Six years is not a very long time. When we are doing our undergraduate in music it seems like forever, but compared to a thirty-five-year career it is short. This is incredibly challenging work. There are so many things we need to know to begin with, and then things keep changing. It can be overwhelming, to be sure. For example, here are some of the things we need to think about:
- new technology and innovations;
- instrument pedagogy and methods;
- conducting and rehearsing;
- communication with students, parents, administration, and community;
- instrument repair and replacement;
- music library and purchase;
- tour planning and organization;
- budgeting and fundraising;
- concert production and publicity;
- school musical Broadway-style shows;
- marking, assessment and evaluation, report cards;
- individual program planning for students in need;
- social justice action, such as free instruments and instruction;
- special projects and events;
Huge and complex is this music education calling. Not to mention, somewhere in there is life, family, financial planning, and generally making it through the day. This career can be daunting.
There is a great story about the building of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. It goes like this: A man was passing three workers as they worked on the cathedral. The first was working on a large slab of wood with a chisel. The man asked the worker what he was doing. The worker replied, “I am carving the door for the northeast corner.” The second worker was chipping away at a block of stone. The man asked this worker what he was doing. He said, “I am carving a sculpture that will sit on the second tier of the south wall.” The third worker was an older lady who was sweeping up the stone and wood chips made by the other two workers. The man asked her what she was doing and she replied, “I am building a cathedral.”
Everything we learn helps us to “build the cathedral.” Every day we find something that we didn’t know, and we try to make it part of our practice. Reading new books on the profession, attending conferences, speaking with and observing colleagues, attending performances, listening to great recordings, making music with new people, trying new practices, and staying open—these are ways we remain a student, and remaining a student is vitally important to being a great educator. Know what you don’t know, and actively chase new knowledge down. I believe your students, at whatever age, will see this in you and feel a sense of collegiality and connection that comes with us being fellows on the journey as opposed to “imposers” of learning.
In the end, what we believe is what we teach. If we value learning as a lifelong pursuit, we need to put our proverbial money where our mouth is. It is easy to become hidebound. We can become tied to the ways we have always done things and ignore the ways we could be doing things. Music is a huge field, filled with so many important, interesting, and amazing things to know. Wherever you are in your career, know that someone knows something that will help you become a better educator, musician, and person. Seek them out.