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Art of Teaching Music / Edition 1 available in Paperback
- Pub. Date:
- Indiana University Press
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.
Read an Excerpt
The Art of Teaching Music
By Estelle R. Jorgensen
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2008 Estelle R. Jorgensen
All rights reserved.
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." 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.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. For example, only a small proportion of the membership of MENC—The National Association for Music Education—subscribes to research publications in the field.
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. 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. 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.
Excerpted from The Art of Teaching Music by Estelle R. Jorgensen. Copyright © 2008 Estelle R. Jorgensen. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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What People are Saying About This
This book will turn heads and quite likely deepen the thoughts of working musicians who teach. I do not doubt that it will, as Jorgensen declares, open wide the conversation on teaching that is waiting to happen.