Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Josh has a very interesting post today about Music Education vs. Performance. Reading it made me think about our days back at Eastman. When we were in school, many of our fellow performance majors acted as though we were somehow superior to the education majors because of our musical gifts. ("Oh, you're an *education* major?" said in a snooty tone.) This stigma, I think, deterred many of us from learning more about teaching, which all of us have inevitably had to do in the long run. What silliness!! Why didn't I take some education classes? Why didn't I get certified to teach while I was at Eastman? It would be nice to at least have the *option* to teach public school music. Well, the truth is, I actually did approach the director of the Education department at Eastman shortly after graduation about getting certified and she was pretty nasty to me. In her eyes, being an education major was a life choice from the beginning. She didn't want performance majors getting certified just because of their financial anxiety. (Ithaca College has a similar policy.) You either go through the whole program or you don't. You don't just "get certified". As a result, graduates of the Eastman School of Music education program are highly sought after for teaching positions all over the country. *Sigh*

7 comments:

Joshua Nemith said...

This is a good point of view to remember from our educational past - seems like this attitude has been around for quite a while. But I think that those of us who did not take an education major can do some kind of educational work that's valuable. All of this activity - music classroom teaching, private lessons, leading ensembles in high schools, training received in church programs - overlap to a greater degree than is sometimes acknowledged by our education major colleagues.

I should probably also add that I've done classroom teaching. (Yes, on the college level, but trust me: Freshman jazz majors in class piano can really resemble a bunch of seventh-graders!) I'm afraid nothing prepares you for it like just simply being thrown into the pit. No amount of sitting around hearing about the classroom, education major or not, makes it any easier to teach in front of a group of people.

This is not to say, of course, that education majors aren't gaining terrific training in a place as solid as Eastman's program. But real-life experience as an educator is probably more valuable in the long run than just whatever the degree program offers. Yes, certification should require full commitment as the director you mentioned tried to imply. But many of us have taught for over a decade, with no education major, and we've learned and improved from our experience. Plus, many of us have taken some years of pedagogical coursework, some of which is no doubt taught by professors who are well-respected in the education community. (I got training and criticism from Martha Hilley, for example.) Doesn't that count for something?

Thanks, Pam, for your post!

Jake said...

Since I am primarily a performer, and my roommate is primarily an educator, I've had an opportunity to see some of this divide in action. It's both more simple and more complex than the decisions that Universities force too-young people to make only once in their lives. As the originating post pointed out, Yo-Yo Ma was a history major, with a liberal arts degree, not a performance degree. Yet he is arguably one of the most well-known performers and educators of classical music in the country.

However, the thing is that education is a topic that seems pretty ill-understood by those who are primarily performers. Education certainly includes private teaching, the occasional classroom gig, and so on, but the reality of quality k-12 education is that a performer who wants to dabble in it (or is forced to) simply won't provide the best education to their students. Period. Performing experience is good, yes, practice in the classroom is valuable, to be sure, but just as one does not become a virtuoso on their chosen instrument by just going out there and winging it, one does not teach at their best that way.

One thing I have learned by watching and talking with my roommate is that classroom management is the least of her concerns. Understanding the developmental stages of children, what they can process when, how to structure a curriculum, not to mention the summers spent in continuing education. There's a vast expanse of knowledge that she has that she has acquired through years of focused study and experience, and she'll be the first to say that if she'd spent her time pursuing her singing career, she wouldn't have had the time or energy to hone her teaching craft.

Notice that it's performers who like to claim you can do both, but the professional educators seem to know better. The kind of education that performers do so well is invaluable; master-classes, lessons, conducting, all that, but we have to be aware that studying education is not about those at all.

Joshua Nemith said...

Jake said (quotes in italics):

However, the thing is that education is a topic that seems pretty ill-understood by those who are primarily performers.

Oh, good grief, this is so laden with assumption and prejudice that I just HAVE to respond. Education is NOT ill-understood by performers who have balanced their performance activities with extensive teaching experience AND extensive training.

Just to provide an example: Over the course of my undergrad, Master's, and Doctoral schooling I have had FOUR years of pedagogical training, much of which focused on the challenges (and joys) of teaching the young. Pedagogy is, after all, the teaching of teaching, right? I was in the classroom as a student, as a teacher I was observed and critiqued by my mentors, wrote dozens of papers, and on and on. It included study of developmental stages, learning theories, dealing with students with disabilities, critical pedagogy, etc. There is a process of hard work and study to becoming a good educator in music, as you correctly state, but it is not a set of skills to which only music education majors get access.

I totally agree that most of us "primary performers" wouldn't cut the mustard in a K-12 setting. But a lot of us teach those very same kids in other settings, and do it well and get real-world results. The common assumption that lessons are just technical training is flat-out wrong. The best teachers of lessons, who've internalized good training, teach MUSIC, first and foremost, with all of its attendant areas (theory, history, aesthetics, styles, performance practice, performance psychology, listening strategies, interpretation, sociological aspects, etc.)

..just as one does not become a virtuoso on their chosen instrument by just going out there and winging it, one does not teach at their best that way.

