Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Thoughts on Music and 'Presence' in the Music Classroom

Recently I was asked to respond to some questions and ideas for a music education research project. I always love the opportunity to explore the what and why of what I do and so I want to share my responses with you. Hope you enjoy. I would love to hear your thoughts! 
How do you describe yourself as a person? 
Outgoing, energetic, loquacious, family man, creative, and observational by nature. I seem to function either in the shadows watching and learning, or in a leadership roll.  I have done a lot of working with other projects and helping people to achieve success, but lately (the last 2-3 years), I have been consumed with my own projects and work, which includes my family, my career as an educator and my music...(in that order).

Describe why music is important to you.  
  It is important to me because it deals with the fundamental vibrations that affect humankind. I believe the study of music is the study of the human experience as it relates to space and time. I believe an understanding of music leads to a larger understanding of relationships, emotions, feelings, flow, and nature (to name a few).  I believe musicians do work with the human soul, on par with that of a surgeon or therapist. The experience of music brings people together (literally) using vibratory frequencies that resonate every part of our physical being.  Music is used to sell everything there is to sell, (aside from itself, ironically). It is a vehicle for social change and understanding, which makes it vitally important to understand and administer with good intentions. As a performer and educator dealing in the medium of music, I feel a great responsibility to show people the good that comes from pouring positive physical energy into musical experience.

“Presence” in the classroom has been defined as:
“a state of alert awareness, receptivity and connectedness to the mental, emotional and physical workings of both the individual and the group in the context of their learning environments and the ability to respond with a considered and compassionate best next step (Rodgers & Raider-Roth, 2006, p. 266) 

Describe a moment when you felt you had “presence” in the classroom. 
  The first month of the school year consists of a massive organizational effort on my part to set up the structure, create the space and empower students to create, observe, practice good habits and communicate.  Once this effort has been made, my role in the classroom goes through a rather large shift from leading from the front of the room to sitting on the side, keenly observing, providing the tools, guidance, and praise that is required to keep the students focused, happy, and creative.  When class starts and a 4th grade student walks to the front of class full of 4th-8th grade students, gets everyone's attention and starts a warm up, then proceeds to guide the warm-up for the next 15 minutes uninterrupted (by me), I feel the sense of presence as described above. I feel lucky to have this feeling on a daily basis with my students.

Describe a time when you felt a lack of presence in the classroom. 
  Our school sits on 40 acres of woods and fields. Occasionally a flying bug or a bee will make it's way into the rehearsal space. When this happens students get distracted, pulled off task and they wind up pursuing the solution to the perceived "problem" we squish it, or capture it and set it free?  Either way they are pulled away from the work at hand and a rift in the classroom dynamic is created. I then feel as though I have to bring the process to an end, reset, and pick back up again.  The distractions are not always bug related, they can be from a student who forgot their instrument, or a rift between two students that started before they came to music....Whatever the reason, these distractions pull us out of our present state and require a different sort of attention. I take it as my challenge to keep the flow as much as possible by teaching focus and inspiring good work regardless of setbacks. This is perhaps the biggest daily challenge for any teacher (or, come to think of it, any leader of any kind... a band leader, a kitchen chef or boardroom boss). These are human issues, which I will say again, relate to the importance of studying get to work on these issues in the pursuit of something beautiful. How great is that!?!