This week I finally got what Dave Holland, the founder of Beatin’ Path, was trying to tell me. Dave is an extraordinary drummer, a compelling showman, and a brilliant educator. He does workshops all the time in which he involves people in huge drum circles that enlighten you while they excite you.
I met Dave Holland three years ago when he did a two-hour event for the teachers of Fulton County. He turned a room full of adults into excited kids within minutes, kept up the pace for two hours, and left us with ideas about how to teach music. Dave and I blogged back and forth for years, but we didn’t see one another again.
Until last summer. Dave presented at the Woodruff Arts Center’s Arts Educator Conference. He gave another presentation which I got a huge kick out of. Beyond that, though, he said something as he addressed the audience that I thought was really profound, something that made me stop in my tracks and doubt myself.
Then I forgot it. And I knew I’d forgotten it, probably because I wasn’t ready for it. And it bothered me.
Then I saw him again this week, as he presented to the Atlanta Public School Music Teachers, and he said it again, and I GOT it. And I want to share it with you.
He said that in Music Education, instead of the focus being on what the teacher can give the student, it can be on what the student has inside of them that they can bring to the room. “What can I do? What can I create?” Especially in improvisation, the student can offer their knowledge and experience in a way that makes it as valid and worthwhile as anything the teacher might bring.
Let’s be clear: Educators in all subjects are now working to change the way they teach so that the focus is more on the student, their curiosity, their process. Creative writing has always been about what the student can offer and bring. Is music different?
Yes, because in music, it’s not simply a question of the student perhaps sharing something. What the student brings, creates, shares, is the point. Getting them to share, to participate, to offer something from inside themselves so everyone can see it is the ultimate goal of music, and not just a by-product.
Do we ask students to listen and learn in music? Yes. They are absolutely taking in lots of stuff from the “wise teacher.”
But if we as music teachers stop there, we are not only doing our students a disservice, we are missing the point. As I teach, am I prioritizing what the students can bring, what they offer, what they can do? Am I focusing on them, or am I creating a room that reflects my needs?
Do you believe that music, or the Arts in general, are fundamentally different ways of teaching from other subjects? If you do, how much do you value the difference? What should I be doing to more effectively communicate the value?