Redemption

31 05 2008

A few days ago I met with a large number of musicians who want (or wanted) to work with us in making music education as accessible to as many people as possible. We went over topics like classroom management (because part of making music accessible is meeting the students where they are and not demanding that they come to us, and that means in classrooms – with more than one student per teacher), curriculum, and a few other things that most musicians are rather leery about.

Speaking of leery, I am leery of meeting other musicians – we are, quite sadly, a very egotistical lot; many musicians make the all-too-common mistake of building their self-worth upon their abilities, and when they get together, any conversation invariably leads to a match-up – veiled questions aimed at exposing one another’s weaknesses are exchanged, all with plastic smiles, and a great deal of truly pathetic, utterly pretentious posturing. I myself have found myself participating in the truly immature exchange – much to my shame.

I met a few people who’s abilities could easily blow me out of the water – and they had the barbed questions and mannerisms to reinforce this. I daresay they made quite a number of us feel quite inadequate as musicians. It’s a truly terrible feeling – one that inspires the most base reactions from those of us on the receiving end. There were definitely one-sided shouting matches before the bathroom mirror afterwards (mostly by me).

I write this because the event forced me to do a lot of introspection regarding my own music, and having an extremely insightful conversation with a friend and fellow teacher whom I judged to be able to take the whole bevy of pompous musicians in stride led me to do some conscious priority re-evaluation.

I realize that I am a teacher first, a performer second. I never feel as happy and fulfilled on stage than I do in a classroom; I’m never as proud of my own performances as I am of the performances of my students; and while I would love to perform with a professional group of musicians every now and then, I would leave it all in a heartbeat for the chance to perform (or practice) with a group of my students. In fact, I find the elusive quality of music that my friend calls rhema to be just as present in the faces of my students when they finally get a part right as when I hear a proper rendition of Handel’s Worthy is the Lamb.

I am also quite relieved that I need not bear the burden that many performers bear – the undeniable link between one’s performance and one’s worth. This results in having to constantly prove one’s worth every time one picks-up the instrument: it must be hell. What a relief it is to be able to say, “I intend to get better every day, but today, I’ll play as best as I can, and if that’s not good enough for you, that’s too bad, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.”

As a teacher, I need not pretend to be better than I actually am – that’s not my job. My job is to be gracious in the face of my students’ weaknesses and uplift them with every ounce of skill and talent and giftedness I possess. I suppose I can add that it is part of the territory that I be humble before those who are inarguably better than I am.

What’s my reason for entitling this post “Redemption”? Because this morning, listening to my students struggle through this week’s String Ensemble lineup (Nimrod and our very own Pirate Suite), watching our concertmaster try her best not to squeal out of the sheer joy of getting her hands on a real handmade violin…I remember once again why I do what I do.

Heavenly Father, I’m not going to ask for stellar musical abilities; instead, I would like to say thank you for the abilities You have given me, and the place You have put me in – to encourage and uplift and teach those less privileged, those less-gifted than I. If You should desire to bless me more, I ask that it be, in turn, a blessing to others. I love music, but music is not my God – You are. Amen.

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