Life through the Lens of Music

By NAfME Member Stephanie San Roman

In my very first undergraduate class we were asked to write our philosophy of music education. I have to admit, I had a hard time with it. I simply didn’t have the words to express something that was so deeply rooted in the very fiber of my being. Every year since then, I come back to those important philosophical questions. Why do I teach music? Why is it important? What’s the point?

Most days, we as music educators are swamped with everything but the philosophical: emails need to be written; instruments need to be repaired; equipment needs to be ordered; uniforms need to be distributed; concert programs need to be created; fires need to be put out. The list goes on and on, and amidst the crazy swirl of activity that fills our daily lives, it’s easy to forget why we got into this business in the first place. But there are other times—maybe it’s at the first rehearsal of the year, right after a concert, or even just seeing a lightbulb go off for a student—where we feel completely connected to our purpose and the reason behind what we do seems so clear.

Overcoming Challenges

Performing music requires us to face challenges and overcome them. Both students and directors pour their hearts and souls into their work and then perform the very best they can, whether it be for parents, adjudicators, or peers. As music educators, we need to embody the idea that even though the musical goal we’ve set for ourselves and our students may be high and the journey upward may seem scary, we’re going to make the climb anyway because the view from the top is worth it. While there may be setbacks and bumps in the road along the way, whether our students are getting up on stage for the first time, or preparing for college auditions, they need to see that unwavering passion and drive in us so they can see it in themselves.

hiker at the summit taking in the view

Photo: Ascent Xmedia/Stone Collection via Getty Images

Emotional Expression

Music allows us to express and experience the full range of emotion. Much of the time, our students (and we as teachers as well) walk around with a smile on our faces, but are feeling something totally different inside. We don’t show our feelings for many reasons, but what connects us to each other is that we all are, in fact, feeling emotions of some kind, whether we express them on the outside or not.

Music, whether we’re listening to it, performing it, or teaching it, gives us permission to be human.

With music, it’s ok—it’s necessary—to express the full range of emotion and to in turn, experience what it is to be human. The real magic happens when someone who’s feeling down actually feels better when they hear a song that’s sad or melancholy in nature. Why does this happen? Because of the innate knowledge that they’re not alone in what they’re feeling. When you know you’re not alone, things don’t seem so bad. And when you’re excited and hear joyful music, you feel even more uplifted. Music, whether we’re listening to it, performing it, or teaching it, gives us permission to be human.

Growth and Empathy

As musicians, we process our lives through the lens of our musical experiences. So many of the big and small moments occur in the music classroom, on the stage, and with people in our ensembles, that it’s impossible to separate our growth as an individual from that as a musician. Because music is so inter- and intrapersonal, the reflective process of learning to live our best lives takes place on an even more magnified level. We develop grit and mental fortitude as we overcome challenges, while at the same time expressing and sharing the full scope of human emotion. While mental strength and emotional expression may seem contradictory on the surface, they in fact work hand in hand to help all musicians, beginners and seasoned veterans alike, work toward a higher level of self-actualization. Working to improve your musicianship makes you a better person. Working with others elevates that growth even more as we learn to be more empathetic and caring toward one another.

student playing violin in a string quartet

Photo: Hill Street Studios/DigitalVision Collection via Getty Images

Life As Music

In the end, we didn’t get into this business to spend our time figuring out how in the world a bouncy ball made its way that far into the euphonium or what disinfectant is best to clean up the motion sickness induced vomit on the tour bus floor. No, we got into this business because deep down we feel something unexplainable, something that connects us—not just to our students and fellow musicians, but to every other person on Earth . . . something that not only enriches the human experience, but is literally life itself lived through the lens of music.

About the author:

Stephanie San Roman sitting wearing black top and pantsNAfME member Stephanie San Roman is the Director of Bands at Oswego High School. Bands under her direction have performed at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic (demonstration ensemble), Music for All National Concert Band and Chamber Music Festivals, ILMEA All-State Conference, and the UofIL Superstate Band Festival. Mrs. San Roman is a 2023 CMA Foundation Music Teacher of Excellence National Award Winner, a recipient of the 2021 Chicagoland Outstanding Music Educator Award, and holds seven Citations of Excellence from the National Band Association. Her professional memberships include ILMEA, NAfME, NBA, Phi Beta Mu, ASBDA and WBDI.

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

January 25, 2024


  • Lifelong Learning
  • Music Education Profession
  • Teacher Self Care


January 25, 2024. © National Association for Music Education (

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