I can’t speak for all teachers, and won’t try. However personally, this was a difficult and challenging year. And while I never (NEVER) again want to be forced to teach via zoom, and am grateful for every in-person interaction I’ve had with students—especially those that forced me to challenge the what, why, and how of my own teaching—damn, this year was a lot.
So, to remain balanced and not be too harsh on myself, I have been taking solace in my students themselves, in their uniqueness, in all the ways they teach me about all kinds of educational and musical matters.
At the start of every semester in all my undergraduate classes, I survey the students about their musical identities. It’s a way for me to learn a little about them, but also to learn a lot about musics I don’t likely know.
So, at the start of Teacher Appreciation Week, and from me to you, here’s what my students taught me about being in the world through music. The result is a playlist of what they and I consider our pasts, presents, and futures. This particular class is not large (which is why I’m sharing this playlist with you over another class’s musical identities). And I will not tag them nor name them (as that would not be cool). But if your identity is featured here, you know who you are.
This Teacher Appreciation Week I’d like to thank all the teachers! Especially my students. For me, you’re my greatest teachers.
According to NAfME, March is Music In Our Schools Month® (MIOSM®). I don’t think there is a music educator out there who doesn’t wholeheartedly believe that each and every day should acknowledge, highlight, and celebrate music—and lots of music—in schools. Whether it be through improvising over the chord changes to “C Jam Blues” in a jazz combo, remixing Lauryn Hill’s “Everything is everything” with a Jimi Hendrix solo, singing a sea shanty, or salsa dancing, music teaching and learning matters in schools. Why?
Because the pursuit of musical meaning and meaning making can help us become—to use the words of James Mursell— “stronger, better, happier, more cooperative” people who may succeed at being human and humane. Therefore it makes sense to make more music, and to make it more and more.
So let us sing out loud and sing out strong during the month of March and every month throughout the year! Musical being and being musical can help us build a life worth living. Let’s try to remember this when faced with that which gets in the way of building that life.
We teach music in schools so students will experience personal, artistic, social, empathetic, and ethical growth and fulfillment; health and well-being for oneself and others; self-efficacy and self-esteem; happiness for oneself and others; and a means of engaging positively with the community and the world. In fact, to celebrate MIOSM® let’s promise to find ways that we—ourselves and our students—can experience joy of many kinds in school through music.
Music education matters. Our profession matters when things in the world seem to be going smoothly. However, our profession matters even more when things in the world seem to be difficult and challenging. How so? When we engage in the educative teaching and learning of music, we provide avenues and pathways that can help us understand ourselves and each other.
Great music teachers provide important reminders for why we need to “show up” for each other each and every day. For the remainder of the school year, let’s harness the uncertainty as best as we can and remember what’s most important: Being present for each other through music.
I was asked by an undergraduate student yesterday, “Do you think it’s important to keep learning? And if so, what’s the best way?”
The first question yielded an immediate answer: YES!
The second question was not nearly as easy to answer, but I think I might know what is best for me to keep learning. For me, I learn best by asking lots of questions, and by listening – and listening a lot.
One of the very good things about social media is the ways it can immediately connect people to one another. So, when I ask a question on social media and send it out into the “interwebs,” I’m not sure if or who will respond. Still, it’s so exciting – for me – to get a response, to listen to that response, and to learn as much as I can about that response.
My most recent question may seem trite, but I asked it in earnest: If you could have a meal with any music maker, past or present, who would you choose and why?
Responses came from around the globe, from people of all ages, and taught me so many things about people, music, and the power of sharing. I’m still thinking about the answers people gave and the implications of them for music making, music teaching and learning, and the values people deem important. And because I’m still learning by thinking-through all these variables, for now, please find just some of the music from the music makers chosen to share a meal. They are in alphabetical order.
What does “revolutionary” love mean? For singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco:
…it means seeing no stranger. You know? It means, even with your opponents, to look into another’s face and say, you are part of me I will start from there. You’re a part of myself I do not know well enough … [it means] looking for the wound in your opponent. They might be doing all kinds of bad actions, you know? They might be doing negative things, but to search within that for the wound in them and to find the courage in yourself to tend the wound.
