Remembering Your Inner Musician


     As I write this, the United States is going through the
Covid-19 uproar. Schools are closed, and teachers are delivering instruction
remotely. Many businesses and social venues are closed. People are nervous
about their health and the health of their loved ones. Honestly, it’s a scary
time. As a music teacher, you are probably scrambling to find relevant online
sources to provide your students with the best opportunities to
“music”, or experience music as a verb. It’s not easy. But, we know
as musicians, our art is a human necessity for emotional outlets during stress. 
But go back to your life “before” corona. It was
probably made up of ensemble or program rehearsals, faculty meetings, making
lesson plans, attending professional development, and tending to your own

     Now think back to the first time you just knew you were
going into music somehow. For me, it was eighth grade. Band was my jam. I loved
that it gave me someone that was “mine”. It didn’t care if I was in
the “cool” group or not. There 
was something about playing that gave me goosebumps. This
continued into college, where I’d spend 4 hours in a practice room in the Utt
building of Central Missouri State University (now the University of Central
Missouri. Go, Mules!) honing my craft. Or I’d be on the marching field in the
fall. Or I’d be in the ensemble rehearsal room for concert band or orchestra.
It consumed my life and, like the phrase goes “gave me life”.
Graduation happened. I went on to get my Masters and still lived in the
rehearsal hall. 

     Then real life happened. I got married and started teaching.
For a while, I kept up. I’d join summer band and kept up on lessons. I got out
of teaching for a while, and it was all pretty good. Then we moved. I was
expecting and teaching again. All of a sudden, about 10 years later, I realized
my flute embouchure was shot. I had not practiced. But I was playing! I played
solos and ensembles in church or in summer band. Once I took Orff levels and
later, Kodály levels, I was back to feeding that inner musician at a higher
level, with the challenges of composing, improvising, arranging, and ear
training. I was determined to improve my singing skills.
  I stepped out of a comfort level and began
challenging myself with recorder solos in church and found a renewed joy in
this, as well as playing impromptu duets with my daughter on flute.
Additionally, I took on a new challenge in community band by playing clarinet.
(It’s not Benny Goodman level, but I can make it over the break!)

      In the book , A Philosophy of Music Education: Advancing the Vision (3rd Edition)(Reimer),
the author theorizes on whether the aim of music should be performance or music
for music’s sake. (He was famous in the music education world for his debates
on the topic with his former student David Elliott). In his view, every teacher
of music, “even” those who teach general music, must be a good
musician. This does not necessarily mean being a good performer. The 2014
national standards for music were developed not merely to teach Every Good Boy
Does Fine, but to help students think and consider music in their lives and how
it affects their lives. As teachers, we need to do this as well, and set an
example. To get an idea of what music teachers thought instead of throwing my
own thoughts and theories out there, I asked 8 music teachers what their
thoughts were:

1. Teacher from Ohio: One teacher is a private instructor on
piano, voice, and organ. They believe that continuing to practice good
musicianship is vital to becoming a better teacher. This person performs out in
the “world” as a paid church musician. In order to facilitate
personal music development, they suggest picking something you enjoy and
schedule 30 minutes to yourself, once a week. 

2. Tim, from Massachusetts, is a
9-12 director of jazz studies. His primary instrument is bass; however, he also
plays guitar, piano, percussion, and trumpet. In his opinion, it is important
for music educators to have real-life experience in ensembles and performances
provides knowledge they can then share with their students. To this end, Tim
plays in various jazz gigs, including weddings, pit orchestras, and doing his
own personal recordings. In order to facilitate this, Tim suggests finding
time, even if it just 20 minutes. There is no way a teacher can realistically
rehearse 8+ hours, but even a few minutes will keep the skills up and provide
an example for students. 

