26 July 2013

A Teaching Philosophy

The core of my educational philosophy is an emphasis on achieving “functional” musicianship, defined as the possession of skills and experiences which directly serve students’ inclinations and aspirations as creative music-makers. Ultimately, music is not an object but an action, something that people do. It is hence through the ability to “do” that the facile music-maker is uniquely empowered to create, learn, and collaborate.

The pursuit of functional musicianship is necessarily:

(1) integrative of many different modes of music-making. A true balance of emphasis is sought between aural and written skills, pre-composition and improvisation, expression and experimentation, collectivism and individualism, and between cross-disciplinary and uni-disciplinary projects. The flexibility to operate fruitfully at any point along these respective continua presents a compelling model of citizenship and a powerful blueprint for a fulfilling musical life.

(2) style-neutral and pan-stylistic. The musical skills with the broadest stylistic applications are emphasized first. As students are introduced to a range of musical styles and ideas, active participation brings them into immediate touch with essential affinities and disjunctions among musical cultures.

(3) dignified. The instructor treats children as whole people, addressing them without affectation or humor unless it is appropriate. His willingness to be vulnerable and “on a level” with students ensures that they are comfortable constructively challenging his viewpoints. He comports himself in accordance with the values of “core” academic instruction, modeling respect for music and the other arts as indispensable aspects of human existence and worthy, dignified academic pursuits.

(4) rigorous. To emphasize functional musicianship is to recognize that the extrinsic benefits of a musical education are reaped in direct proportion to student achievement in core music-making activities (i.e. performing, composing and recording). In other words, meaningful context in the form of self-directed musical endeavors is the necessary prerequisite for the making of cross-disciplinary connections. When a concept becomes self-evident through an emotional investment in music-making, it is learned forever. A rigorous grounding in foundational musical skills facilitates such connections by enabling the most direct interface with a diversity of musical ideas.

The aversion in cross-disciplinary, arts-centered learning environments to conservatory-style, pre-professional musical training is warranted, and the pressure, competitiveness, and rote learning styles for which the conservatory is infamous have no place in a humane, functional education. Ambivalence towards nitty-gritty music-making is, however, an equally sure recipe for underachievement. A deficit of tactile and emotional engagement with sound in space and time virtually ensures minimal retention of cross-disciplinary connections and cripples students’ ability to engage in social music-making going forward. Insofar as those two concerns are of primary importance, a healthy degree of rigor in foundational skills and concepts is not merely desirable but in fact indispensable. The task of precise calibration must be undertaken anew for each group of students and frequently reevaluated thereafter as group and individual identities continually emerge and evolve.

(5) grounded in taking the long view. The best musical education is the one which keeps on giving. It breaks my heart to work with middle-aged and older adults for whom functional musicianship has remained elusive for years or decades, frustrating their deeply-held desires to “just play” with friends and pick-up groups. By imparting the foundational skills of social music-making at an early age, we not only empower children to live more fulfilling lives, but also condition them to aim high in any and every area of endeavor.

4 comments:

Nick Z said...

Looks like someone has started applying for jobs. I like it. I will probably directly plagiarize most of this for my own philosophy of teaching. Don't worry though... I'll buy you a beer for your trouble.

Stefan Kac said...

Actually, Nick, I was just checking to see if you were still reading.

Nick Z said...

You know I am ALWAYS watching...

Nick Z said...

I'm always watching... listening... scheming... plotting...