Sometimes a conversation goes too far and crosses the line from spirited discussion to something potentially hurtful and damaging. In my role as CEO of SHAR, I take great pains to focus on appropriate customer and business issues and leave such conversations to others. SHAR has always sought to bring useful and innovative products and services to the attention of our customers. Censorship plays no part in our operation, since we strongly feel that our own music community (“the market”) is best equipped to make its own decisions.
In this guest blog, SHAR customer Paul Dittus asks the question "Why should anyone study music and why is it important?" His answer is a suprising one: drawing on arguments from classical philosophy, Paul argues that at its best music can connect us to beauty and truth. While not ignoring the dire employment opportunities for musicians, Paul reminds us that music is more than employment: it is enduring beauty. Note: This guest article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of SHAR Music.
Why should anyone care to study music? For a large income and a good job, right? In today’s economy you would probably be better off pursuing a degree to become a doctor or lawyer. If money is really what you prize, maybe you should consider pursuing something other than music. I would say getting a degree in music should help you get a job, but I do not believe it should be your ultimate goal and purpose for pursuing a music degree. What about fame? There are not many guarantees in this world, and fame is one that is not easily come by. Unless you are going to be the next “fiddler on the roof” and become a hit, you should probably not count your chickens before they hatch. This is not to say you shouldn’t dream big and set your goals high, it is more to make sure you are pursuing music for a solid reasons. If not for money or fame, why study music and why is it important?
Since our blog's been on a hiatus over the winter, it's been some time since we've had a chance to post one of Nerissa Nields's blogs. How we've missed her! And this blog is especially welcome since it addreses a subject near and dear to many of us at SHAR: music education. Nerissa makes the case that music education not only soothes us as infants but it helps bring together classrooms and families.
A few days ago, I had the pleasure of holding a baby just 10 days old. It was mid afternoon, and I was guessing her poor mama hadn’t really slept since the birth. Elle and I took turns cuddling the baby, while my friend crept upstairs for a much needed nap. After a few minutes, the baby began fussing. I picked her up, walked around the room, sang our version of “Hush Little Baby.” Still gritchy. I switched to “All the Pretty Horsies” and did a gentle canter-y gait. More fussing. Then I started in on Ledbelly’s “Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie.” The baby pulled her head off my shoulder (strong baby!) and stared at me as if in disbelief. She stopped crying and listened as I sang. When her mother came downstairs fifteen minutes later, I told her what had happened.
“No wonder,” said her mother. “We played that song and sang that song many times while shewas in the womb, and since birth."
I’d certainly heard of this happening–baby recognizing pre-womb music post-womb–and in fact, we wrote about this phenomenon in our book All Together Singing in the Kitchen: Creative Ways to Make and Listen to Music as a Family. But I’d never witnessed it so directly. (Well, maybe I did. Maybe it happened with my own kids, but I was so sleep deprived then, I have no recollection.)
Today in Jay’s Suzuki class the teacher had the four-year-old pre-twinklers form a circle. She played “pass the Twinkle,” playing the first line of “Mississippi Stop Stop” to the child on her left, who in turn, wordlessly passed it on to the child on his left, and so on, around the circle. “Isn’t it amazing,” she said. “How you all knew what to do, and could do it without even saying any words. Music is a language we can all understand.”
Plans for SOS-SOA are looking up. Emails are circulating. I am making phone calls, juggling schedules, refining our focus. Meanwhile, doing a lot of thinking about the role of music in our children’s lives. Why fight to keep music in the schools?
- It’s a language we all share.
- It cuts through reason and goes right to the heart.
- When I look back on my own school memories, so many of them have to do with music class, performing, practicing an instrument. Maybe that’s just because I am a musician, but I can’t imagine growing up without all the music I had.
- It unites a group of disparate kids
- It’s the only academic discipline that is equally left-brained and right-brained
What about you? What do you remember about music education growing up?
For more about music education, visit the National Association for Music Education.
Hello to the SHAR faithful out there! Today marks the release of our first issue of Pizzicato, an e-zine (electronic magainze) devoted to all things strings. Click on the cover below to read the issue. Feel free to share the magazine with your friends, students, and teachers!
In May of this year, we shared an article with our email subscribers titled "The Value of Music Degree." The article argued that a music degree, while it may not lead directly to a job, is still worth earning because of how much it can enrich one's life. The response was overwhelming: many musicians disagreed with the article and felt that their degree sent them out into a tough economy with few practical skills; others could not imagine their lives without their music degree, or without music at the center of their lives, no matter how hard it is to make a living as a musician. Sarah Decker is the third reader who has responded with an engaging and generous guest blog. Sarah believes that the "dollars and cents" of her life as a musician don't matter; what matters is that by playing music – doing what she loves – she's staying true to herself and her talents.
