Lately I’ve been thinking about WHY I teach music. I suppose all educators have pondered why they teach what they teach, but it seems to me that teachers of the arts have to defend their subjects more frequently to tougher crowds, so perhaps we dwell on this more than others.
A friend of mine shared her philosophy on music education with me and the big takeaway from her position is this: music helps people be more successful in every aspect of life because it teaches them teamwork, attention to detail, and accountability. Learning makes us better people. Learning music makes us better people in some specific ways; learning math makes us better people in other ways; learning history makes us better people in other ways, etc.
The following anecdotes illustrate things I’ve learned from various teachers over the years that I think have made me a better person and improved the quality of my life.
My elementary school music teacher held auditions for a girls’ choir in fifth grade. I had a doctor’s appointment during the audition so I missed it. The next day, she asked me why I hadn’t joined. I glumly explained. She chided me for thinking all was lost and had me sing for her right then and welcomed me into the choir. She taught me that you can make up for certain missed opportunities with a little initiative. (Super important life skill—can you imagine if I’d let a single doctor’s appointment keep me from choir? I’m glad she intervened early on.)
My first piano teacher was a sweet elderly woman who lived about a 20 minute bike ride from my house. Biking to and from my lessons taught me commitment and tenacity. If I was going to ride all that way, I might as well learn.
My first grade teacher said hello to me every time she saw me out and about in town until I graduated high school and moved away. I don’t remember much of first grade, but I remember Mrs. Graham and how she cared about her students.
My first voice teacher made me a deal—voice lessons for babysitting. I watched her cute little boys and she taught me how to sing. She also taught me that even as a penniless 6th grader, I had something to offer. I learned not to discredit my resources no matter what form they took.
My high school band teacher demanded exactness in everything. Sometimes we’d spend a whole rehearsal on one line a piece until we couldn’t get it wrong. He also had us rearrange the risers and re-organize the instrument racks at least once a month. Apparently, it builds character. From him I learned the value of precision, the mantra “excellence is a habit,” and how unifying manual labor can be.
My piano teacher in high school gave me tools to teach myself. She taught me systems of thinking that would help me absorb knowledge and techniques. I learned to learn by trusting myself. And because I could feel myself improving, for the first time in my life, I practiced a lot! All the time!
My voice teacher in high school took me on scholarship with the condition that I would pay it forward when my circumstances allowed. She taught me how to see potential in people and encourage them to reach it by seeing something in me and helping me find it.
My first voice teacher in college had just finished her undergrad when she offered to coach me for round two of my auditions into the School of Music. (Round one had ended with one of those letters that starts with, “Unfortunately…” and ends with me in tears.) We must have had psychic twin powers or something because I grew so much as a singer that summer. I found my “big voice” as my dad called it. I learned the secret recipe for success: 1) don’t give up no matter what, and 2) have an excellent teacher who believes in you. I also learned that you don’t have to be a veteran to be an effective teacher; she was right out of the graduation gate and I don’t think I’ve ever clicked with a voice teacher quite as well since.
What life lessons have you learned from past teachers that have remained with you and improved your life? What lessons do you hope to instill in your students? How will you do it?