Thoughts on Music Education and Performance
In my native language, Greek, the word for teacher is didaskalos (from the verb didasko: to teach or rather apt to teach). The root of the word is deus which means “wisdom to teach and learn.” Strangely enough this is the word for God in Latin, a realization that has always made me nervous! Another word for teacher is pedagogue, which is yet another Greek word adopted in almost every language of Western civilization. This term for teacher has a very interesting history. Initially a paedagogus was a slave who escorted children to school and generally cared for them and supervised their activities. Later, the paedagogus acquired a new status in Greek society and the word came to mean the teacher, the leader in the education of the young (pedo: child, youth + agogos: leader). A pedagogue became the main individual responsible to guide, educate, and prepare the young, privileged male citizens of the Hellenic world for adulthood.
Growing up in a country that used these two terms (didaskalos and paedagogos) interchangeably, I soon started to wonder if they were actually synonyms in their modern use. If not, what were their differences and which of the two job descriptions would actually apply to me and my professional career in music?
The Oxford Dictionary defines the verb “teach” as “to give systematic information to a person or about something, to enable a person to do something by instruction and training.” In other words, to teach is to provide the tools and methods to accomplish a specific task. To educate, again quoting the Oxford Dictionary, is “to give intellectual, moral, and social instruction especially as a formal and prolonged process, to advise or give information.” It is the way in which we learn a discipline.
When I entered the academic world as a college student, I started thinking about academia and academics. I began to observe, analyze, and in some instances question the way my professors taught me and my fellow students. At this time, I became conscious of another academic term, professor. The actual word for professor in Greek is kathigitis. It literally means to guide through, to drive towards, and hopefully lead to knowledge. Feeling frustrated with some of my professors and their apparent indifference for my artistic development and professional accomplishment, I started rethinking these terms. I suddenly realized that words, their roots, and their meanings were not just there to enrich my vocabulary and sense of linguistic fluency. They were descriptions of a vocation, a list of skills and tools one needs to obtain, maintain, and cultivate.
Words are not just terms; they are responsibilities towards generations of younger people who rely on the teacher or professor to perform successfully on any given day. These terms are the calling not to profess only what we know; what we have read, studied, and memorized ourselves. They are proof that we will never know enough. They are a reminder of our duty to keep learning and keep searching for ways to assist our students and to allow ourselves to be taught by them how we need to teach them.
Such realizations offered me no easy solutions on how to be a successful teacher. They just created more questions. Some of them are fundamental. They speak to the core of my artistic existence and have become a constant companion in my career. I turn to those questions seeking new answers whenever I feel that I am losing perspective or getting frustrated with the state of music education nowadays. They serve as points of reference whenever I start doubting myself about the reasons I teach, my goals, or my artistic objectives.
The Importance of Music Performance and Education
All artists feel that the importance of educational programs and consistent exposure to musical arts is self-evident to everybody. The benefits are such an integral part of everyday life to professional and amateur musicians that we sometimes forget that not everyone has the privilege to be exposed to a musical education. That is why I fervently believe that professional musicians need to act as advocates for the merits of our work and actively assist in creating young, enthusiastic, and well-educated audiences.
Some of you may wonder: “Why are the enhancement of already existing musical programs and the creation of new initiatives so important for our children’s development? Why is formal training in music important?”
Well, I could stand here for a week communicating my experiences and conclusions from years of studying, performing, and teaching in Europe and the United States. In brief, we all get a kick out of a happy rhythmic pop song and seek emotional relief from our stresses and daily burdens through a melodic ballad or an old crooner’s song. Music can be simple and entertaining; vehicles to express emotion, release tension, or just to have some good old fun. What is definite is that there are many dialects in music, and they all have a place in our lives according to our preferences and aesthetic orientations.
Musical training and formal music education offer a very important tool for the enhancement of our mental, spiritual, and aesthetic capabilities as well as our physical agility and coordination. It is scholarly and scientifically proven that formal music education and exposure to diverse musical environments teaches us to learn better and develop a great deal of discipline through methodical learning habits. Music has been shown to dramatically improve children’s performance in math and physics. After all, music is in a way math rendered in sound.
Ensemble work and Chamber music in particular brings together a group of musicians and teaches them the principles of a balanced, civilized, and creative collaboration. They learn to listen to each other, assist and accommodate each other, and adjust to unpredictable circumstances. Teaches them to coexist, work together towards a common goal with purpose and conviction. and create music, bring a work of art to life, together!
Chamber music and collaborative playing sharpens the aesthetic perception of sound, musical composition, the sense of rhythm, and musical expression. Music sharpens the mind and cultivates the soul!
It could be that music is one of the most effective tools to a child’s future. It can become a valuable companion, a creative outlet, or even a lifelong passion and shelter in times of trouble and uncertainty.
What are your thoughts about music education and playing an instrument or singing ? What does music mean to you? What programs would you like to see in schools, in cities in communities? How important is music in your lives?