Monday, October 1, 2007

Music Education vs. Performance?

Should college-level music students necessarily force themselves to choose to pursue only music education or only music performance in their undergraduate years? Could there be such a defensible position in today's multifaceted career paths in music? Apparently someone still thinks so and is looking to keep potential professionals squarely on one side or the other through a rather alarming list of what I would consider outmoded reasons.

Jason Heath has written a beautiful response to this attitude that I think would benefit readers who are music educators, performers, or both. The truth is, most of us career musicians are already both educators and performers; the lines between these roles are becoming increasingly blurred in the 21st century due to many reasons that Jason eloquently elucidates in his substantial post.

Yours truly even left a (probably overlong and overheated!) comment because I was moved to make my point of view known. (Indeed many have joined in the discussion of these topics; see the other comments below Jason’s post.)

Many music educators might defend the instructor’s position that I’ll summarize: Potential K-12 instructors must focus more purely on the acquisition of the many skills needed to become an effective music educator in the current school environment today, at the expense of honing performance skills as an instrumentalist, vocalist, or conductor. This is largely true, and there is no doubt in my mind that future school instructors need a lot of careful training and study to become effective classroom educators.

But the instructor’s list of reasons in support of this seems meant to dissuade students from exploring if they might be able to balance the two (performance skills and educational skills) in their pursuit of a musical career during their undergraduate years. I can speak from some experience myself: I spent three very busy years pursuing doctoral coursework full-time, tackling a large teaching load (both private and class piano inside and outside my university), and at the same time bettering myself as a pianist and performer. Yes, I had plenty of 15-hour days. Yes, some days I was a better teacher but a worse pianist. Some days it was the other way around. It wasn’t easy. But if I can do it, others can too. Students shouldn’t be preemptively funneled into limiting their growth through the exhortations of some authority who thinks that no one can balance it at all.

I’ll rephrase a popular saying: The path to a narrow musical career is paved with good intentions. Today, more than ever, that path needs to widen rather than permanently branch into two unconnected avenues: educators who are not performers, and performers who are not educators.


Pamela said...

Hey Josh! Great post! It got me thinking enough to write a bit on my own blog about it.

Just curious to know if the first link was supposed to lead to a different article -- the article Jason was writing a response to?

Joshua Nemith said...

Thanks Pam! There's no other article (at the moment); I was simply referring to Jason's instructor who, as far as I can tell, gave him this now famous list in the classroom. Looking forward to reading your response.

Kara said...

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this. It is a great post though.