My objective as an artist and educator is to seek, grow, study, support, and sustain relationships centered on music, words, and art, with a priority toward people who are misunderstood and mistreated by society because of their economic status, cultural background, or any other part of their life story. In my work of deepening and expanding my focus on the relational qualities of the arts, I strive to emphasize and articulate to my students, the world, and myself the importance of process over product in practice and education. Below, I describe what I believe are the main elements of the artistic process. My philosophy centers on the world of music and education, my professional realm, and is articulated as such. Even so, it applies to (and is inspired by) my avocations – writing, drama, and visual art – as well.
As a teacher and musician, I seek exercises and design lessons that target the ear and the quiet, listening mind. Listening may seem like an obvious musical priority. However, in practice, listening skills are overlooked by many music practitioners and teachers; execution is almost always put first. But a keenly attuned ear, not a dexterous hand, is the musician’s master key to the complex world of sound, as it is to a culture of respect and openness. Earnest listening practice leads to a sensitivity to sound and the ability to shape sound in subtle, amazing ways; it also leads to an openness to diverse perspectives, voices, ideas, and challenges.
I notice that the deepest learning and most interesting music-making occurs when multiple senses are engaged simultaneously, when people are moving their bodies in a relaxed, spirited way, and when tasks are approached with imagination and joy. In teaching, in rehearsal, and in performance, I advocate for a culture of trust and compassion, so that all participants feel safe and excited to take risks, make mistakes, test boundaries, express desire, and bubble over with laughter and joy. For this to happen, each participant must be welcomed to shape the activity at hand, encouraged to adopt a carefree attitude and sense of humor, and inspired to seek the heights of her physical, emotional, and mental energies.
True learning is a journey through a diverse range of social dynamics. Large group interaction makes small group work more meaningful and fruitful; in turn, tête-à-têtes and solitude nurture a learner’s personal relationship with a subject matter and enhance interactions with her colleagues. This pertains not only to students but to teachers and practitioners. Personally, I thrive when I am moving fluidly among the dynamics of a large, diverse community, a small collaborative team, intimate conversation, and my own inner world.
As a musician I actively seek resonance between my music making and the world outside the studio and concert space; likewise, as a teacher I aim to connect music lessons to the lives of my students, and the issues that concern them. I also encourage my students and peers to take interest and action in issues related to their local and global communities, explore the natural and social world, and participate in meaningful, helpful ways in their communities.
In many musical settings, I notice that social barriers are often created where connection and vulnerability could exist instead. I advocate for the latter dynamic. In order to bring a work of music to life, and to reap the full human benefits of the rehearsal and performance process, I believe that musicians (at the student and professional level) must strive for interdependence: a true melding of lives and understandings; a fluid inhabitance of the roles of learner and teacher, follower and leader, audience and performer. In my collaborative work and teaching life I want to co-create living models of creative, expressive interdependence, and to support others in their pursuit of human connection through and beyond music.
Independent, compassionate, patient, active thinkers who pursue authentic engagement with a subject, its materials, and participants and who view artistry as a journey, not a destination: those are my ideal collaborators. I am steering my students in this direction too, rather than toward a lifestyle of achievement, trivialization, and elitism. I want my students to take agency of their learning, to feel compelled to question themselves, each other, history, and their teachers. I constantly challenge students to trust themselves, make their own decisions, form and express their own opinions and arguments, and connect with the subject matter in a personal way.
As a musician, I advocate for what I call a “slow food” approach to music making. Rather than view the vast repertoire as a super-buffet to be conquered, I look at each composition (and each performance project) as an extraordinary feast in its own right; the more time, care, and love taken to prepare it and savor it, the better. Likewise, in the educational setting, generosity of time and space is essential. Without time and space, new concepts just don’t sink in, and old ones go stale. In-depth, extended contact with subject matter and a challenging, supportive community of practitioners; an attitude of humility and gladness toward the journey of inquiry; a willingness to pour excess thought, physical labor, and love into the artistic process; and an acknowledgement of the complexity of the relationships involved and the subject matter at hand: these are key ingredients for true learning and true artistry. On a musical journey, I encourage my students, peers, and myself to relax and enjoy, seek wayward paths, take on interesting risks and challenges, and as often as possible put away practicality, go down rabbit holes, feed an obsession! A culture of “racing to the finish line” impedes curiosity, sensitivity, and enthusiasm – three absolutely essential attitudes in any sincere educational, artistic endeavor.
Illustrations by Marji Gere, 2013