very fortunate to call myself a musician and an educator.  Both have taught me discipline and responsibility, yet have allowed me to creatively express myself and build meaningful relationships with people.  Music helps fulfill my spirit, where education allows me to have a greater purpose in this world. Ultimately, both fields have challenged me in ways I've never thought imaginable and I'm a much better person for having them in my life.

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