More perhaps: In order to find the wounds inside oneself, one must find and feel the wounds inside others.
Poet and activist Audre Lorde puts it this way:
There is a timbre of voice
that comes from not being heard
and knowing you’re not being
heard noticed only
by others not heard
for the same reason.
What does it mean to rectify this unseen-ness? Poets, writers, philosophers, and theorists of many kinds have written about the world’s much needed understanding and engagement in love-as-action. When we view love as action rather than privately held feelings, its potential to become more than ourselves is possible.
Love is an action, a participatory emotion. Whether we are engaged in a process of self love or of loving others we must move beyond the realm of feeling to actualize love. This is why it is useful to see love as a practice. When we act, we need not feel inadequate or powerless … but we must choose to take the first step.
Again, as Lorde so poignantly states in Sister Outsider:
your light shines very brightly
but I want you
your darkness also
and beyond fear.
Sometimes, understanding our layers of self-hood come into clearer focus when we see ourselves—our frailty, humanity, imperfect beauty, the lightness and darkness—through seeing others. Our personal journeys are made possible because of our contact with and through others’ journeys.
Let us remember: revolutionary love is an act of rebellion. It includes, among other attributes, the ability to see others, to hear others, to feel others. Revolutionary love is, as activist Valerie Kaur maintains, “a radical and joyful practice to heal ourselves and transform the world around us.”
It is Kaur’s wisdom that fueled and inspired DiFranco’s newest album. As her lyrics cry out:
I will ask you questions
I will try to understand
And if you give me your story
I will hold it in my hands
It’s important to broaden my musical horizons. And for me, the best way to do this is to ask for help. So, as I typically do once per year, I asked Facebook. This time around, I put it this way:
It’s that time again to expand my musical experiences. Care to note songs/pieces that have been helping you “come through”?
Responses landed from far and wide; from friends, students, and colleagues. Interestingly, some came from people I’ve never actually met. Yet, they felt compelled to share a part of themselves with me, a stranger. How amazing is that! That’s how important someone’s music can be; it’s so important that a person will share it with someone unknown.
Because of this, I share all the many songs/pieces shared with me. Have a listen. What a beautiful “map” of spirit and sound; the combination of all this music as expressed and shared by each one who takes the time to travel it.
Raul Midon “Pedal to the Metal”
Brass Against “Maggie’s Farm (Rage Against the Machine/Bob Dylan Cover) Ft. Amanda Brown”
Glen Phillips “Grief and Praise”
Dirty Loops “SONGS FOR LOVERS – COFFEE BREAK IS OVER”
Alicia Keys “Good Job”
“We Are Here”
Snarky Puppy feat. Jacob Collier & Big Ed Lee “Don’t You Know” (Family Dinner Volume Two)
Phish “You Enjoy Myself”
Dmitri Shostakovich Symphony No. 4
Sergei Prokofiev Symphony No. 4
Ludwig Van Beethoven Symphony No. 4
Robert Schumann Symphony No. 4
A FLG Maurepas upload – Carla Bley Bland with guests “Misterioso”
Duchess “Creole Love Call”
The Royal Bopsters “Our Spring Song”
Pino Daniele “Bambina” (2017 Remaster)
Snarky Puppy “Lingus (We Like It Here)”
Green Day “American Idiot”
Rage Against The Machine “Wake Up”
Mahalia “Sober” (Acoustic Version)
Natalia Lafourcade Albúm Musas
1. Soy lo Prohibido (feat. Los Macorinos) 0:00 2. Mexicana Hermosa (feat. Los Macorinos) 3:44 3. Soledad y el Mar (feat. Los Macorinos) 7:15 4. Tú Me Acostumbraste (feat. Omara Portuondo & Los Macorinos) 10:40 5. Mi Tierra Veracruzana (feat. Los Macorinos) 14:00 6. Son Amores (That’s Amore) (feat. Los Macorinos) 17:49 7. Vals Pórtico (Instrumental) (feat. Los Macorinos) 21:30 8. Tonada de Luna Llena (feat. Los Macorinos) 24:50
Rhiannon Giddens “Julie”
John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain & Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia “Lotus Feet”
Noah Kahan, Choreography by Sean Lew“False Confidence”
John Coltrane “A Love Supreme, Pt. I – Acknowledgement”
Just as there are hundreds upon hundreds of musics around the world, there are as many “whys” of musics. And because music education depends, partly, on the natures and values of musics, it stands to reason that there are hundreds upon hundreds of values of music education.
