Remembering Your Inner Musician



     As I write this, the United States is going through the Covid-19 uproar. Schools are closed, and teachers are delivering instruction remotely. Many businesses and social venues are closed. People are nervous about their health and the health of their loved ones. Honestly, it's a scary time. As a music teacher, you are probably scrambling to find relevant online sources to provide your students with the best opportunities to "music", or experience music as a verb. It's not easy. But, we know as musicians, our art is a human necessity for emotional outlets during stress. But go back to your life "before" corona. It was probably made up of ensemble or program rehearsals, faculty meetings, making lesson plans, attending professional development, and tending to your own family.
     Now think back to the first time you just knew you were going into music somehow. For me, it was eighth grade. Band was my jam. I loved that it gave me someone that was "mine". It didn't care if I was in the "cool" group or not. There was something about playing that gave me goosebumps. This continued into college, where I'd spend 4 hours in a practice room in the Utt building of Central Missouri State University (now the University of Central Missouri. Go, Mules!) honing my craft. Or I'd be on the marching field in the fall. Or I'd be in the ensemble rehearsal room for concert band or orchestra. It consumed my life and, like the phrase goes "gave me life". Graduation happened. I went on to get my Masters and still lived in the rehearsal hall. 
     Then real life happened. I got married and started teaching. For a while, I kept up. I'd join summer band and kept up on lessons. I got out of teaching for a while, and it was all pretty good. Then we moved. I was expecting and teaching again. All of a sudden, about 10 years later, I realized my flute embouchure was shot. I had not practiced. But I was playing! I played solos and ensembles in church or in summer band. Once I took Orff levels and later, Kod├íly levels, I was back to feeding that inner musician at a higher level, with the challenges of composing, improvising, arranging, and ear training. I was determined to improve my singing skills.  I stepped out of a comfort level and began challenging myself with recorder solos in church and found a renewed joy in this, as well as playing impromptu duets with my daughter on flute. Additionally, I took on a new challenge in community band by playing clarinet. (It's not Benny Goodman level, but I can make it over the break!)
      In the book , A Philosophy of Music Education: Advancing the Vision (3rd Edition)(Reimer), the author theorizes on whether the aim of music should be performance or music for music's sake. (He was famous in the music education world for his debates on the topic with his former student David Elliott). In his view, every teacher of music, "even" those who teach general music, must be a good musician. This does not necessarily mean being a good performer. The 2014 national standards for music were developed not merely to teach Every Good Boy Does Fine, but to help students think and consider music in their lives and how it affects their lives. As teachers, we need to do this as well, and set an example. To get an idea of what music teachers thought instead of throwing my own thoughts and theories out there, I asked 8 music teachers what their thoughts were:

1. Teacher from Ohio: One teacher is a private instructor on piano, voice, and organ. They believe that continuing to practice good musicianship is vital to becoming a better teacher. This person performs out in the "world" as a paid church musician. In order to facilitate personal music development, they suggest picking something you enjoy and schedule 30 minutes to yourself, once a week. 
2. Tim, from Massachusetts, is a 9-12 director of jazz studies. His primary instrument is bass; however, he also plays guitar, piano, percussion, and trumpet. In his opinion, it is important for music educators to have real-life experience in ensembles and performances provides knowledge they can then share with their students. To this end, Tim plays in various jazz gigs, including weddings, pit orchestras, and doing his own personal recordings. In order to facilitate this, Tim suggests finding time, even if it just 20 minutes. There is no way a teacher can realistically rehearse 8+ hours, but even a few minutes will keep the skills up and provide an example for students. 
3. Heather, from Kansas, is a K-6 general music teacher and a 5-6 beginning band director whose primary instrument is voice. She feels strongly that musicking is necessarily for one's soul; "a love, a hobby, an outlet.". It helps a music teacher keep skills sharp so they can demonstrate to their students, as well as providing emotional balance. To that end, Heather is involved with her church's worship team and plays piano at home for pleasure. Sometimes, she will become involved with summer choir. Even though she is busy herself, Heather tries to find some "me" practice time. She suggests finding timer to "jam" with a friend if possible and to understand that "life has seasons". Do what you can in those times and give yourself grace.
4. Kristin, who is also from Kansas, teaches K-12 general music and choir, directs her church choir, and community chamber choir. Her primary instrument is voice and piano, but she said she still likes to play around with oboe at times. Kristin believes music teachers need to "practice what they preach"; that is, set a practice and work ethic example for students. Personally, Kristin said she needs her own music for her own mental and musical health. She loves and finds she needs her own musicality. To that end, she performs with local choirs, opera companies, and collaborates with other musicians to feed her musical endeavors. Her advice: please try to make time for yourself. She believes the soul craves it. She has also discovered students respond to their music teachers' performing efforts. 
5. Cindy is from Colorado. She teaches K-6 music, and her main instrument is violin. She believes retaining your musicianship is vital for personal satisfaction, as well as to help us remember what it is like on the other side of the podium. This, in turn, can help students relate to you better and shows a different side of you. It is also beneficial to just have something to do outside of school. Cindy plays with a community orchestra and small ensembles, and occasionally plays gigs. Despite what we might think, Cindy believes we are not too busy and that we are better teachers if we set boundaries and have other things in our lives besides teaching. 
6. Lydia, from Iowa, teaches K-5 general music and was a voice major. She also plays piano, ukulele, and low brass, as well as tenor recorder! She believes that practicing not only keeps our skills sharp, but by learning a new instrument or new repertoire, we have greater empathy for our students who struggle. She notes that, after nine years of teaching, she has finally made tie to play music for herself during the school year outside in bonfire jam sessions. She admits she didn't realize how much she enjoyed playing with a group as opposed to directing a group. By by refueling her own personal musicianship, she feels she has grown significantly as a musician, "refueling and rekindling [her] fire to mold musical human beings". 
7. Rosemary is from Wisconsin and teaches elementary, along with 6th grade band. A flautist, she believes music teachers need to set an example for their students by keeping up on their own musical skills. By joining other adults in music, a music educator can find inspiration that helps them identify with their students, as well as discovering new styles of music and literature. Rosemary participated in a part-time orchestra for 10 years, as well as performing in recitals, community band, and community orchestra. Her advice for music teachers? Find something you can do, even if it's not your main instrument. Make it a priority and slow down on other things. As she asks, " If you can't make it a priority, then how do you expect your students to practice on their own time?" 
8. Melissa, from Missouri, teaches PreK-4, a 4-6 Honor Choir, and high school choir. Although piano is her main instrument, she sings and plays some guitar, ukulele, recorder, and dulcimer. For her, retaining her own personal musicianship models a practice ethic for her students and is healthy for personal and leisure needs. Melissa sings in community choir and assists with parts. In addition, she accompanies vocal and instrumental soloists. She admits that at one point, she did not keep up on her playing, and as a result, her skills suffered. So she tells music teachers, "Get off that TV and practice!"
     As for me, I am now inspired to pick up my clarinet and get that embouchure back into shape. I can't go very many places right now and I'm tired of the gloom and doom of the news, so why not? Netflix will always be there.
Next week's topic will be using Google products for Google classroom: suggestions, resources, and tutorials.
Just a reminder: Many of my products in my Teachers Pay Teachers store are free until April 1, to help you with this new world of remote teaching. Also a reminder: remember to leave a review, which will give you credit towards future TPT purchases.

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