I met up with a friend of mine today.
He’s a teacher. A good one. Massively intelligent. Sickeningly articulate. Thin. Sporty too. I hate that. I even asked him, “Is there anything you can’t do?” “I’m not very good at relative pitch,” he said.
“Good,” I replied.
I think he reads this blog. He flagged that he knows I’m trying to raise funds for this blog. To tell the truth I was a bit thrown.
That’s the thing about blogging I think. You spend so much time writing content deliberately blanking out the possibility that anyone you know would read what you’re writing (because that’s the only way you can possibly write what you actually want to say), that you end up unwittingly telling yourself that absolutely no one you know reads it.
And then when they reveal that they do or that they have, you’re sat there like a rabbit caught in the headlights thinking ‘Fuck.’
I mention all of this because its important for me to be absolutely clear about the context of our conversation and its intent. He and I talked about teaching. I was in search of advice. I needed some clarity. I’m at the stage in my professional life of determining paths to follow.
One of the things I wanted to find out about was the appetite and need for teaching. Was there a place for someone like me in the education system?
I explained that it was something I had originally pursued after I graduated. I applied for PGCEs and everything.
Truth be told, all I really wanted to do was conduct a wind band. I was more up for participatory music making than I was about standing up in front of a class and getting them enthused about the very things they absolutely resisted for one reason or another (usually peer pressure).
The PGCE never worked out (see the blog about suicide plans for a bit of context). The Department for Education got involved in the end. Psychiatric notes were nosed through. Judgments were made. It was all terribly disappointing. I should have challenged it at the time, but never did. If it happened today I’d have kicked up a right old fuss.
It’s because of the Department of Education’s letter to me that I closed the door on teaching. For 25 years. Until just recently when I started to wonder, ‘Just to suppose if they hadn’t have sent that letter to me and said the things they did. Would teaching still be an appealing option?’
After all, teaching is on the same fundamental level as writing a blog banging a drum for the audience for the classical music world.
My friend was honest, succinct, and fearless. He described a competitive world, one where opportunities were fiercely contested, and where attention was focussed on those who had already developed talent. It was a world I didn’t especially feel at home. “I’m not expert enough. I haven’t been a professional musician.” I’d already admitted that the teaching option was a blurry one.
His candidness had achieved one very important goal. It had provided me with clarity: teaching was not something I was naturally drawn to, and it wasn’t something I needed enough to make it a possibility.
But something dawned on me after we’d said goodbye to one another. If, as I suspect, the teaching of music in education circles is seen through the prism of developing already identified talent at whatever age, what about those members of the community for whom playing an instrument isn’t something they want to do, or something then can do particularly well? What about the kids who haven’t demonstrated a proficiency for a particular instrument?
How do we teach or inspire the next generation, not of musicians, but listeners?
Thoroughly Good Blog is an independent blog celebrating classical music and the arts.