What do you think of when I say the word “graceful?” I bet “a turtle” isn’t on your list. The slow, ponderous things may be lovable, but you’d be hard pressed to call them graceful.
Maybe you’re a turtle. You want to be graceful. You want to shine, but you just can’t because you think that’s not who you are.
In school I was often shy, didn’t like to talk unless I felt safe, and didn’t want to be the focus of attention. My memories are that the people around me generally liked me, but they didn’t think much of me. Except in plays.
When I did drama, I knew exactly what I was supposed to do, where I was supposed to be, how I was supposed to behave. I knew how to follow directions, I knew how to achieve my goals, and I felt comfortable enough to take amazing risks and be a leader. I was the person I wanted to be.
Which person was I? The shy kid, or the outgoing one? Of course, it totally depended on the context I was in.
Some students find they are greatly hindered in a music setting. They cannot be the person they want to be because the learning curve is so stiff, because they are afraid of too many things, or because they can’t orient themselves to find their sense of self and power. It’s my job in that situation to make them as comfortable as possible in the face of their challenges, to help them discover where they can be most competent, and work from that place. They don’t need to be a turtle on their backs…I can give them something to push off of.
Other students are at their best in their lessons. They feel free in a music environment, want to be leaders there, and want to take risks. While it’s wonderful that they have a place to shine, an even more amazing transformation is possible for these students.
They, like me, may discover that they can take the person they are when they perform and become that person in other areas of their life. So often they face the same challenges in multiple places in their lives. They must go beyond their successes in their power area and search for the reasons they succeed, the ways they overcome their obstacles, to see if they can apply these to a more difficult environment.
Teaching music (and art and drama and even math…) provides tremendous opportunities, not only to do the thing itself, but to embody the growth. The smaller transformation that occurs in the learning can become a larger transformation in the self. Before we can diversify our success, however, we must first find a context in which we can actually succeed.
Take the turtle, for example. It looks ridiculous when it walks. But have you seen one in the water?