3. Heather, from Kansas, is a K-6 general music
teacher and a 5-6 beginning band director whose primary instrument is voice.
She feels strongly that musicking is necessarily for one’s soul; “a love,
a hobby, an outlet.”. It helps a music teacher keep skills sharp so they
can demonstrate to their students, as well as providing emotional balance. To
that end, Heather is involved with her church’s worship team and plays piano at
home for pleasure. Sometimes, she will become involved with summer choir. Even
though she is busy herself, Heather tries to find some “me” practice
time. She suggests finding timer to “jam” with a friend if possible
and to understand that “life has seasons”. Do what you can in those
times and give yourself grace.

4. Kristin, who is also from Kansas, teaches K-12 general
music and choir, directs her church choir, and community chamber choir. Her
primary instrument is voice and piano, but she said she still likes to play
around with oboe at times. Kristin believes music teachers need to
“practice what they preach”; that is, set a practice and work ethic
example for students. Personally, Kristin said she needs her own music for her
own mental and musical health. She loves and finds she needs her own
musicality. To that end, she performs with local choirs, opera companies, and
collaborates with other musicians to feed her musical endeavors. Her advice:
please try to make time for yourself. She believes the soul craves it. She has
also discovered students respond to their music teachers’ performing efforts. 

5. Cindy is from Colorado. She teaches K-6 music, and her main instrument is
violin. She believes retaining your musicianship is vital for personal
satisfaction, as well as to help us remember what it is like on the other side
of the podium. This, in turn, can help students relate to you better and shows
a different side of you. It is also beneficial to just have something to do outside
of school. Cindy plays with a community orchestra and small ensembles, and
occasionally plays gigs. Despite what we might think, Cindy believes we are not
too busy and that we are better teachers if we set boundaries and have other
things in our lives besides teaching. 

6. Lydia, from Iowa, teaches K-5 general
music and was a voice major. She also plays piano, ukulele, and low brass, as
well as tenor recorder! She believes that practicing not only keeps our skills
sharp, but by learning a new instrument or new repertoire, we have greater
empathy for our students who struggle. She notes that, after nine years of
teaching, she has finally made tie to play music for herself during the school
year outside in bonfire jam sessions. She admits she didn’t realize how much
she enjoyed playing with a group as opposed to directing a group. By by
refueling her own personal musicianship, she feels she has grown significantly
as a musician, “refueling and rekindling [her] fire to mold musical human

7. Rosemary is from Wisconsin and teaches elementary, along with
6th grade band. A flautist, she believes music teachers need to set an example
for their students by keeping up on their own musical skills. By joining other
adults in music, a music educator can find inspiration that helps them identify
with their students, as well as discovering new styles of music and literature.
Rosemary participated in a part-time orchestra for 10 years, as well as
performing in recitals, community band, and community orchestra. Her advice for
music teachers? Find something you can do, even if it’s not your main
instrument. Make it a priority and slow down on other things. As she asks,
” If you can’t make it a priority, then how do you expect your students to
practice on their own time?” 

8. Melissa, from Missouri, teaches PreK-4, a
4-6 Honor Choir, and high school choir. Although piano is her main instrument,
she sings and plays some guitar, ukulele, recorder, and dulcimer. For her,
retaining her own personal musicianship models a practice ethic for her
students and is healthy for personal and leisure needs. Melissa sings in
community choir and assists with parts. In addition, she accompanies vocal and
instrumental soloists. She admits that at one point, she did not keep up on her
playing, and as a result, her skills suffered. So she tells music teachers,
“Get off that TV and practice!”

     As for me, I am now inspired to pick
up my clarinet and get that embouchure back into shape. I can’t go very many
places right now and I’m tired of the gloom and doom of the news, so why not?
Netflix will always be there.

Next week’s topic will be using Google products for Google classroom: suggestions, resources, and tutorials.

Just a reminder: Many of my products in my Teachers Pay Teachers store are free until April 1, to help you with this new world of remote teaching. Also a reminder: remember to leave a review, which will give you credit towards future TPT purchases.

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Hi there!

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have just completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.


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