April and May have been absolutely wild. It’s funny how you can spend so much time wanting something to happen, and working for it to happen, and when it happens as a sort of avalanche of sudden progress, the first instinct is to think “wait! this is too fast!” That’s what nearly every day for the past two weeks has felt like.
I’m not buying Google Ads for this site anymore, so chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re one of the handfuls of old-timers who have been with me on this journey for checks notes uh, 100 years. You’ve been watching, as I tried to chide other institutions into recruiting and serving my beloved adult learners. Occasionally, I would work as a contractor for other schools, camps, or orgs that promised adult learners a specialized approach, but none of them ever came close to what they could have been. Beginners lumped in with advanced players were grief-stricken and embarrassed. Advanced players were frustrated by the lack of challenge. Intermediate players bonded over their shared, seemingly interminable plateau. Everyone was feeling patronized by simplified renditions of folk songs and teaching methodologies barely altered from those used with grade-schoolers. Worse yet? Everything seemed to be about doing the impossible: perfecting a new piece, or a bunch of pieces, over the course of a three-day weekend. The end result was the same, every time: a terrible-sounding concert, where the habits and assumptions that keep players feeling stuck were on wild display, having scarcely been touched.
So I started imagining what would be required to be of better service to these students. I recalled my own experience at intensives and summer camps—especially my summers in Idyllwild—and started sorting things into two piles: one, labeled “this will work” the other, “not so much”.
This will work
- frequent private lessons
- retrofitting students’ foundation
- ensembles based on level
- differentiated education; adults learn differently than kids
- beautiful location, feels like a retreat
- watching each other learn
- goal is leaving as an improved musician and instrumentalist
Not so much
- event held in run-down locations
- students of all levels in the same group
- teachers who mainly teach kids
- ignoring gaps in formative learning
- feels like a camp
- overworked, underpaid faculty
- goal is learning a piece for a performance