A perennial topic that I discuss with my students examines the various roles in the performing arts. I might ask them, "What does it take to put on a concert? What are the jobs that have to be done?" I have my students list as many jobs that they can think of that they believe contribute to a musical experience. The lists can get quite exhaustive and often include responses that have never occurred to me. Their lists often include things such as: instrumentalists, directors, singers, dancers, lights, mics and amplifiers, publicity, costumes even ushers. My conclusion is that there are in fact three required jobs: composers, performers, and perhaps most importantly, audiences. I call it (with apologies to accountants everywhere), the CPAs of music. We all benefit from the creative genius of the master composers and the performances and recordings of the great performing artists. However, where would those composers and performers be without audiences?
And now here we are in the spring of 2020 with many of us working safely from our homes. How fortunate we are that this quarantine is happening in an age that we can continue at least some of the important work that we have to do. Imagine if this had happened only 20 years ago.
I am lucky that I can continue to practice music. I have access to a world class instrument that is located in a church building presently closed to the public. (Never in my life have I had so much uninterrupted practice time!) I have been able to practice and record music that is then distributed to an online audience. I am grateful that even while I cannot see or hear my audience, I know they may choose to listen to the music that I have prepared for them. It's not the same feeling as playing music in a room full of listeners, still, I am grateful in the knowledge that the recorded music may help another, and perhaps make them happy.
Teaching music is not simply teaching students the history of a few famous Europeans and exposing them to the great classic works of the masters. It is not simply teaching formulas for writing major and minor scales, analyzing 7th chords, and practicing ear training. Teaching music is a powerful vehicle for teaching the recognition of beauty in the world in which we live. Teaching music is a vocation and a gift, a creative art form and a craft that I truly love. Trying to reach each of my music 101 students is a career choice and privilege that I value and treasure. The lessons that students learn may not seem practical to them now but I believe they are lessons that teach them to examine values, to be aware of and in search of beauty. Teaching music gives students something that they can cling to long after youth passes and something that can be explored and appreciated for a lifetime.
In ten or twenty years many students will forget our names and the course content that we considered so critical to their education. But they will remember how listening to a live symphony orchestra concert made them feel and hopefully they will recall how the arts help to make the world a better place. After all what is the end goal of a formal education? In my opinion it is not to become sharper, wittier, or highly able people. The end goal is not having credentials to fill a resume or a job application. I believe the end goal of education is to become citizens of the world that are equipped to live a full rich life. Through and because of formal education, I hope that we become better people. I hope that we become people who care, who are compassionate, who make good choices, and who make the world a better, safer, and more beautiful place for our fellow world citizens and for generations that follow.
Yesterday I had the privilege of playing the organ for services at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Salisbury, MD. This is the second time this month I have had the opportunity to accompany a choir that I had only just met. 45 minutes before the service began I sat down at the piano in front of a small group of complete strangers. First names were quickly exchanged and just as quickly forgotten. Still, I felt so comfortable in this situation, it was as if I had known them for some time. I warmed them up by having them softly sing a familiar hymn and then rehearsed the two motets that their director had taught them. They were fine singers that needed no help from me other than my keyboard work and a nod or two of my head. And so I was able to listen and marvel at this group of singers.
Singing in the choir is an extraordinary experience. Unlike solo singing, voices combine in beautiful teamwork, they contribute to a consummate sound that fills space with something uniquely human and nearly divine, something beautiful that wasn’t there a moment before. Group singing creates harmony. Voices are similar to single blossoms or even buds that when combined with other flowers create breathtaking arrangements. And also similar to flowers, a single voice doesn’t have to be perfect to fit into the arrangement. A short piece of florist’s wire can correct a bent stem, and a little coaching on the shape of a vowel sound can alter the pitch and timbre just so.
Science says that singing in a choir releases endorphins and reduces stress. Perhaps that's so. But I’m convinced that singing in a choir contributes to the betterment of all involved. Singers enjoy fellowship, camaraderie, purpose. Audiences are ennobled, satisfied, even inspired. And in my experience from yesterday, after one hour of music and worship, strangers left as friends. - WRT
Why blog? What do I blog about? The thought of recording my ideas, feelings, opinions intimidates and overwhelms me. Where do I start and who would be interested in reading what I think? The answer to the former is this is where I start, and the latter, perhaps the same friends I would be talking with or perhaps no one at all. I express my ideas in front of classrooms on a nearly daily basis. True, those ideas are mostly based on music literature from centuries ago but I constantly try to help my students connect that with the present. And maybe I can do that here too.