CHOOSING MUSIC EDUCATION AS A PROFESSION
WHAT DO I WANT TO BE WHEN I GROW UP? Isn’t this the question EVERY young man and young woman asks him/herself along the educational journey? Didn’t YOU?
What is it that influences someone to choose to be a doctor, an architect, a lawyer, a business person, an educator, a music educator? Is it: The fascination of the subject matter? The influence of the parents? The desire to replicate a role model, a teacher? Perhaps it is a combination of all of these, plus many more. We know students are drawn to subject areas where they feel; a sense of personal contribution (they can make a difference), an increased positive self-esteem (they like themselves as a result of their investment), a sense of challenge that supports their growth and development (there is a measurable benefit package), and a feeling of joy indicating their investment of time and energy is worthwhile and worth-their-while.
Colleges and universities are recruiting at all age levels. They realize there is an ongoing competition for the best candidates who are destined to become tomorrow’ leaders in every aspect of the work force. The early visions of seeing oneself as a politician, a business entrepreneur, or a scientist, are more than mere hopes and dreams, they are the mental roadmaps created at an early age that determines the direction of a person’s lifetime contribution. Therefore the recruiters are out-in-force demonstrating the benefits of their particular vocational preference.
Where is music education in this evolutionary storyline? Why would someone choose to be a music teacher? What does it take to convince a person to dedicate his/her life to teaching music to elementary, middle school, high school, and college students? Is music education at the top of list for all those who have the innate talent and personal commitment to fulfill the requisites of a certified degree program? These are tough inquiries to face, particularly when there is a one-on-one comparison with; other job-related salaries, extended fiscal benefits/perks, expectations of time commitments, possibilities for advancement within the system, long range security, etc.
The typical college music major comes from a school band, orchestra, and/or choir program. While there are a few exceptions (the gifted child prodigy) the vast majority have chosen music because of the influence of their music teachers; someone (a high school director or a private teacher) who recognizes a special talent and encourages the child to pursue a career in music. Simply put, these new music majors enjoyed their stint in the school music setting, they admired their director/mentor, they easily embraced their musical challenges, they loved to perform, and much of their social life was spent with their musical friends during rehearsals, performances, and traveling to and from concert sites. These are the students who spent countless hours in the rehearsal room sorting music, teaching beginner lessons, stacking music stands, and always ready and willing to go the extra mile to contribute to the forward progress of the program.
All-too-often the reasons for, “Why I chose to be a music educator,” do not align with the college curriculum mandates. Everything from required keyboard skills to ear training proficiency creates a shift in perspective. The good feelings experienced in the high school ensemble are replaced with the demands of many hours of concentrated practice in preparation for the week’s applied lesson, long night study groups for the music history exam, and extended rehearsals in preparation for the chamber ensemble recital. It just isn’t the same!
Since the human is an adaptable creature, the focus of music making dominates the music major’s thoughts, habits, daily activities, literally almost every aspect of the student’s life. The mind pushes aside the memories of days gone by and the idea of “teaching music” becomes secondary to the present-moment responsibilities of “making music.” With the prominence of time dedicated to playing/singing/performing, skill levels increase and the value of music performance continues to be the fundamental filter of all decision-making. And now comes the college EDUCATION CLASSES needed to fulfill the requirements for a TEACHING license. When the college music major is already pressed for time, it becomes incredibly tempting to alter the degree program from MUSIC EDUCATION to MUSIC PERFORMANCE (avoiding the various education classes) and move forward with plans to become a professional musician; after all, most of the musical preparation to date has been in the area of performance. Is this a short-term answer to a life-long decision?
There is no question we all enjoy (even LOVE) performing. Nothing substitutes for the intrinsic pleasure of creating music for the benefit of our fellow musicians and/or an audience of appreciative listeners. From the weekend jazz player to the church choir tenor, music making is, and of itself, a creative outlet that inspires us to new heights related to every facet of life. However the master music educators will tell you there is another avenue of the music world that is equally as gratifying; it is teaching others the language of music so they can avail themselves to this beautiful art form.
