Whether we want to admit it or not, we music teachers are all to some extent caught in the specialist trap. This trap has been built out of people who claim to have little or no musical talent and who must rely on us to provide all of the musical training for their children. The problem with this belief is that very few people actually have as little musical talent as they think, and when they abandon all opportunities for being a musical influence on their children, they are dong more harm than good.
This situation was brought to mind at a conference session I gave recently to a group of early childhood educators. These were not music teachers, but teachers of children ranging in age from infants to five years old. As I shared the wealth of research that has shown what even the new born’s brain is capable of doing musically, and how important music is to even infants, some of my audience began to feel the trap closing on them. I can’t speak for everyone in that group, but one teacher came up to me after the session and after making a point of telling me that she didn’t want to ask this when everyone was there, said she was already singing to her students, and having them sing in class, but that she was dismayed at how closely her students’ singing sounded like her! She was concerned that she was doing more harm than good. I assured her that singing to her students was a good thing, and that in the very act of trying to imitate her singing sounds, they were gaining in their musical development, and that she should continue to sing to them and have them sing to her. I commended her for her efforts.
Afterward, I reflected on how she showed great love and courage in doing what she was doing. When those children are older, there will be time for them to learn how to sing more correctly, but at ages 3 and 4, just having a teacher who is singing to them and expecting them to sing what she is singing to them accurately is age appropriate and positive. I suggested she purchase the CD and book of Music for Little People by John Feierabend, practice doing the activities on her own, and then do them with her daughter. By then she would be more confident in her singing for teaching, and would have enriched her own daughter’s development with priceless mother-daughter time together. In addition, I encouraged her to suggest that the parents of her students purchase the book and CD set, and begin using them with their own children at home. Children need musical interaction with responsible adults, and there are none better for this than parents, teachers and caregivers.
Somehow, we must convince ourselves that music is not a privilege or an exclusive activity that only the most proficient minority can enjoy. Music is part of every human culture; it is a shared part of who we are. At times it reflects who we are and at other times it instructs us on who we could or ought to be. It should be sung, played, moved to, danced to, clapped, stomped and enjoyed by everyone and in community, not in the isolation made so convenient by personal music playing devices. We need to rediscover the joy and higher quality of life people enjoyed when, before recorded music replaced home and community music making, music had to be a shared experience. We need to allow ourselves to trade technology created perfection for personal, joyful, meaningful music making, even if it is less perfect than what the professionals do. Imperfection is part of the human condition, and pretending that artificially created perfection in a studio is what music ought to be is stifling the very human spirit that craves and thrives on sincere if imperfect musical expression. None of this is to say we ought to allow sloppiness to take over our music education. Far from it. But it is to say that we need to get our priorities right. Perfection at the expense of people being afraid to open their mouths in song is not worth the cost. Let’s teach our children to make music, and to love making music, and may the children teach their parents that the best way to approach music is the way children approach it: singing their hearts out with happiness and excitement. What is so captivating about children singing isn’t that they are our children or that they are cute, it is that they have a love and happiness for what they are doing that we somehow let get away from us as adults. May we all return to our child-like love for music, and share it as equal partners with our children and for those of us who are teachers, our students.