I’ve been a musician my whole life. There was really no option otherwise; music was always such an integral part of growing up that it’d be a miracle if I didn’t end up being a musician. My mom taught piano lessons until I was too big to stay out of trouble and directed church choirs my whole life. She made sure that I had access to wonderful music, whether it was Peter and the Wolf narrated by the great Leonard Bernstein (of course, I had no idea who he was until I was much older), The Nutcracker, The Beatles, or The Fiddler on the Roof.
Growing up, I was always involved in band, choir, dance, theater, and the Black Hills Symphony. When it came time to go to college, I debated my major briefly but it seemed only natural that I major in music. There was nothing else that I had such a passion for. In time I learned that I didn’t have the passion to teach, but to perform and compose music, so I changed from majoring in Music Education to double majors in French Horn Performance and Music Composition & Theory. Before long, I realized that I’ve always had a love affair with movie scores and decided that I should compose them, so I found a new Master’s program in just that. I’m extremely proud of my accomplishments there and I’m slowly working on getting a small composition career going on my own while I perform with the Black Hills Symphony and Powder River Symphony.
Economically, I sort of shot myself in the foot there. Just as I was finishing my masters degree the economy tanked. The end of that degree included a 5-week internship that was supposed to turn into a job, but most of us had no such luck, and I couldn’t find any other jobs either because I was “overqualified but under-experienced” for anything I could realistically do, so I had to firmly tuck my tail and move home from LA to live with my parents again. I ran into that same line at home too. Being highly educated is definitely a double-edged sword; I posses skills and talents that many people can only dream of, but instead of using that as a testament to my abilities in new situations potential employers seemed intimidated and found reasons not to hire me. Well-meaning friends and family continue to ask whether I should “just teach,” but having been in the educational system as long as I was I knew it wasn’t something you do for the money. You have to have the passion for it and the willingness to sacrifice your evenings and weekends for minimal compensation, not to mention deal with administrators that continue to slash arts budgets left and right. That’s not me.
Would I have done things differently if I had known what would happen? Maybe. My studentloans are gigantic and there’s no way I can afford the monthly payments. But then, who can say they’ve pursued their dreams, even if they got slapped down a little? How many people can say that music they’ve composed has been recorded by Disney musicians at Capitol Records and attached to a real film? It was truly a surreal experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world. So what if I’m not in Los Angeles anymore? Composers are a dime a dozen there. Being back at home means I can play with the BHS again like I did in high school, spend time with my aging parents and give my newborn daughter the chance I didn’t have to get close to her grandparents, help my fiancee record and master an album of his songs, and work on local film and TV projects. I’m the only person around here with the training and skills I have, so as soon as I find the right niche I can make a career out of this after all. As for my loan payments... I’m still working on how to bring in enough money to cover them, but for now we’re surviving. Right now, that’s all I can ask.
The value of my music can’t be quantified in dollars and cents. It is part of my core and my soul. I will always dance. I will always sing. Without Symphony, life is bland. It doesn’t pay enough to reimburse me for the gas it takes to get there, but I don’t care. What I do for a “day job” doesn’t matter, but I am trying to use my passions productively to help with that and maybe in time that will be all I need.
Above all, my mother surrounded me with mentors where the public school couldn’t provide them. Starting with ballet and gymnastics at age 3, private cello lessons starting in middle school and continuing through high school, private voice lessons in high school, and sending me to music camp for cello, voice, and French Horn all through middle and high school, I collected a team of teacher-mentor-friends that continue to help me to this day. This support net is truly invaluable, no matter what happens.
Now, at 30 years old and a new mother, I’m determined to do the same for my daughter. My teachers helped me become the person I am today and the vast majority of them are still a very present part of my life, or should I say, my constantly changing, insane, wonderful, musical life.
We're very pleased at SHAR to share our first guest blog from the talented violinist and educator Christian Howes. Although a classically-trained musician, Mr. Howes made a name for himself in the New York jazz scene in the '90s, playing with renowned musicians such as trumpeter Randy Brecker, pianist D.D. Jackson, Bill Evans’ Soulgrass, crossover pioneers Spyro Gyra and the legendary guitarist-inventor Les Paul. In addition, Mr. Howes is a former associate professor at the Berklee College of Music and was the founder of the Creative Strings Workshop in 2003. It's fair to say that all these passions – classical music, jazz and rock, and teaching – show up in Mr. Howes's fascinating blog article. The article asks an essential and important question for music today: Is it possible to bridge the cultures of rock and jazz with the culture of classical music education? And if so, how can classical musicians harness the creative energies of rock and jazz?
