music teachers, you’re amazing

I’m going to be writing about music teachers in movies this week.  There will be many disparaging remarks made.  Before I do that, I want to make it clear how highly I respect real-life music teachers who spend every day in classrooms all over the country.  They work with kids, they wrestle with administrators, they seek repertoire, and try to make art in the middle of a bureaucratic nightmare.

I taught for five years, from 1999 to 2004.  I liked the kids, I liked making them sing, showing them how music was art.  I hated that administrative efficiousness, the heirarchy, the bureaucracy were valued over beauty, joy, and the experience of art.  I mean, I get that schools deal with huge numbers of kids with a wide variety of requirements, but can’t they trust a teacher at least to be an expert in his field and even a thoughtful, insightful human being?  Bah!  I won’t write about that because I don’t want to.  I don’t have the answers; I don’t even have the patience to seek answers.  Suffice it to say I found it stifling to the point of torture.  I couldn’t take it.  I couldn’t do it.

I was unlucky, I think, in my situation.  There must be schools out there who value art and music, who understand that an individual teacher can be a great teacher without conforming to a specific paradigm, or who have a paradigm that more closely resembles me with all my highly skilled intensity and passion and commitment.  But all teachers must conform to some degree, and their tolerance for that is greater than mine.  So I admire their resilience.  I know a job I can’t handle when I see it, and teaching music in a school is one.  To the people who can, I take my hat off.

In the, as they say, interest of full disclosure, I should also mention that my husband is a high school choir director and has been for over twenty years.  He’s also a church musician and kick-ass pianist and all-around generally fabulous person with more patience and tolerance than I can ever imagine possessing.  His ability to put up with other people’s bullshit (including mine, if I’m being honest) and still maintain his sense of humor and artistic integrity is awe-inspiring.  How he does it, I have no idea.

I adjudicate competitions and festivals, so I hear a lot of choirs and get to see what a lot of teachers do.  Most of the bad choirs are being conducted by people who were not trained to conduct choirs.  They were hired by people who didn’t realize that there is actually training required to teach people to sing, and they themselves didn’t know enough to argue.  So I try to help when I give them comments.  “Head voice,” I tell them, “and quality repertoire.”

Many of the people who were trained to conduct choirs are doing beautiful, amazing things.  I’ve heard school choirs that literally made me weep both from the power of their performance and for the joy that this kind of thing is happening in schools.  Middle school boys singing Faure, freshman girls singing Mendelssohn.  Bliss!

Yes, music teachers are amazing.  I thank them for putting up with our kids and our stupid, flawed educational system.  Thanks for sticking in there and making a difference!

Soon, I will be railing against depictions of music teachers in movies, mostly because the conducting is such crap.  I don’t mean to say that music teachers aren’t heroes.  I don’t mean to say they don’t deserve to have movies made about them.  On the contrary, they deserve to be depicted well–as good as they are–as opposed to the crap that gets slopped up onto screens every few years.

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