So I write for Strings. Some reviews, some technical pointer style pieces- for the past 6 months, I’ve been churning out a series of articles condensing some of the workshops that took place at this year’s ASTA conference. They’re assigned by my editor, the brilliant and tolerant Meg Westberg, and usually have titles like “8 ways to blah blah” or “The top 10 somethings of thingamajig”.
I don’t kid myself about what I write. This is not hard-hitting journalism. I’m not waiting for a Pulitzer or even a congratulatory email from a reader. This stuff is quite plain, meant to be useful in a sort of grounded way, and purely based in pedagogy. That said, the people giving these ASTA talks think about music education a whole hell of a lot. They’re nearly all Ph.Ds, and all of them have decades of experience and positions that speak to their wealth of knowledge. What I’ve loved about writing these pieces is finding a whole community of people who have lofty credentials but are focused on a decidedly unpretentious aim: to develop strategies that help instructors get through to students. If you read this blog, you know that’s my wheelhouse. I love learning about learning.
There is a culture of snobbery in classical music that I find entirely intolerable. It’s a defense mechanism, as are nearly all intolerable affectations, including my own. On a nearly daily basis, I encounter folks who scoff at people who buy cheap instruments for their children, or who think that $100 is a lot for a bow, or who weren’t born magically knowing the difference between the brass sound of Philadelphia under Ormandy as opposed to Muti.
This snobbery is part of what keeps so much wonderful music away from most people. It makes me sad that there are kids who won’t grow up with Beethoven as a confidante or laughing at Mozart’s jokes, which were written for everyone, not just people who study music with furrowed brow and have a habit of opining about elevated matters with a finger in the air.
This snobbery is also something that Strings works hard to temper. They know that there has to be a way to talk about substantive stuff and further the discussion while still appealing to a wide range of players and teachers. To me, that speaks to confidence. It’s always the people who are most assured that don’t take offense and keep things a little more earthy. (I take offense all over the place, so I have first hand experience with this frailty. I’m working on it. I do better some days than others. Keep reading!)
With that in mind, you can imagine my reaction when a “colleague” picked up Strings, pointed right at the teaser for my “7 Ways to Improve your String Teaching” piece and said with incredulity, “7 ways to improve your teaching? Improvisation in 2 steps? Come on! What rubbish!” (paraphrased)
Because I am a subtle, genteel flower, I said in a loud, unwavering tone, “That’s mine. I wrote that.”
It was kinda worth feeling so insulted just to see a grown man look like he was going to pee his pants a little bit. He tried to make some lame-ass argument about Strings versus Strad and what sells more and why should I even write articles for “people who aren’t supposed to be teaching”. I just kind of shut down after that. I get it. I’ve spent too much time similarly trying to manicure my concept of what the music world “should be like” in order to make myself relevant in it. It’s probably the most pointless thing I’ve done, which is actually saying something. That someone like me should show up with the galling temerity to talk to teachers about how they structure a lesson plan, or the neuroscience of skill building- that people do not actually know everything like he does- doesn’t work in the world as he would have it.
Call it ego or intolerance. Pema would call it shenpa– Whatever it’s labeled, I simply don’t have it in me to be a zenmaster about this one. Snobs, you can shove it up your ass- if there’s any room up there next to your heads. Music is for everyone, perhaps even more for the poor kid playing a $150 violin and falling in love with it or the adult amateur who still struggles with “wait is that open D or 3rd finger B?”, or even the somewhere in-between ex-studio player super geek part time writer/most time teacher who loves every damn note her busted physiology will permit her to play. Music is for us. Mozart loves us. We got Beethoven, too. Maybe the snobs can keep Wagner. We’re still talking that one over. If the folks who feel like music should be reserved for the chosen few ever mellow out, the door is always open.
Until then, I guess they’re just playing the background music at our fabulous, fabulous party. We will sing loudly, play with abandon, and dance into the wee hours- and I may well write about how to do all of it in Strings.