Music education always & always looking forward.

On the other side of the Festival Season

Good afternoon from the Rebel Music Teacher blog.  You may notice that there have been no entry updates in over two weeks, but somehow, Google is still churning out visitors to the entry about uncertain modality in Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit".  My excuse (a reasonable one!) for not writing has been that our "festival season" just ended on Wednesday.  

For music directors, it's our most stressful time of year.  We bring our darling children in front of a panel of adjudicators, most of whom are our peers, and we are rated.  Scored.  Exposed for everyone to see.  We are told whether we're up to snuff or not.  It sounds dramatic, but that's definitely how it feels most of the time.  (For the many folks in charge who are constantly tweaking the process, we thank you and we value you more than you know.)  

Music educators are competitive by nature.  Festival, assessment, whatever you call it, brings that out in spades.  And we're not always so kind to each other about our results, either upfront or in our private conversations.  

This year, as it turned out, my kids were apparently up to snuff.  In years past, my groups have not been.  We did not receive the very highest of ratings this year, but my students put on some fine performances and they have come so very far.  I was pleased with my students, they were pleased with themselves, and we got some great feedback from our adjudicators.  We are growing, that is for sure.  That is a lot to feel good about.

But I've had many years that have not been fine.  Where I've come out of MPA season wondering why I am a director.  Thankfully, at least every other year turns out fine.  This being my 10th year of teaching, and honestly the year with the best performances by my students (both in Band and in Chorus), I feel as good about my MPA results as humanly possible.  I finally, finally feel as though my life doesn't have to be dictated by the results of my Band at MPA.  And finally, finally, I'm able to effectively pass that message along to my students.

Maybe you are riding high because of off the chart ratings your groups received.  I have no doubt that you worked hard for them.  Take some time to celebrate.  You unequivocally deserve it, because in contemporary American education, continual redefinition of success makes it harder for educators to be successful.  You made it happen and you should be commended.

Maybe you kept up pace and now your stress is over.  There are lots of directors whose jobs depend on winning, on getting that Superior, on always being the best, and these directors have no other choice but to succeed.  This is a very real problem in many of our schools.  Take it easy.  Take some time to relax, and pursue something you love that isn't teaching music for a week or so.  If that's not possible, carve out some extra time in your day for something that brings you joy.

Maybe you're a little disappointed, but you have your head held high.  It happens.  When you are being judged, there's no telling what will occur.  Maybe your group didn't have what that specific panel was looking for.  Carry on, but also take some down time to take care of yourself.

And maybe you're like me after many of my MPA seasons.  Somewhat bereft, trying to figure out what went wrong and feeling like you have to get your career on track somehow.  So you plan things out.  You write down what you want to change for next year.  You get in touch with people who will help you out.  You do what you can do to move forward.  

But did you do everything that you could?  Is there any way to absolve yourself from the guilt that you feel?

I believe, with all of my heart, that if you provided your students the opportunity to lead a more meaningful, more musical life, then you have succeeded.  Intonation, matching articulations, dynamic contrast -- all of these things matter, but they don't matter more than our kids do.  

(Pete Postlethwaite gives the same sentiments a little more intensely and CN, with more profanity, than I've put it in the 1996 film Brassed Off!)  

(That speech is particularly hard to swallow as of late, more than 20 years after the movie was in theatres.)  

Your job as a music educator is to serve the kids who are put before you.  You absolutely must hold them to a high standard, and you must show them that they are always striving to be better.  That is what art is all about.  But you have to include kids, you have to give them opportunities, you have to support them, and you have to believe in them, even when that last part is really hard.  (Trust me, I know.)  

Some people leave education and 90% of the time I don't blame them.  It is a tough road.  Most of the people who leave teaching find other ways to serve people and to make art.  But when you're in the dregs of festival season and are tired of being put through the ringer, don't lose heart.  If you are providing opportunities for your children and making things happen that otherwise wouldn't, you are doing a much more valuable service than you realize.  

Keep at it.  Do not lose heart.  And consider this: if you don't judge a child solely as a test score,  you cannot judge yourself on just one rating.  And truth be told, your students need you now more than ever.  

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