I hope that what I said above properly addresses the assumptions that "primary performers" don't work and study hard to become good teachers. Many doctoral piano performance majors at my alma mater, UC-CCM, enroll in a heavy-duty cognate pedagogy program during their time in school. Tell these people that they're "winging it" and see what the response is.

The kind of education that performers do so well is invaluable; master-classes, lessons, conducting, all that, but we have to be aware that studying education is not about those at all.

I've taught, on average, 15-20 hours a week over the last fourteen years, pretty much non-stop outside of summers. I, for one, have continued to study education (yes, I realize you can study education outside of the actual activity of educating) during this time. To claim that what I am doing is somehow not about education (or "studying education") is beyond meaningless.

No, Jake, I'm afraid I remain unconvinced about some of these matters you bring up. Some others, as I've tried to make clear, we do agree on. But I just know too many people who work hard at both their teaching and performing. Care for another round?

Jake said...

Okay, round 2.

Oh, good grief, this is so laden with assumption and prejudice that I just HAVE to respond. Education is NOT ill-understood by performers who have balanced their performance activities with extensive teaching experience AND extensive training.

Forgive the assumption and prejudice, but you assume and prejudge yourself, which is the crux of the argument. I'm not going to engage in a blow-by-blow with you, but I want to step back a couple steps and look at the bigger picture. What is the root problem Pam is bringing up? Is it the assumption and prejudice that music educators seem to have about performers? Is is the assumption and prejudice that performers seem to have about music educators?

Going back a couple posts, there was a list of reasons, given from a music educator's perspective, of why students are discouraged from studying both education and performance. The hue and cry has come from a few performers who have apparently been successful at both. Bully for them, and for you, Joshua, for being in such an elite group. I'm certainly not, nor are any of the dozens of professional performers and educators I know and work with. Excellence at either discipline is a full-time career choice for the overwhelming majority of musicians. And I don't think we're talking about a level of competence, here, which most manage with some kind of balance either way; those people have found some kind of peace with their choices. I think that at issue is the much more difficult idea of being great both as a performer and as an educator.

The other most interesting thing about this is that these objectors seem to identify primarily as performers. They've clearly made a choice to say that they are performers first, educators second, no matter how it works out with their time or studies. Why is that, do you suppose? Is there some stigma to being an educator who performs professionally? After all, for many musicians, that's where the steady paycheck comes from, be it lessons, classroom teaching, what have you. What assumptions and prejudice are behind that self-identification? I don't think it's unreasonable for people who identify as educators first to feel that they are treated as second-class musicians. After all, music education is last on the funding list of most public schools these days, teachers in general are given short shrift by society, and excellent musicians who may do a considerable bit of teaching are loathe to let anyone forget that they are performers first.

If the point of the problem is that undergraduates are being given bad advice, all I can say is get over it. Undergraduates are given heaploads of bad advice, most of which with more life-altering consequences than whether to study music performance or music education (think student loans, credit cards and so on). Academia, school, all of it are such amazingly artificial environments that believe in their own centrality to the universe. Guess what - not a single director has given a damn what I studied in school. My boss at the pharmaceutical company I work at doesn't give a damn. All that matters, in the end, is that we produce.

Suze said...

A spirited debate! How excellent.

Jake, I'm inclined to agree with you.

I come from a long line of teachers, both in the public setting (pre-school and K-12) AND college professors. I'm a pianist with a pedagogy degree and plenty of private and group teaching experience from K through undergraduate, and I can tell you that teaching as a performer and teaching as a public school educator (which is what music ed programs are training people for) are completely different worlds.

Are we dealing with the same kids? Yes, often.

Are both kinds of teachers contributing to the musical experience of young people in an important way? Absolutely.

Does it mean that performers who teach private lessons, group lessons, master classes, summer camps, college classes know anything about navigating a public classroom in a public school? Not necessarily.

Of course the best way for teachers to learn how to teach is through experience, but that doesn't change the fact that the skill sets for performance teaching (for lack of a better term; I'm just trying to clarify here) and classroom teaching are just different. Either way, you need to be a good musician and a good teacher.

I mean, we piano pedagogues all love Martha Hilley, but what would she do if you put her in front of a room full of brand-new 4th grade string students?

Joshua Nemith said...

Just to relieve any anxiety: This will be my final comment on this issue (at least here on Pam’s blog, which has been overrun by much outside energy! Hope you don’t mind, Pam…)

Let me make a central point that’s getting overshadowed. I did not enter this fray to argue for but against a value hierarchy of arts education (put whatever you want at the top as being most significant, classroom teaching, private lessons, band or orchestra leading, etc.) I don’t want to do that because I thought I made it clear that I believe this is wrong.

All of the people involved in music education, from public classroom teaching to lesson teaching and beyond, are making valuable, synergistic contributions to the education of the young that reflect, to some degree, individual strengths and weaknesses of ourselves as teachers. We need to recognize that we’re in the same boat. And that boat has some leaks: the cutting of funds for the arts, NCLB standards, and other issues affect ALL of us who teach music to the young, not just classroom educators. It’s a challenge all around.