This essay is not about MUSIC PERFORMANCE vs. MUSIC EDUCATION; quite the contrary. In the face of today’s dramatic need for music educators, it would seem obvious we would encourage students to look carefully (and soulfully) at the value of becoming a music educator. Do they truly understand the impact they will have on the lives of those students who are part of their music classes? Perhaps we should mentally revisit those special days in our high school rehearsal rooms; what was it about that particular environment that drew people there before and after school? Why did students eagerly give up summer vacation time for music camp? Why did weekends become opportunities for extended rehearsals? Why the band jacket, or the choir sweatshirt, or the orchestra patch on the school sweater? Didn’t the combined experiences of practices, rehearsals, concerts, bus rides, officer’s meetings, etc., create a forum of learning, growing, and becoming unlike any other in the school curriculum? And didn’t the MUSIC TEACHER carefully and wisely orchestrate the schedule to support the participation of the ensemble members while developing a loyalty to the organization? As a result, the musical proficiency increased along with the sense of commitment and dedication of the ensemble’s members. All of this SUCCESS was the result of a music educator who continued to share the JOY OF MAKING MUSIC with his/her students.
Many years ago I was listening to a clinic presentation by the internationally acclaimed horn virtuoso, Phil Farkas, who was then teaching at Indiana University after his successful tenure with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was asked by a member of the audience what he thought was his most important contribution to the field of music. Without a moment’s hesitation he said, “Oh that’s easy; it’s my students. All the recordings I have done are fine, but the real value of my work lies in the minds and hearts of my students, for they will be the ones who carry it to the next generation.” There was a huge silence in the room; his unassuming and genuinely humble opinion of his memorable performances was secondary to the importance of his teaching. He went onto say he felt that teaching was the most noble profession in the world, for it was a selfless expression designed to make the world better a better place. While this is the personal opinion of Mr. Farkas, it also parallels the philosophical
approach of many of the key educators who have been responsible for the forward progress of our music world.
There are many reasons to consider the field of MUSIC EDUCATION as a profession. We live in a country where we have “music in our schools.” We are enjoying a surge in the understanding of the value of music learning and music making. Music teachers are wanted and needed in our school systems. Colleges and university are seeking qualified music majors. Music teachers PERFORM in their communities, music performers TEACH in their communities. There has never been a better time to do something you love and love something you do; MUSIC.
The ongoing research continues to bring forth compelling evidence of the benefits of music study. We have known there is a relationship between successful students and the students who participate in music. Is it a mere coincidence the academically strong students are also the members of the school band, orchestra, choir? Absolutely not. The music educators of today are working with the leaders of tomorrow. What better opportunity could there be to positively influence the communities-of-the-future?
- To the middle school and high school musician: Take a careful look at the vast array of possibilities beckoning the enthusiastic young musician. Music education embraces far more than classroom teaching. Begin to explore the endless network of musical opportunities always available to anyone willing to go the extra mile.
- To the college musician: Stay connected with the music education world. Find ways to teach lessons, serve as a clinician for a local school, work with various summer music camps, etc. Remember your roots and find ways to share your gift with others.
- To the music educator: We can be serve as an important messenger in helping our students discover what it is like to be a music educator by including them in various responsibilities throughout the day. It is not necessary to have a music degree to teach a beginning flute lesson, or organize the music library, or help create the bus list. Here is the chance for some on-the-job training to introduce your students to what it is like to be a music teacher.
There is a certain indescribable wealth that comes as a bonus to every music educator’s payment plan. It may be in the form of a parent who pulls you aside to tell you of the importance music plays in the role of his/her child’s life. It may manifest itself as a holiday greeting card from a student from many years ago who poetically tells you of the values learned in your choir, and how those very values helped him complete medical school. It may be the smile of a fifth grader who quietly whispers in your ear, “I like music better than anything else in school. Thank you.” And on, and on, and on….
If you want to “making a lasting difference,” music education offers the perfect avenue to achieve your goal; maybe that’s why YOU liked music better than anything else in school.
…let the music begin…