Lead by Teaching

Tickets are boughten, bags are packed, we're on the train to Valuetown. Classical musicians and music lovers have an instinctive feeling that classical music is valuable. However, we can't just assume that other people will see it in the same way, not least because the forms and harmonies which structure classical music often sound foreign and unintelligible to people who aren't used to them. So of course, some amount of teaching is assumed, even if I don't personally believe that an audience member needs to know everything going on in classical music to enjoy it.

It's like... When The Simpsons was in its prime, did people stop liking it even when they didn't get all of the multitudinous obscure or downright esoteric jokes? No. There was plenty of stuff for everybody to hang onto. But oh how you felt good when you got one of the jokes none of your friends got. It's like that.

Still, musical education in general is something we find missing in a lot of people's lives, whether it is classical or not. So lets look into some ways we can leverage what students we have to help create more societal value in what we do.


Not everybody is a teacher. Oh wow, is this ever true. If you don't like teaching, if you don't want to teach, if you can't teach water out of a plastic cup, then don't. There are far too many good/great teachers who aren't being utilized because the pay is generally too low... but that doesn't mean the gap should be filled with terrible ones. Just because you can play doesn't mean you can teach, and if you really, honestly can't, just... do what you're good at, and play awesome concerts. Trust me when I say, everyone will be much happier that way.

First, Teach by Leading

It's not enough to be a teacher if you don't know what the heck you're talking about. Like, I could have a PhD in Physics, but that doesn't make me qualified to teach a high school English course. That makes me qualified to teach a college physics course. Should be obvious, right? Well, apparently it's not obvious to some school districts which require teachers to have a master's degree, but don't require a degree in the subject you're going to end up teaching.

Like, I don't know...Imagine you're reading Grapes of Wrath, and your teacher suddenly says, "A train leaves west from station A at 45mph, and a train moves east from station B at 30mph. If station A and station B are 400 miles apart, how long will it take the Joad family to find work in California?"

Trick question. They never find work in California.

Wait, what was I saying? Right. Teach by leading. Don't just teach your students. Play for them. As often as you can. Show them that you know what you're about and that you mean business. It's amazing how quickly you earn respect that way.

Then, Lead by Teaching

So now you have a bunch loyal minions. I mean, students. What do you do? You tell them about all of your concerts. More specifically, you tell their parents about all of your concerts. This achieves a number of things. First, it puts some bodies in the seats. This is important because ticket sales.

But just as importantly, you're filling your audience with people who are slowly learning how to listen to music at a higher level. The students not only get to see you strut your stuff, but they also get to hear their own learning. Over time, they start hearing more and more from pieces they thought they knew. They start to get Haydn's inside jokes. They start to hear why Claire de Lune isn't just sparkly vampires.

They of course fail to pick up on the subtle subliminal messages put in by the Mozartian Masonites and, much later, by the Schoenbergian Fraternity of Tonebros, but that's all according to plan. If they knew what they were really listening to, it wouldn't work.

Finally, Play Music with your Students

You know what's awesome? When a teacher you really respect works with you on what is being taught/learned. It can be as complex or as simple as necessary. But there's something really cool about that kind of collaboration. Suddenly, you don't feel like just a student, and you aren't just a teacher. You're two people doing what people have been doing for tens of thousands of years. Making art. And ultimately, isn't that what's really important?

I mean, besides the pay check.