Staying Engaged

Teaching is hard. Teaching music is hard. Teaching in 2013 is hard. Finding time to stay connected to my own music is hard. Finding opportunities to just play and not conduct, not program, not rehearse, not fill out POs, not do transportation requests, not answer emails, not have meetings, not … well, its hard to sit down and just play. BUT, it’s important.

As an undergraduate, I had the philosophy that I wasn’t worried about playing the most difficult literature, spending the most time in the practice room, or getting the highest chair. I was focused on being out in schools, learning from practitioners, offering my services as a private teacher or master class clinician… FOR FREE. It was the learning opportunity I was more interested in. It was getting to see others teach and work with a diverse group of students. It was a fun time in my musical life… learning how to teach music.

Once I began to teach in a classroom of my own, I missed playing. I suddenly felt very distant from my own music. I didn’t have energy or time to just play (much less, practice). I was being asked to join groups as a conductor, spending time programming and rehearsing ensembles. I was bringing my tuba everywhere, but all I needed was my baton. While this was frustrating, I came to accept it as a part of my professional identity…and even started to love it. That acceptance worked for a few years, and then the stars aligned. The community band I am the assistant director of had no tubas come to rehearsal… so I just played. It was fun, I was giddy, I was relaxed, I was… a tuba player again. The next week, I anticipated everything returning to “normal” and me spending more time on the podium. But again, no tuba players came…I got to play again! That continued for the remainder of that season… I was a tuba player again.

Being able to just play once a week started to remind what it was like to be a member of the ensemble… how do teachers/conductors address me, how do they help me play better, what troubleshooting process do I go through as a player, what do I listen to when playing, what does it feel like to sight read again, etc….. the power of that semester as a tuba player was profound. I started to change the way I teach. I changed what I expected from students. I started to respect their time, struggles, interests, perspectives again.

It is so important that we, music educators, stay engaged in music making. There are classroom lessons learned in the practice rooms. There are rehearsal strategies fine-tuned from the 3rd clarinet part. There are experiences to be had on my secondary instrument that will help me improve my pedagogy in 4th period. Educators need to stay engaged in music making. There is a reason why we chose this profession. In addition to a connection with a mentor, past teacher, social setting, it was also our own connection to MUSIC. Play in community groups, find a garage band to jam with, create a chamber ensemble, do something that reminds you about your own passion for music. This lesson is often lost on young teachers who are struggling to survive all of the other demands of teachers. Balancing paperwork, emails, meetings, and everything that doesn’t involve teaching… plus the actual teaching… we lose seeing ourselves as musicians. So…. just play!

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