One of the pitfalls of doing anything over a long period of time, is that we can wake up one day and realize we’ve forgotten why we do what we do. We’ve been doing it for so long, it has become a habit, a lifestyle, a part of who we are. Chances are those of us who have been teaching music for 2o or 30 years haven’t thought about why we started when it was who we wanted to be, and what we wanted to be. If you’re like me, you have loved music for as long as you can remember, and have heard from family that you loved it even before that. You probably were in band, orchestra, and/or chorus throughout school, had a music teacher or two that took a special interest in you and maybe encouraged you or mentored you, and off you went to college to become a music teacher. At that point, if anyone asked you why you wanted to teach music, you probably said it was because you loved music and wanted to bring that same love of music to others. While that was and probably still is true, the question I’m interested in today is why have you always loved music the way you do? What did you find in music that others missed and found in something else
While there is not a single right answer to this question, I’m going to hazard a guess that for most of you, it lies in the fact that you found an outlet for self expression, and an identity for your soul that you could find no where else. By that I mean when you listen to music you enter into another universe, one where your spirit, mind and body feel invigorated, refreshed, and beautifully calm and at home all at once. Your love of music is drawn out of where music takes you when you’re right in the middle of it, and at some point in your life you realized that being in the middle of music required that you become not just a listener, but a performer as well. You found, as Elliott has observed, that performers perceive music differently from non-performers. There is an aspect of music that performing reveals to us; the physical effort, movements, sounds and thoughts that a performer makes in order to play or sing music can be sensed when just listening; they carry over from performing to listening.
There is also a personal expression aspect to this principle. For many years I was a worship leader in my church, and during that time I wrote several worship songs that I used in worship. There was always a deeper dimension to my worship and leading when it was my song. I then heard a presenter at a worship conference mention this, putting it this way: when you worship with someone else’s song, you are trying to enter into someone else’s worship, but when you are worshiping with your music, you are there, in your own worship, inviting others in. It’s just more personal when it’s your music. The same comparison is true of performers listening to music compared to non-performers. It’s just more personal to the performer.
So when we teach our students to sing and play instruments, we are giving them the experiences to make all the music they interact with more personal and meaningful, whether they are performing or not. Similarly, when we teach our students to create music, be it improvise or compose, we are equipping them with the tools to express themselves and find themselves through music in a way that neither performing or listening can fully match. That is why a comprehensive music education is so important. Someone fully devoted to music feels compelled to enter into all aspects of it. After learning to play the clarinet and playing in bands into high school, I wanted more from music, so I started composing. My most interested students are the same way. One part of music participation just isn’t enough. They must sing, play, compose, listen, arrange, transcribe. Whatever they can find to do with music they dive in. That is what someone with a passion does; immerses oneself in the thing he or she has a passion for, in this case music. This is why we make music. It satisfies our passion, and makes our presence in the world and within ourselves.