I had a lot of ideas running through my head but was struggling for a main theme of this post until I read something in Jean Vermeil’s book Coversations with Boulez; Thoughts on Conducting. Boulez states: “People frequently get bored and eventually lose their sense of curiosity.” While the rest of the statement goes on to blame this on hormones, which, well, we won’t go there. I had to read that statement a few times to just let it sink in. Oh, and by reading, I meant I sat down and randomly opened the book and started reading this exact part. Boulez then goes on to talk about the fact that he has indeed conducted works he doesn’t like very much, although he admits that is why he normally has guest conductors…
Throw this thought in with a comment from composer Scott Watson on a social media post I made asking if I would talk about how changing society has affected education and music education, and I thought I might be able to cobble together a few coherent sentences and produce a semi readable blog about something that might mean something to someone.
How do the statement by Boulez and the request by Scott go together? Well, in my over-caffeinated mind it starts with this.
Social media has become a huge part of our lives now. As teachers and musicians, it is sometimes vital to our existence, which is something we should honestly think long and hard about. We have all been, there, myself included. We have a question about music or a concept, or even a teaching aid to use, and the first, and sometimes only, thing we do is run to Facebook or Pinterest (I have never used Pinterest, so I guess it works that way?) and ask the groups we belong to for advice. Our justification for this is that we are all too busy to really explore on our own, and why reinvent the wheel when someone else has probably already done all the work for us. Two valid arguments? Is it a bad thing to ask for the advice of others in your field? Absolutely not! I do it all of the time, and those who don’t are really stunting their growth. But should it be the first place you run? No! Do some exploring yourself. Not every answer has been found and will be hand delivered to you on Facebook or Pinterest. It can be very exciting to find your own answer and then, to be the one to help offer that answer to others when they too come calling. I will use my search for music for my upcoming concert as an example:
- Scour the internet and publishing companies for music based on the theme I picked.
- Ask around in personal messages to conductors I know would have some great ideas.
- Hit up the Facebook collective for some more thoughts.
Things I found:
- My initial search turned up some cool music not really done much, and that I would have never known about from steps 2 and 3.
- Step 2 gave me some great ideas, and reinforced some of my choices as well.
- Step 3 gave me a few more ideas, and solidified some of my own choices.
- Step 1 was still the most important part of this process in the end.
As teachers we need to explore. We need to make time to explore. We need to help our students develop this same desire to explore. And I am not saying that hitting up the internet groups for advice is a bad thing. But isn’t it nice when you are the one who can offer a work that nobody else has mentioned! It is exciting what social media has done for our ability to explore and find new music, meet new people, and hear great music. But don’t let it numb your sense of discovery to just asking questions. Be the one to search and find some answers the old fashioned way.
Culture and media (Still on the social media thing)
Culture and media have had a gigantic impact on education and music education. This is coming from the guy with a blog, who is on a podcast interview recently released (please check out the great interviews Mark does here), who has two Facebook pages and Twitter, and I could go on and on. It can be an almost consuming venture these days, so this is probably the hypocritical part of what I am writing today. We tend to let media control what we do. How long can you go without checking your phone? How long can you go without hitting Facebook or Twitter? I long ago took my work email off of my cell phone. I also rarely check my work email at night, because, well, my night is me time. I am cutting this part short because my next post (already stirring in my head will get in to culture and social media a little more.)
Technology is important. Understatement of the year award for that sentence. We use tuners, metronomes and a lot of other gadgets to help us make our ensembles, and ourselves better. But do we let them help us or do we let them do the work for us? I am going to touch on tuners and metronomes a little before I run out of steam. I will admit that both are very good tools, but do we use them to enhance our abilities, or do we let them do the work for us.
A tuner is a great tool to help you. But here is a thought, teach your students to hear and not just adjust to the dial. Have a student play a pitch and have another student listen and tell them how to adjust. Worst case scenario, they hear wrong and learn something. Best case scenario, you teach your students how to hear each other and adjust to what they hear, and not see on a tuner in front of them.
Another great tool to help but can become a big crutch if used wrong. There is nothing quite as annoying as the loud ping of a metronome. Well, one thing would be that ping played over a sound system so that your ensemble can hear it above their playing. But do your students have a good internal sense of pulse, or are they being trained to blindly follow the ping. My favorite metronome on my phone has a tap feature so I can check how I do with pulse. I will have my students play an exercise in their lesson and tap along to see how their sense of internal pulse is developing.
So what is the answer? Curse, crutch, or cure? I think back to the statement by Boulez and wonder. I think the cop out answer is all three. In some ways, we let the technology do the work for us, which isn’t always a bad thing, but we have become “bored” and our sense of curiosity has become muted. Some times technology has become a crutch and an easy way out.
The coffee is wearing off and I am in Newport, RI. It is time to get out and enjoy the day, and the water! Next time, we tackle one word… Criticism… I might need a Guinness to write that one in a nice way.