Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Music Teaching Artist's Bible

I'm a storyteller and a puppeteer. I'm comfortable saying that. Here's what I'm learning to say: I'm also a teaching artist.

It's not an automatic fit. I find it a challenge to approach my work differently, to focus on teaching as much as I focus on performance, to make detailed plans, to mesh with school curricula and learn the language of standards. Thanks in large part to the Lied Center of Kansas, and specifically Anthea Scouffas, who brought in Kennedy Center training for two groups of artists last year and the year before, I'm learning how to do this.

Another step in my education is reading and rereading The Music Teaching Artist's Bible: Becoming a Virtuoso Educator by Eric Booth. Even though it's for musicians, the book extends to teaching artists of all kinds.

I love this book. It's rich, complex, interesting, well-written and above all, useful to my work and my life. The author is one of the country's foremost teachers of teaching artists. Here's a bit about what a teaching artist is, from the first chapter (storyteller easily substitutes for musician):
One clunky definition of the term I use is an artist who chooses to include artfully educating others, beyond teaching the technique of the art form, as an active part of a career. Yes, this could and should include just about all artists, all musicians, because we all find ourselves teaching in bits and pieces throughout our lives. We teach when we talk to family, friends, strangers and colleagues about music. We teach by example. As you will read in these essays, I believe that 80% of what we teach is who we are, and like it or not, our example in the world teaches people what it means to be a musician. And for the sake of our artform, I hope you teach as artfully as you perform. (p.3-4)
Booth weaves that law of 80% throughout the book. Think about that: 80% of what you teach is who you are. That bears repeating and long reflection.

Booth leads readers through ideas of what a teaching artist is (and isn't), what is necessary to be an effective teaching artist, how to work in educational settings, what the challenges are, how to expand the way we think about teaching and the arts, and what's going on in the rest of the world in the field (this list loosely taken from the table of contents).

It's clear that Booth is deeply invested in the arts in general and in fostering teaching artists. Here's what he says at the end of the book:
I have set high goals in these pages. I'm sure that at times they have seemed unrealistic, quixotic, perhaps even annoying. I have asked that you never ask a question with a single correct answer because to do so even once violates the respectful inquiring world we seek to invite learners' spirits inside. I have urged you to do homework, to spend time with ten-year-olds if you don't have a gut feeling for their minds and hearts. I have urged you to plan thoroughly for each opportunity in order to have every aspect of it embody the best of what we love about the arts. I have even asked that you dedicate time to add reflection, and to structure in self-assessment and documentation because they help affirm, help realize and give place in the heart to the feel of the arts. I have urged your vigilance as witness with learners because only you can recognize that wordless moment when the artist awakes in someone's spirit, when a person feels that surge of power, that spiritual blip of potential to make a world arise. Only you can confirm its truth and importance, perhaps just with a nod that says yes, perhaps with just a few words that say, "You are on the right track. Keep going." And let your subtext say, "Keep going. For the rest of your life. As I have done."
I've dogeared my copy of the book. I know my first readings of it are far from my last. I'll dip in for ideas, for resources and most of all for inspiration. If you're an artist, I hope you'll do the same.


Allen Macfarlane said...

I eagerly read through the book and at the end felt a little disappointed. I am speaking not as a musician trained and expected to play classical music but rather as a working musician with a very strong interest in seeing my art employed as a means to an end in education.

At one point in the book, he basically states that using the arts to teach content does not do justice to either discipline or something to that effect. I strongly disagree with that idea on at least a couple of different levels. For one thing, using music or any of the arts to help teach content falls squarely in line with using multiple intelligences to reach children. Secondly, the arts are not conducted in a vacuum, but rather in the context of so many other intellectual pursuits. Any time we blow into, pluck the strings of, or use a mallet to strike an instrument to create sound, we are using scientific principles. Many times, music is created in the context of historical events or figures, for example Beethoven was at one time a big fan of Napoleon and then later looked upon him as an evil person. his music reflects those feelings. Often music is composed based on folk tales. I hope you get my point here.

So, in sum, there are some ideas that I think he got right, but I don't think his thesis of keeping the arts out of content areas is the right way to go.

anthea said...

Great review Priscilla and interesting comments Allen! Good to have these dialogues. I have not finished the book yet, so will wait to make mine.