by Katherine 'KOOL KAT' Farnham
The tradition of private piano and vocal lessons has been going on for centuries. This is an interesting fact to consider. It may seem odd to reflect upon and truly grasp this understanding - through the lens of our tech savvy and globally oriented culture. Even in the eighteenth century when Johann Sebastian Bach was wearing a powdered wig and knickers while teaching his one hundred music students - there were still people playing keyboard instruments and singing. Teachers gave private lessons just like today. Famous musicians and composers mentored the up and coming younger musicians. Musical and artistic styles changed and evolved, but the tradition of sharing continued.
Shifting to this focus can be useful. Educators have a tough job. Students are also going through a great deal when trying to learn now. There are so many distractions in the modern world. When students experience boredom, lack of motivation or pandemic related burn-out what can be done?
It can be helpful to occasionally take a moment and forget the routine process of taking a music or vocal lesson. That’s right. Forget the whole thing every once in awhile! Take a few moments to just reflect upon the value, scope and breadth of the tradition instead.
It’s not just a lesson, it’s a legacy.
You may have wondered - what’s in it for you? Are you getting anything out of this? I want you to just sit there and think about the origin of all of this. The smartest parents and students recognize that value is much more important than price. So what is the value of a quality music or arts education?
Why should anyone care? Most people are so busy studying or working hard to meet the demands of modern life that they often get understandably exhausted.
You’re tapping into a powerful source. Let music soothe, comfort, heal and invigorate you.
Music and arts education is a timeless and priceless legacy. It’s a legacy of a tradition that is bigger than just teacher and student. It’s a legacy of sharing the great stories of composers and musicians who taught others and created music that stood the test of time. It’s a legacy of a universal language that is shared and loved by diverse people all over the globe.
When you sit - or stand there - in your modern day Nikes and jeans or your workout clothes or your skirt or suit- and really get this - you may just begin to understand that the world already has been given a great gift, a universal language that has the power to teach, inspire, heal, connect and even unify.
These are challenging times. Why should you as a teacher continue teaching the lines and spaces that students often will not remember? Why should your student show up for an online or in person lesson, mask his/her frustration and go thru yet another musical or vocal scale? Because you are both taking part in a very special and valuable tradition. It’s true that sometimes it won’t be easy.
The gift of music is for everyone. By doing the work, we will reap the rewards.
Teachers are teaching the curriculum, with the specific lessons that entails. However, it’s really much more than that. If we do our jobs correctly, we are sharing this timeless legacy that goes back hundreds of years into the depths of human history. It can be comforting and inspiring to realize that. Teachers and students have shared the joys of music throughout more than one pandemic and cultural/societal period of intense change. As a universal language it has soothed our spirits, challenged our minds, expanded our compassion and simply taken our minds off of our troubles long enough to feel connected once again with life.
As political and religious issues shift throughout history, we see that these constructions often divide people. However, the language of music is a great unifier that often brings people closer together in a bond of mutual enjoyment and love. The written language of music goes down on paper pretty much the same way throughout the world. Sheet music in the United States, England, France, Italy, Russia, Korea and Japan will all show the first line of treble clef as being an E. Most people might need a language translator if they visited all of those countries, but the language of music does not change! The tradition - and the language is universal and timeless.
My best music teachers made me laugh, made me gasp with a ha moments of epiphany, they inspired me, they frustrated me, a few times they made me cry but ultimately I realized they taught - and continued to teach - even when it was difficult - a subject yes but more importantly, a tradition.
When you realize this everything changes. Suddenly it is easier to let go of all the petty moments, the ridiculous frustrations, the boredom and the seemingly unsolvable questions.
This truth gives us perspective.
Suddenly you can understand things that the human mind and communication system is often challenged to grasp on a daily basis. Within the listening of a beautiful piece of music however, everything instinctively can make sense to your heart and soul without a great deal of explanation. That is the power of music - of listening to it, of appreciating it, and of performing and teaching it.
Understanding this means we are better able to understand history, culture, the arts, our modern day community, world events and perhaps even our place in all of that.
So the next time you or your student is frustrated remember these things. Take a few moments and consciously tap into that legacy. Share a funny or memorable story about your favorite composer. Sit there with coffee or tea or a glass of water in your jeans, sweats, trousers or pandemic pajamas and just be silent.
Reflect and have gratitude for this timeless gift we have been given.
(c) 2021 Katherine Farnham