I have copied an article that I ran across this past week for you to read and reflect upon. I am not entirely sure why this has caused me to pause and consider what I do in my public school teaching, but it indeed has. In some ways I see myself reflected in his thoughts, and maybe you do too? The article is by Scott Buchanan, President of the Indiana Choral Directors Association and Director of Choral Activities at Indiana State University. I ran across this address while reading their ICDA publication, their state ACDA Newsletter.
Firstly, I would like to thank all of you who attended the ICDA Summer Conference in July. We had over 100 registrants, which was up quite a bit from the last few years. I don’t know about you, but I find these events play such an important role in my growth as a choral music educator. Whether it be a state, division, or national conference, I always come home feeling that I have learned something that is going to make me a better teacher. Having planned the last two state conferences, I understand the importance of interest sessions, reading sessions, and concert sessions. However, I have found that some of the most important lessons and brightest ideas are fostered during informal chats with friends and colleagues over a cup of coffee, a meal, or a late night cocktail. We have so much to learn from our friends in music, and so much to offer in return. Whether you believe it or not, each one of us possesses knowledge and insight that can make our profession better. I encourage you to continue to use the events of ACDA/ICDA to not only gain knowledge, but to share with others your unique gifts.
You know, I often think about what our roles are as music educators in the grand scheme of life. If you are like me, you have been criticized on more than one occasion for taking your job too seriously. After all, it’s only music! When I was a young high school teacher in Florida, I thought it was my mission in life to turn every student that entered my room into a professional musician of some sort…performer, teacher… you name it. I forced upon my students the importance of attending extra rehearsals, sacrifice, teamwork, putting the needs of the choir ahead of their personal agendas. I actually had the gall to think that my students had to care as much about the choir as I did, or they didn’t care at all. That philosophy came to an abrupt ending one Monday evening (required rehearsal night for my high school choir) in 1991 when one of my singers was killed in a car accident while rushing back from a volleyball match to make sure she got to my rehearsal. She was smart, talented, athletic, with an endearing, infectious smile. I had taught her older sister, who went on to study music at Florida State. Her younger brother was in the choir at the same time, and their parents were vital members of our choir booster club. According to them, she didn’t want to let me or the choir down by not coming to rehearsal, so she had asked permission to drive home from the match instead of taking the school bus. She never made it. To this day, the most difficult (and most important) thing I have ever done as a music educator was prepare the high school choir to sing at her funeral.
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Callie. As you might imagine, in the days, weeks, and months following, I endured many sleepless and tearful nights pondering my career choice…and what was really important. I talked to, and sought advice from, many colleagues back then. But it was one of my really sharp student leaders who gave me some profound advice. They were words that I didn’t really want to hear at the time, but ones I will never forgot. He said, “Mr. B., we love choir and we love you. But you need to understand that, for most of us, choir is one hour of the day. The rest of the time we are doing other things. We are athletes. Some of us have jobs. When we leave this room, most of us don’t even think about your class until the next day. We are teenagers. Sure, we care a lot about our choir. But we care about other things as well.”
I felt like I had been punched in the gut. But, holy cow, I am certainly a better teacher because of those words… and, more importantly, a more compassionate human being.
So, what did I learn? What are our roles as music educators? To be honest, in my world that continues to change. At the time, as a high school teacher, I realized that my job was not to create the next generation of professional musicians (that has changed a bit now that I teach at the college level.) No, my job was to create supporters of, and ambassadors for, the arts. I needed to teach my students to appreciate music in such a way so that when they got older, they would attend high school concerts, buy whatever merchandise the neighborhood band kid was selling as a fundraiser, and maybe even have the ability to sing the alto part of a church hymn.
In closing, I want to briefly share with you my perspectives on my latest stop as a music educator…right here in the great state of Indiana. We all know that this is a state well rooted in competition. Marching Band, Show Choir, Orchestra…all of it. As a former high school athletic coach (football, wrestling, and baseball…yes, „tis true, so quit laughing!), I very much appreciate the value of healthy competition. However, with the many factors in today’s world that continue to separate the haves from the have-nots, those of us in music (and all the arts, for that matter) must share with each other. Those of you in smaller, more rural communities who might need assistance, must seek that help. Your students deserve the very best music education you can provide for them. Putting forth excuses as to why things cannot get done is a disservice…to your students and to your community. And those of you that might be a bit more fortunate to teach in school systems that are able to provide resources and support, must be willing to assist. Share thoughts. Share ideas. Develop partnerships so that all our young people can somehow be a part of a quality musical experience. We must workt together…after all, it’s only music!
Scott R. Buchanan
President Indiana Choral Directors Association
Director of Choral Activities Indiana State University