Through the neural pathways, humming through our veins, the beats throbbing in our pulse, winding its way from the throats of others, quivering in the air on plucked strings, coloring our vision.
Thom Yorke of Radiohead has a particular type of Synesthesia which allows him to see colors when he hears notes – which explains why he prefers certain modes and keys over others. But for the rest of us, music still has the experience to color our experiences even if not in such a literal sense.
Music is thrumming its way through our lives whether we realize it or not. For some it’s Mozart. For others, it’s the Mozart effect. The idea that music enhances performance and intelligence is not new. From the beginning it has not been just about the study of it, but the communal aspect and the fact that it helps us survive.
Music is a set of contradictions that a teacher has to navigate through. Diving into the theory and the technicalities allows students to make sense of it musically and to grow as artists. Music is about passion, but it’s also about the hours of scales, tone quality work, practicing, and technical aspects that allow us to be fully passionate and free.
I believe truly understanding music means learning all that has come before and understanding what is relevant to culture today. It’s foolish to dismiss Bach only because he wore a wig or to discount contemporary music today as merely noise. People forget that CPE Bach was the punk rocker of his time, or that Beethoven’s last masterpieces were discounted and scoffed by the public, who said that this kind of jumbled mess was to be expected of a deaf composer. Stravinsky’s ballets incited riots at premieres. Webern and Brahms encrypted messages to paramours and about unrequited loves in their music. Not so different from musicians today.
At the same time, it’s condescending and short-sighted to dismiss the music that is being created today. The recent competition piece for the National Flute Association required beat-boxing on the flute. It’s my duty as a musician and a teacher to be open to new horizons and to push the limits of music and what a student can do.
Teaching music is about the notes. It’s about the rhythm. It’s about working with the student for what method will help them best achieve their sound quality, their musicality, their fast finger work – and as flutists, we get a lot of that.
Teaching music is teaching the language with which we speak to the dead. It’s about deciphering the clues and notes (pun intended) that dead composers have left for us. It’s learning about how to convey this to an audience. We do the same with contemporary music – decipher the scramble of notes and music and translate it to an audience.
However, it’s more than music as well. It’s about the values develop as an artist. The discipline it takes to practice diligently. The respect you earn for yourself, for the music you play, and the artists you play with. The cooperation and teamwork and love in a relationship with other musicians as you play music together. The communication we experience between teacher and student, between musician to musician, and between artist and audience. As a teacher, this all comes together in a package.
More than that though, teaching music is about teaching love. Again, in a contradictory fashion, music is a completely selfish act being able to drown yourself in the music you play and listen to and at the same time it’s completely selfless because you give yourself up as you do it. It’s an odd aspect of life that the moments we feel most ourselves are those where we aren’t thinking about ourselves at all.
Because I believe music is so integral to who we are and because I believe music opens us up to be more than we are alone, this is fused in how I perform as an artist and how I teach.