I’ve made it absolutely clear in all of my correspondence on this that I feel that K-12 teaching poses enormous challenges which many teachers deserve the highest praise in surmounting. I readily admit I don’t think I could satisfy the requirements as well as others who may be more suited (temperamentally, talent-wise, or whatever) to teaching groups of kids rather than teaching them one-on-one as I do. Does that mean that I can’t be a serious educator, in some other way? Does it mean that I am a “low on the totem pole” educator because I’ve listened to what my abilities and weaknesses tell me, and am probably doing what is best not only for myself but for music students as well?

What we’re all looking for here is acknowledgement of what we do, and what we can offer. There should be no need for this artificial divide among musicians, and that’s what I am arguing against. Notice carefully that I’m leaving the performer issue outside of this, which is actually unnecessary baggage that clouds the issue. This is a debate within the community of musicians. What Pam is revealing in the post is how there is bias and prejudice amongst musicians about who is an effective educator. (Notice also that I referred to all involved parties as musicians, not as performers vs. educators.) Well, music is a pretty broad field. Guess what? The prejudice doesn’t help. It hasn’t helped before. It will never help. It is worthless. And you know what? The kids don’t know about this “divide” unless it is taught to them or shown to them by example.

When I was young, I looked up to my music mentors pretty much equally. Whether it was my private piano teacher, my music class teacher, my jazz band director, my choir director, or any other musician who helped me become the musician I am, I never saw this “divide.” Everyone was working (or so it seemed) for the benefit of teaching music from so many perspectives, and they were all related (like some kind of secret society!) by this single purpose. Maybe some would say I'm lucky, but what was it that made my experience lucky? The lack of performer vs. educator prejudice or the presence of it?

Jake said: The other most interesting thing about this is that these objectors seem to identify primarily as performers. They've clearly made a choice to say that they are performers first, educators second, no matter how it works out with their time or studies. Why is that, do you suppose? Is there some stigma to being an educator who performs professionally?

No Jake, we say that we are performers first because most of us got our degrees in performance. It’s a simple matter of honesty, and it should be quite obvious that it’s courteous professional protocol. I don’t know a SINGLE music teacher who is ashamed of being a teacher. I don’t know a single performer who is ashamed of being a teacher. It has nothing whatsoever to do with any “stigma.” If anyone is responsible for the production of any stigma, it’s coming from precisely the source Jason Heath describes in his original post about this matter.

By the way, when I pursued my Master’s degree, most of my time was taken up teaching, not performing. I never felt embarrassed or “stigmatized.” Neither did my colleagues. I felt lucky, and proud. I was becoming what I always wanted to become in some way or another: a teacher. And I picked the right time to do it. I (and I’m speaking for myself personally, not for anybody else) could have never properly handled the responsibilities of being a teacher when I was an immature undergraduate.

Today, from my current point of view, I know that I admire those who are mature and dedicated enough to pursue education in their undergraduate years. Teaching is a beautiful thing. And no one, whether it’s a musician or a musician, can tell me that I shouldn’t have done things the way I did them. They were right for me, and that is the crux of the issue from Jason’s post. No one can presume for others whether they should pursue certain types of education or certain types of performance endeavors, or what the balance should be. What I am arguing is that this is not a decision a teacher can make for someone, because that person needs to explore their own peculiar, individual, and unique properties as a musician and work out the balance for themselves.

I want to address one thing Suze said:

I mean, we piano pedagogues all love Martha Hilley, but what would she do if you put her in front of a room full of brand-new 4th grade string students?

Though we should never assume when it comes to Hilley, she’d probably be the first to admit that she wouldn’t be very effective. I’m sure she knows that. It’s not her area of expertise. So let’s reverse it. How would a teacher who mostly teaches music to kindergarteners fare in front of grad students? Sorry to call this out (your comment was very even-handed and I really agree with you), but this is a straw man argument that misrepresents my position and misses my broader point. All of us musicians, yes, even K-12 educator-gods, have limitations in certain areas of expertise. Isn’t knowing that about oneself part of being a good educator?

One more quote and then I am done. It’s a stinger with bite: Academia, school, all of it are such amazingly artificial environments that believe in their own centrality to the universe.

For somebody who is so readily dismissive of educational institutions, I’m even less convinced that you’ve effectively argued for the good cause of education throughout these comments.

Suze said...

Josh. Dude. Lighten up. I don't really expect Martha Hilley to start teaching beginning orchestra to 8yos. I was just having a little fun in making my point there.

I maintain my position that there is a big, big difference between music educators in public schools and music educators in the private setting. I understand why someone training public school music teachers would be a little defensive to performance majors who want to get certified just for financial security. It implies that people who go into music ed do so just in case they can't hack it in the "real" world. I think sometimes that's the case, and it's unfortunate because it means those who are training to teach music in public schools have to work all that much harder to prove their worth as musicians. (This probably doesn't happen as much at prestigious institutions like Eastman and Ithaca, but certainly in plenty of other places.)

Discussing education at all is such a minefield, but I'm going to stop right here because I have a dissertation to write.