Eric Booth, arts visionary and author of the The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible, has this idea called “The Law of 80%”, which means, 80% of what you teach is who you are. If I turn the lens upon myself, I have ask the question, who am I? A name, a face, and a handful of accomplishments on my CV. Okay, more personal. I love to cook, eat, take long walks on the beach… But seriously, who am I really? What is the root of it all, what is my origin?
To start with, I’m adopted. That means that my biological parents made the decision to try and give me the best possible life even if that meant it would not be with them. The two individuals that I call “Mom” and Dad” also made a decision to give me the best possible life by forming a family with me and my sister. All through my development, there has also been many caring individuals including academic teachers, music instructors, and mentors. I don’t think that it goes too far to estimate that there has been hundreds of individuals that have all played a vital role to bring me to this point of time and space. What defines me is the fact that I never really "deserved" any of it and by that I mean that this wasn’t something that was “earned”. It was freely given. As a teacher, if I can be one of these hundred individuals in a child’s life, I can begin to repay my debt, and by doing so, help to create a fair and just world.
This is one of the things that Kalamazoo Kids in Tune works to do.
(Here’s a video to prime the engine: http://vimeo.com/75996640 )
KKIT is an El Sistema-based after-school program that provides free music lessons to students of Woods Lake Elementary. This is the product of three organizations working in concert: The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Communities in Schools, and Kalamazoo Public Schools. Woods Lake Elementary represents a challenging socioeconomic demographic with 84% of students receive free or reduced lunch. These are children who are not likely to be able to have access to music lessons but who also need it the most. Students receive a meal before program starts, music instruction including lessons on their instruments, orchestra, supplemental activities, and help with homework. I have the privilege to serve as the program’s lead cello instructor and along side many colleagues from the KSO, WMU School of Music, and members of the community, give mentorship, instruction, and guidance to students.
One of the things that is special about the students in this program is the diversity of both needs and talents. Every child is unique in the way that he or she operates with their peers and with our staff. Some students excel in a group setting as they thrive from the social aspects of music making. Others require more personalized attention to cultivate their capacities. Some have short attention spans but are quick to learn and execute concepts or new music. The base line is that no two students are equal cognitively, emotionally, or physically, because they are all unique. In this sense, I do not feel that it is my job to try and shape each one the same. I am reminded of the words of Thaddeus Steven as portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones.
"I do not hold with equality in all things. Only with equality before the law."
We are all not equal. Some people are born into ample amounts of capital (whether that be financial, cognitive, cultural, etc) and some are born into poverty. A person's life circumstances will always be unequal when compared to another person. Yet this is the truth and value of diversity. We cannot change a person's origins but we can work to create a world in which opportunity is accessible to many. Like the Kalamazoo Promise, a scholarship program funded by a group of anonymous donors which will pay for 65%-100% of a KPS high school graduate's tuition to any Michigan college (depending on years attended in KPS), KKIT can work to not only providing educational opportunities but also fostering social justice.
As a side note, Zuill Bailey, celebrated cellist and professor at the University of Texas, paid a visit to the KKIT students this week. Having just flown into Kalamazoo from Texas, right before a rehearsal with the KSO to play Schumann Cello Concerto, he gave a performance of Bach Prelude from the Suite No. 3 in C Major, the Bach Prelude from the Suite No. 6 in D Major, and the Massenet Meditation from Thais. (On the theme of equality, Mr. Bailey’s hands are not at all equal. As a child, he practiced a lot to be able to graduate to a bigger cello, thus, stretching the span of his left hand. He played the "La Folia Variations" with the students so they can add that to their resumes!
While we were waiting for the students to arrive, Mr. Bailey was kind enough to offer me a try on his 1693 Goffriller. This cello, with its large size and rosette carved underneath the fingerboard, boasts a robust sound and deep tone that projects in the hall. Mr. Bailey remarked that this cello was made in the year that J. S. Bach would have been eight years old when it was still called a "church bass'" ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRKXhQEIu1Y ). He also mentioned that while Matteo Goffriller's cellos are now prized by today's performers, they were previously attributed to other luthiers. Goffriller himself put other makers names on his instruments to avoid taxes.
Thank you Mr. Bailey for presenting to the KKIT students, the short-term “loan” of your cello, and a beautiful performance last night with the KSO. Bravo.
Many people today talk about the function of classical music in our modern society. On the one hand, there is the growing inclination that classical music has pragmatic value to educate and enrich schools and communities. There is also the more traditional perspective that says that music is art for art’s sake and that its aesthetic worth is enough. Both of these are true. However, in my opinion, the single greatest value of studying, practicing, and performing classical music at any level is that it teaches us the all but forgotten art of listening. Not only musically speaking but, more importantly, what others have to say.
I think that musicians (including myself) assume that because we practice a communicative aural phenomenon, it means that we are good listeners. This makes logical sense because listening is something that we are trained to do. Music theory, music history, aural skills, lessons, rehearsals, and concerts all develop our minds and refine our ears. Countless hours in the practice room hones these skills by application.
Yet so much of the time we hear but don’t listen. Like my mother says, “many people only listen with the intent of speaking their own opinion”. The expression of someone else’s perspective is only a commercial break for the regular scheduled programing: me. Whether it is communicating in or out of the rehearsal room or on or off the instrument, we have a tendency to marginalize others in favor of our own agendas. The ego distorts the expressions of others. Even when listening to a concert we tend spoil the music in our own ears because we only take notice of the things we don’t like.
If there is anyone at fault of this it is me. And that is why I enjoy the WMU Graduate String Quartet, WMU New Music Ensemble Birds on a Wire, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra cycle. A smaller ensemble setting means more interaction between members. This inevitably leads to heated discussion about the way things should be done. Faster here? Softer there? No, I think an up bow, or, you do down? Yet what separates a lively debate from a costly argument comes from mutual respect, patience, and personal sacrifice. It involves actively and intentionally trying to understand another person. Sometimes you have to interpret someone’s statement at face-value by removing your preconceived biases and sometimes it requires reading between the lines and asking “what is this person really saying?” In all cases we must leave our insecurities, selfish attitudes, inflated egos at the door.
With this in mind, consider Aristotle’s categories of friendship. In his model, there are three basic types of friendships: Utility, Pleasure, and The Good. A friend of utility, also known as a friend of “advantage”, is a mutualistic relationship which is useful to both parties. A friend of pleasure brings happiness and satisfaction from the kind of activities that you do together. A friend of The Good is a virtuous endeavor because it requires each person to altruistically put the best interest of the other person as their own priority. Thus, friendships are like classical music as a whole. Music or friendship may involve a pragmatic advantage for ourselves, it may bring us pleasure, or it may allow us to put another person first by trying to understand them. Friends of Utility and Friends of Pleasure are wonderful. Nothing remedies a long rehearsal like an equally long dinner with food, drink, and colleagues. Yet what endures the changing of the tides? It is the music and the relationships that bring us to better understanding of each other.
Thank you Graduate String Quartet for a great performance on Tuesday night, best wishes to the New Music Ensemble for tonight’s concert, and good luck to the next cycle of orchestra with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra residency.
A special thanks to the First Methodist Church of Kalamazoo for collaborating on last Sunday's services. I enjoyed playing with the choir as well performing some unaccompanied Bach. The week before I also got to practice in the sanctuary which has great acoustics.