Statement of Teaching Philosophy

I strongly believe the music educator has a unique advantage in reaching into student's lives, exciting their spirits, and preparing them to be whole persons.  Simply put, the tool of music is a powerful one. When used in a meaningful way, it can not only teach, but transform paradigms.

Whether on the podium or in the classroom, I am constantly trying to remind myself that everyone in the room, including myself, is a human being.  All people come into the room with a variety of issues, or ‘baggage’ that may or may not pertain to the subject matter of the class that particular day.  This singular thought engages a spirit of vulnerability in me (the instructor), which changes the presentation of the material and subsequently the way the student receives the information.

I consider this to be absolutely critical in reaching students in our current age, who are consistently over-stimulated from media, social-networking, and corporate marketing.  With each successive leap in technology, students are looking to engage less in human contact and more into a new reality of virtual existence.  A teacher who has embraced a servant style of leadership will approach and engage these students as humans in need of love and understanding, not just receivers of information and performers of tasks.  This thoughtful approach must be balanced with a consistent message that excellence and ownership are goals worth working hard for.

There is an interesting way this can play out in a rehearsal.  Giving creative and positive individual attention in a group setting, albeit scary and intimidating to the one singled out, can be a most efficient teaching tool.  When positive feedback from a servant teacher is received by the student in front of his/her peers, the door to vulnerability is nudged open for all.  Community learning develops.  Understanding develops.  A willingness to go deeper into the material develops.  In a way, this helps the student frame their involvement in the learning process by watching a peer go through it. 

When teaching a class of young conductors, this idea of vulnerability is incredibly important as well.  Certainly they must learn pattern, score study, and technique from me, but I must make sure they also learn the ability to look their ensemble members in the eye as they conduct.  I must model the conductor’s ability to understand the mood of an ensemble and how to deal with it on a day-to-day basis.  I must help them understand that they are also caretakers of people opening up to an emotional world.  Certainly a way that I do this is by creating a space where students feel it is ok to fail or succeed.  Growth further compounds when the students start learning from each other’s mistakes or successes as well, not just their own.

This is a layered approach that reaches beyond the academic material that students must learn.  Music empowers teachers, in a truly unique way, to touch these areas in a student’s life in which great change can take place.  With this comes great responsibility, which many teachers take for granted or leverage for power.  Feeling powerful in front of the class or getting easily angered and emotional are dangers to constantly watch for and guard against. These types of traps are counter-intuitive to a positive learning environment and are not a part of what it means to be a servant teacher.

Finally, I believe a teacher should always learn.  I must not only just ‘change when I need to change’. I must seek to grow, and sometimes painfully.  I must be creative with integrity when there is a roadblock with a student or colleague.  When I am frustrated with a situation, I must always seek to understand and act, stepping forward in that understanding.

Fostering a love of learning and a love of music is an ultimate goal I sustain as an instructor.  This goal includes consistently developing a firm foundation of technique, an understanding of historical contexts, a growing knowledge of repertoire of all styles, and a work ethic to achieve excellence.  I seem to have always desired to share my love of the mystery of music as well with all people, and what it does when engaged in together as a community.  I feel like this is a gift that I can uniquely share with students and I continue to strive to find better paths and methods.