Music Ed Mondays – Being Together

Being together, not just doing together.”

– Bill Kristjanson
Music Educator 

There really is something magical about the music room, isn’t there? It’s not just a classroom (though, it definitely is that as well), kind of the same way that the gym isn’t just a classroom, there’s something special that happens there too, albeit in a different way.

We don’t play music to hash out notes, crunch rhythms or work repertoire – those things happen and are sometimes necessary, depending on the piece or the skills/concepts being learned – but again, it’s really more than that.

The music room is a place of expression and in order to really make it authentic, an enormous degree of vulnerability, trust and risk-taking needs to be present in each and every student.   If there is one thing that seems impossible to ask from a juniour high or high school student, it’s vulnerability.  But the strangest thing happens inside that room: It happens and it happens repeatedly only if we foster it.

Yet, it happens in music rooms all over the world demonstrated through both testimony and performance – think about all of the vulnerability going into every piece of music that we hear in a concert.  For these emotional responses to be felt in performance, they must be nurtured in rehearsal in the ensemble and not just in one or two students, but in the vast majority of them.

My mentor in fourth-year Music Education and pillar of Manitoba’s music education community, Bill Kristjanson, said it best when describing the culture of music: “[it’s about] being together, not just doing together.”

Now, as teachers of these mixed bags of students, how do we foster students to become willing to wear their heart on their sleeve? There’s no silver bullet here, folks, but here are some thoughts and questions that I’ve had on how to start.

  • What is your relationship like with your students? Are you genuinely and authentically interested in their well-being? (this is a  whole post in itself)
  • How are you demonstrating what you’re asking of them while you’re on the podium? (As a teacher? As a conductor? As an adult role-model?)
  • How often do you ask them to journal/reflect about their own emotional experiences? (either in relationship to music or on their own)

And perhaps a final thought…

  • How often do you imagine other classes ask them to do the same thing?

I hope that other classes ask them to do it all the time, but that may not be the case (power be to the Pre-Calculus teacher who asks their students to reflect on their relationship to math 🙂 * )

Our subject matter is innately emotional and while I make no promises in giving magic formulas or silver bullets in solving all of music education’s issues, I really want Music Ed Mondays to trigger thoughts about why it is we do what we do (as teachers and mentors) and how we can make our music rooms better places for both kids and music.  Let’s end with another Kristjanson-ism:

“Find something good and make it grow.”
– Bill Kristjanson
Music Educator

Until next time,

PS: Happy Halloween!
PPS: The garden illustration is from “The Doodle Girl,” found here.

* = There probably are math teachers who get their kids to emotionally reflect, I’m just picking on them because I love them 🙂

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