I will not pretend to know each and every value. Nor will I pretend to have experienced them all. Still, part of the joy of music education is experiencing known and unknown values. Even better: to experience values never deemed possible.
Here are 3 values. They aren’t the best nor the most comprehensive. Still, they’re part of why I engage in music education.
1. Musical understanding. A key value of music education is musical understanding. What does this mean? Briefly, musical understanding is experiencing and expressing oneself through music. This depends upon many factors—too numerous to mention here. For now, when I experience and express myself through music—when I compose a pop song, perform in a large ensemble, or dance Gahu—I gain a sense of self-knowledge (and self-other knowledge), self-growth (and self-other growth), and self-esteem I couldn’t gain otherwise. Why? When musical challenges meet (or slightly enhance) my abilities, I experience flow (also known as optimal experience). “Flow” describes a kind of experience that’s so engaging that it’s worth doing for the doing itself. The arts and sports are typical sources of flow. What sets musics apart from all other sources of flow and self-other understandings is the unique materials and requirements of musics, namely sonic-musical events created and shared by and for others at specific times and places.
2. Community. Related to self-other understanding, a key value of music education is community. Music making connects me to those I engage with musically. There are a number of reasons for this. First, music making can be emotionally engaging/arousing. When I’m emotionally engaged, I’m likely to connect with those who are part of this emotional engagement. Also, I become in-sync with others. And being in-sync connects me to others I wouldn’t otherwise be connected with/to. Relationships form because of musical experiences, and a community is born. With that comes trust, care, commitment, fellowship, well-being, and so on. The value of community yields exponential dividends. However, this isn’t the only kind of community that music education yields. By engaging with musics written by and for others—for example, Mahler’s 1st Symphony, the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Snow (Hey, Oh),” “Siyahamba,” or Ellington’s Black, Brown, and Beige—I can connect to people, places, and times far removed from my own here and now. That kind of time/space travel and communality is greatly rewarding.
3. Happiness. A key value of music education is happiness, or, stated differently, Aristotle’s notion of “human flourishing.” While some people may think that happiness is a “soft” value like “fun,” it’s not. Happiness is the pursuit of a life well lived. Living well isn’t simplistic or easily achieved. When engaged in the teaching-and-learning of music, I’m contributing to my life’s happiness. What more can be said about music education and happiness? Perhaps it’s something only to be felt and experienced. So, listen, make, and engage – with, in, and through music.
Music education matters. We cannot say it more plainly than this. And Music Matters (2nd edition) gives amble evidence for why this is the case.
The profession matters when things in the world seem to be going smoothly. However, the profession matters even more when things in the world seem to be difficult and challenging. Why? Because when we engage in the teaching and learning of music, we provide avenues and pathways that can help us understand ourselves and each other.
These below highlighted GRAMMY award-winning music educators know the above to be true. And they provide important reminders for why we need to “show up” for each other each and every day.
Regardless of how many years you’ve been a music educator–1 year, 15 years, or 30 years–we are ALL first-year teachers again this school year. Let us harness this uncertainty and remember what’s most important: Being present for each other through music making.
Given the current state of the world, Mother’s Day this year feels very different. For the most obvious reason: We are physically separated. Still, this actual distance does not necessarily mean distant. So, let’s celebrate moms; especially those beyond our reach.