The Calhoun music department is a wonderful and unique space that has pushed me so much as an educator and as a person. Admittedly, coming out of a graduate performance program, my view of musical excellence was narrow at best, and at worst had me drawing from pedagogical practices that served to isolate rather than unite. A free and honest exchange of ideas and shortcomings would inevitably be replaced by one upsmanship in competition for first chair and ultimately, a sense of belonging in a department.
Since arriving at The Calhoun School, all of this has thankfully been called into question. Suddenly the questions were no longer, can I execute this technique on command, but rather, “how can we serve others with the skills we are cultivating? How can music affect change, and probably most importantly, how can we play music at all if we are not seen or heard, often in plain view?
As my values began to shift, so did my teaching. While technical excellence on our instruments will always be important, I began to shift my focus to affirming each of my student’s unique voices. Technical ability will be hard won if we do not build a container that allows students to be seen clearly, while at the same time allowing them to make mistakes. This requires trust – trust which must be earned. My goal in teaching music at Calhoun has become to facilitate spaces where students are seen and heard in all of their complexities. I believe it is as much a triumph when a student makes a mistake as when they succeed – all the while asking, “what have we learned about ourselves in this process, and how can we serve others with the skills learned in this space?”
We as a community must also understand that music does not exist in a vacuum. We acknowledge that there is not a musical artist, genre or idea that exists outside of our own colonial history. Drawing these connections cannot be undermined by our pursuit of technical excellence. Rather, they are part and parcel. In my experience, when we examine world music history critically through the lens of marginalized voices, students can learn through music to position themselves as activists and thinkers, allies and accomplices. Our technical excellence then serves as the amplifier through which our message of justice, equity and inclusion grows in volume.