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.