|An Die Musik with Dave Ballou-trumpet & Michael Formanek-bass|
"What is the job of a musician?”
This is one of many rhetorical questions I’ve been asking my students in both private and group settings.
It is meant to arrest the student’s attention - to get them thinking in a new way. I always offer these questions in tandem with an impassioned one-minute improvisation on my saxophone, attempting to "answer" the questions non-verbally, using music (rather than logic) to make my own assertion, thus creating a posture of openness. I offer students an opportunity to consider practicing their instrument from a perspective of possibility, considering what effect their focused attention might have on the world around them. Practicing our instruments with the intention of bettering our lives, and the lives of folks around us gives a rich context and meaning to the hours spent absorbing information, practicing overtone exercises, learning repertoire, practicing permutations and arpeggios…this is the stuff musicians are made of. I believe this is our job. To invigorate the study and practice of our craft with a sense of adventure, urgency, and meaning. To deliver that sense of urgency with compassion and conviction, and the determination to heal and to uplift other people...
With so many music teachers and students returning to their academic posts this week, I feel grateful and fortunate to explore these sorts of questions with my own students at my home studio. To have the time to spend in a casual learning environment, sinking my teeth into these questions right along with my students, and removing the illusory boundary between “expert” and “student”. This level of openness illuminates the extremely personal nature of the music-making experience, and puts students in a position of personal power. Creativity is available to all of us, and the educators who make the biggest difference are the ones who are empowering others to make the most of what they have — demystifying the process of acquiring new skills and knowledge without glorifying that process as the end-all-be-all of artistic growth! Naturally, these kinds of lessons are of great benefit to more experienced students, but they can be quite effective for young, motivated students who are early on in their journeys, as well.
Other rhetorical questions along these lines:
What ROLE does music play in our lives?
What function do these acoustic vibrations, melodies, layers, and rhythms serve for humanity?
Why are we DRAWN to music in the first place?
Is it possible for a musician to be always growing, improving, mastering new ideas, while also pursuing a deeper understanding of themselves — cultivating empathy, compassion, and love for what IS?
How do we remain connected with the initial spark of inspiration that made us reach for an instrument that very first time, and how do we empower others to do find the same inspiration?
Is it possible to be ambitious while also enjoying where we are in the process, here and now?
What can we do THIS moment to make the absolute MOST musical statement with whatever ability and knowledge we already possess?
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