Teachers vs. Professors

Not long ago, I was part of a panel for a typical grant situation. As we were shuffling through the dozens of applicant files, one of my fellow panelists made a remark about a composer’s resume. The applicant had listed being the band director at a public middle school as his current employment. My colleague smiled and said wryly, “Why do these music educators apply for composer opportunities?” I pointed out that the applicant had described himself as a composer and educator, and even had the traditional academic training of a composer. However, my colleague smiled a knowing smile, indicating, yes, but

What really confounded me was that the fellow panelist is a teacher himself. The difference, however, between he and the applicant was that he teaches at the collegiate level. Why do some of us take composers who teach younger students less seriously? Why do some of us assume that more “advanced” musicians require teachers of a higher caliber than beginning or intermediate students? And why should the level of one’s students be equated with the quality of a composer’s work?

One thought a colleague suggested is that many composers view teaching beginning/intermediate musicians as a stepping-stone to working with advanced and professional musicians. I myself had this attitude when I was a composition student. Like many composers, I chose to go to school to get a doctorate, assuming I would teach in a university as a composer. In order to pay my bills, I started teaching piano in college. (It paid a heck of a lot more than a waitressing job.) I found that I both had a knack for it and loved it. Even after I received fellowships in graduate school, I continued to teach children, even becoming the music director for a local youth orchestra. Ironically, by the time I had my credentials to teach in a university, I no longer wanted to. I found that, for me, I preferred teaching younger players, outside of an institutional environment.

That was many years ago. However, I still find myself sometimes justifying to my colleagues why I still choose to include teaching young students in my studio. What can we do to help change this perception? Perhaps we should trade places for a semester. Let’s do something like that reality show where two very different families swap mothers for a week and all hell breaks loose. Why not take some professors and plop them into a schedule full of classes in a typical middle school music program, while placing the middle school teachers into a more advanced group of students? I have a feeling that the ones who react dismissively to their counterparts’ jobs will change their tune after doing it for a day or two.

10 thoughts on “Teachers vs. Professors

  1. Rodney Lister

    As somebody who teaches all sorts of different levels, I agree with you completely. And one time when I was talking to an administrator (who wasn’t a musician) about the possibility of doing some teaching in the college part of an institution I was associated with teaching pre-college, he said, “Well, I don’t really know about this, but I’ve been told that some times people who are very successful in teaching younger students aren’t so good at the college level. I was sort of stunned, and didn’t think of the appropriate answer, which was that I’d never seen a case there of somebody who taught in the college being told that he/she couldn’t teach in the pre-college because they might not do so well with younger students.

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  2. philmusic

    There is a double standard at work here, and of course a fear of those who do not fit in with ones preconceptions of what a composer is or does.

    When a famous violinist spends some time teaching beginners it to great acclaim and wonder. Yet those who continue work in the trenches teaching kids are ignored. Even in arts based schools it’s the temporary artist in residence that gets all the attention not their regular arts teachers.
    Carl Fleisch states in his book (I paraphrase) that the best teachers are needed at the initial phases of music learning.
    Unfortunately, in our American educational system we reward the “best” teachers by isolation—the fewest and most select students. So it follows that the lowest level teachers get to see the most the most and least select students. To draw artistic conclusions from this is ridicules as there is no relation to ones job and ones ability as a composer or teacher.

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  3. mdwcomposer

    Another way to demonstrate the absolute necessity and validity of “the younger musician” is to simply listen to some of the results. Children’s choirs often get dismissed as lightweight. They are “merely” beginning or intermediate. Yet many fine treble choirs in the US perform very challenging and complex repertoire, and this is more true when you hear what is being done outside the US. Even pieces that are less difficult overall will have passages that contain close clusters or other devices that demand skill on the part of the singers, and demand quite a bit from the conductor (aka “teacher”). There is no lack of musical satisfaction or sophistication in such circumstances. Some listening to the Nebraska Children’s Chorus, Piedmont Children’s Choir (disclaimer: I’ve written for them), Tapiola Choir (Finland), Carmina Slovenica (Slovenia) to name just a few would dispell the notion that working with younger musicians is in any way second-rate.

    I am sure this is true for youth orchestras, although I am not as familiar with that world – other readers?

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  4. philmusic

    Carl Fleisch is Carl Flesch —
    and I repeated “the most”
    here:
    So it follows that the lowest level teachers get to see the most and least select students.

    I was in a hurry! Sorry!
    give me a break!

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  5. Figaro

    Your grammar is showing
    Tut tut, Belinda Reynolds. Educators at any level should know that a pronoun that is the object of a preposition takes the objective case. Thus the phrase in your second paragraph “between he and the applicant” should read “between him and the applicant” — whether you are teaching second graders or postdoctoral fellows.

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  6. philmusic

    “between he and the applicant” should read “between him and the applicant” —

    I like:

    The difference between them was that the applicant did not teach at the collegiate level.

    Am I wrong?
    However, good grammer does not always make for a good composer. On that note– I found yet another mis print in my rant.

    Yet those who continue “to” work in the trenches teaching kids are ignored.

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  7. philmusic

    There is a double standard at work here, and of course a fear of those who do not fit in with ones preconceptions of what a composer is or does.
    When a famous violinist spends some time teaching beginners it to great acclaim and wonder. Yet those who continue to work in the trenches teaching kids are ignored. Even in arts based schools it’s the temporary artist in residence that gets all the attention not their regular arts teachers. Carl Flesch states in his book (I paraphrase) that the best teachers are needed at the initial phases of music learning.
    Unfortunately, in our American educational system we reward the “best” teachers by isolation—the fewest and most select students.

    So it follows that the lowest level teachers get to see the most and least select students. To draw artistic conclusions from this is ridicules as there is no relation to ones job and ones ability as a composer or teacher.

    corrected

    Reply
  8. neilrolnick

    Hi Belinda,

    I recognized my comment in your column … but I think you misunderstood my meaning, which I stand behind 100%.

    I don’t belittle any kind of teaching. I’ve been doing it in an unconventional university “arts” dept for 25 years, and I love it. My wife works with infants, toddlers, and their caregivers, and I believe that work is ultimately more important than being a professor. And I would never want to belittle anyone’s need to make a living … I believe that it’s a gift to be able to teach something you love to others, regardless of the age or status of the students.

    But that’s not what I was talking about in our panel deliberations. In our panel. We were looking at a very competitive group of applicants for a substantial comnposition award. The person about whom I made the comment you quote had a wonderful resume as a teacher, but none as a composer. As I recall, they wanted to use the award to make time to compose.

    In this kind of competition, the awards rightfully went to people who had found ways to make time to compose, regardless of their day jobs, and who had a substantial amount of quality composition in their portfolios.

    If I’m going to apply for support of my teaching, I want to present my accomplishments as a teacher. If I apply for support for my composition, I need to present my accomplishments as a composer. That’s all I was saying … and I think it’s something people need to keep in mind when they submit applications for prizes or competitions or any other kind of award. The application needs to address the nature of the competiition.

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  9. philmusic

    Neil are you say that teaching children is womens work? My, my, my! Now I am offended!

    Anyway, I find it interesting that when it comes to double standards its always somebody else.

    Reply
  10. philmusic

    Neil are you “saying” that teaching children is womens work? My, my, my! Now I am offended!

    Anyway, I find it interesting that when it comes to double standards its always somebody else.

    I apologize again for bad edits–darn learning disablilty!!!

    Reply

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