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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000205.txt from 2002/06

Subj: [kl] Teaching the 'students' of today
Date: Thu, 6 Jun 2002 14:12:10 -0400

Lacy Schroeder wrote,
>I have seen other students in my former teacher's
>clarinet studio that have absolutely no prayer in
>making it as a performer, but they still go for it. [snip]
>[S]ometimes you just want to spare them the agony of
>going through it all and just tell them to find another
>major because they'll never make it with this one. [snip]
>But how do you tell someone something like that?
>I can't be the one to crush somebody directly, I'm too
>nice to do that.

The news that a student probably won't become a professional musician doesn't
have to be brutal enought to "crush somebody." There are positive ways to
phrase that information. It may even come as a relief for kids who find
competition too stressful. Students who stay with their instruments through
college must have *some* talent, diligence and skill to reach that level.
The ones who can't meet professional standards probably have equipped
themselves to enjoy a lifetime of music. Please make sure they understand
that as a good thing, even if it's not the best possible thing.

The system of juried competition and the easy availability of first-rate,
professional recordings train both teachers and students to judge harshly who
belongs in music and who doesn't. (Those quotation marks in the thread title
say it all.) It seems to me that kids who will never play like the
recordings, no matter how much they practice, usually figure that out long
before a parent or a teacher officially breaks the news. Waiting for that
news, expecting it, avoiding and dreading that conversation, can be worse
than hearing it.

It's kinder to speak up than to keep the student dangling with false hopes.
Studying with a teacher who's convinced that you're wasting your time means
that you're . . . wasting your time. Meanwhile, the rejected student who
believes that the teacher is mistaken needs to find a different teacher,
soon, instead of dragging along indefinitely behind a former mentor's
negative attitude.

Although the subject of amateur music comes up often on klarinet, I have the
impression that it's an afterthought for most professional music teachers,
who think of their students as two basic types: people with the right stuff
to become professional musicians (successes) and people who will never make
it as professionals (failures). How many of the "failures" become active
amateur musicians? I think the great majority simply become ex-students.
Why would they hang around where they can't fit in and they don't feel

I'd sure like to have a dollar for every time I've heard someone say, "I used
to play the [whatever instrument], but I wasn't good enough" (I said that,
for years), or, "at first I practiced, but the exercises were boring and I
wasn't getting anywhere, so I quit as soon as my parents would let me." My
impression is that most childhood music students quit before age 21 and that
most of the quitters never play their instruments again. (If anyone believes
otherwise, please show me some statistics!) Attrition among music students
was already horrendous back in the 1950s and 1960s, when I was in school,
before public schools in the USA started phasing music out of their budgets.
The loss or curtailment of so many school music programs no doubt has
worsened the attrition rate, but the pre-existing attrition also made it
easier for school districts to excuse phasing out those programs, in a
vicious circle. Yet there's considerable research data supporting the idea
that part of the human condition is an inborn need to make music--to
participate, not just listen to someone else do it.

One key to reversing the ratio of active musicians to quitters may be to
encourage teachers to train their private music students to become lifetime
amateur musicians as the *primary* goal of the lessons, not as the booby
prize for those who fail to measure up to professional standards. Make
excellent playing and enjoyment of music the most important goals of the
lessons, and consider the occasional elevation to professionalism a lucky
break for a rare student. To put it more starkly: Teach students to consider
professional musicians admirable but abnormal. Statistically, they *are*
abnormal. Why do we doom nearly all music students to failure by setting up
a goal that *we already know* only a tiny minority can ever reach?

Competition works well to establish who will get the few available
professional jobs, but this system isn't working to support those
professionals later if it chases the demoralized "failures" out of music
altogether. I'll bet that the people who maintain their enthusiasm enough to
keep on playing an instrument into adulthood are far more likely *also* to
attend concerts, to listen to new music, to buy multiple recordings of the
same piece, and to buy their children instruments and music lessons. It's in
the professionals' own best interest to encourage a big, healthy amateur
music community.

My two cents--more than my music has ever earned me! :-)


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