We tend to ascribe values to ourselves which don't necessarily coincide with how we spend our time. For example, even if I really wanted to, I couldn't call myself "athletic" if I only exercised once every other week. It wouldn't matter how much I think, deep down inside, that I'm athletic.
In May of this year, we shared an article with our email subscribers titled "The Value of Music Degree." The article argued that a music degree, while it may not lead directly to a job, is still worth earning because of how much it can enrich one's life. The response was overwhelming: many musicians disagreed with the article and felt that their degree sent them out into a tough economy with few practical skills; others could not imagine their lives without their music degree, or without music at the center of their lives, no matter how tough it is to make a living as a musician. One of our readers, Susan Speicer, agreed to share her experience as a recent grad of Washington State University's School of Music. Even though Susan hasn't landed a symphony job (yet!), she's doing fine: she teaches and works at violin shop; she serves as an administrator for a youth symphony; she coaches and makes violin jewelry; and she writes a music blog. What we love about Susan, besides her obvious dedication to music, is her willingness to try out the different niches of a career in music, whether that's teaching, business, administration, or playing.
Guest Blogger Dee Braxton-Pellegrino owns a horse farm in NC and works as a professional musician. She’s sharing a blog in response to Alberta’s post "The Value of a Music Degree".
I've been thinking a lot lately about Mark O'Connor's blog articles, especially his most recent ones "The American Violin" and "Suzuki Has Gone Fiddlin'." The comments section of Mr. O'Connor's blog, especially the "Suzuki Has Gone Fiddlin'" article, show just how much disagreement there is in the American classical community on our preferred teaching methods.
Plenty of folks swear by The Suzuki Method, which was revolutionary when it took hold in the United States through John D. Kendall in the 1950s and '60s. At its core, The Suzuki Method believes that music education functions a lot like early language acquisition: if you create a vibrant musical community through teachers, recordings, concerts, and peers, then there's no reason your child can't learn to play the violin. Or, that learning the violin is as easy as learning to speak and read. (Which is still pretty hard sometimes. More picture books, Dad!)
So why do we need to change anything? Why does O'Connor want to rethink the way we teach our kids to play the violin?
While appreciative of The Suzuki Method's faith in each child's musical ability, Mr. O'Connor wants more. His O'Connor Method focuses on traditional American music like blues, folk, jazz, and spirituals; by making these genres the focus of his method, O'Connor opens the door to imrovisation and thus to individual creativity. (You simply can't learn to play jazz without learning to jam.)
That said, the more articles I read by O'Connor, and the more I examine his method books, the more I'm convinced that he wants just one thing to happen for his students: for them to find their voice. One of my favorite poets, Seamus Heaney, has written on the difference between "craft" and "technique," and I think it's relevant here if only to freshen to conversation about the Suzuki and O'Connor methods. For Heaney, discovering your "technique" is pretty much what most of us would call "finding your voice":
I think technique is different from craft. Craft is what you can learn from other verse. Craft is the skill of making … It can be deployed without reference to the feelings or the self. It knows how to keep up a capable verbal athletic display; it can be content to be vox et praeterra nihil—all voice and nothing else—but not voice as in ‘finding a voice.’ Learning the craft is learning to turn the windlass at the well of poetry. Usually you begin by dropping the bucket halfway down the shaft and winding up a taking of air. You are miming the real thing until one day the chain draws unexpectedly tight and you have dipped into waters that will continue to entice you back. You’ll have broken the skin on the pool of yourself. ("Feeling Into Words," pgs. 20-21)
Craft looks a lot like technique, but we certainly know technique when we see it. You get goosebumps when you witness technique; you feel like you're hearing something no one has ever heard before. Or, as Emily Dickinson said, you feel like the top of your head has been blown off. And when you learn technqiue, you're finding your voice, which can be as distinct as the way you walk, speak, or dance.
O'Connor's deep fear is that we're teaching children craft but not technique. We're teaching capable musical displays but not equipping our students with the true creative potential of technique. (It's a heavy moment in your artistic life, when you've broken the skin of yourself and you're no longer pulling up air, but it's one that is worth the wait.)
There have been plenty of counter stories, though, from Suzuki graduates about how their violin teacher included American genres and encouraged creativity. They narrate a more complex Suzuki Method, a hybrid method. On his blog, O'Connor recognizes the potential of a more hybrid Suzuki Method but worries about the lack of real commitment to creativity in this approach and the dangers of a hodgepode approach to musical education. He's put serious thought into the progression of his method and it's distressing, I think, to contemplate a buffet approach. Fair enough.
In the end, I'm not sure anyone can tell you which method is right for your child. But I do believe techique is necessary to any serious creative endeavor. If you want your child to write American music, then your child needs to find his or her American voice. That begs the question, however, if creativity and finding a voice are always what we want from art. Those things can be frightening in a way that performance isn't.