Friday, November 11, 2011

Ryan Layton on the Artist as Teacher

Musicians can be downright nerdy when we get excited about something. We’ll talk about modulations or counterpoint or whatever and never get tired of it. Spending time with my mentor has been great because not only does he indulge me in such conversations, but he’s so knowledgable about everything that I always walk away with a new insight. We end up pulling out scores and recordings, talking about books by composers, and throwing ourselves into the more learned aspects of music in a way that I haven’t done with anyone before.

Before Patrick and I went into the classroom together, I had gotten to know his very intellectual side but not the side that can interact with second graders. Though I had sat in on the planning session with the teachers and knew what to expect, I had this idea in my head of Patrick in front of a bunch of second graders, poring over scores while atonal music played and referencing ideas in Schoenberg’s book. The idea was absurd and, to me, a little bit hilarious, but I couldn’t shake it. But as soon as Patrick got to work with the students, I saw how easily he could flip the switch and relate perfectly to second graders.

He had already surprised me when, in the planing session, he was drawing connections between flamenco music and second grade curriculum just as easily as the teachers were. He later told me that he pretty much has the objectives for each grade level memorized and that he keeps them in mind when he designs lessons. As the conversations with the teachers went on, I noticed that he directed the teachers just as he would later direct the kids in their classes. He never gave the teachers the answers but kept questioning them until they came up with their own goals for the lessons.

In the classroom, I realized something about myself that I had to get over to make the Aesthetic Education experience work. The kids had an activity where they created rhythms and clapped them in front of the rest of the class. When any of the kids failed to clap their rhythms correctly, I felt the private music teacher in me wanting to get technical on them. I wanted to break their rhythms down into small parts and give them problem-solving skills to interpret other rhythms in the future. Basically, I lost sight of what we were really trying to teach them, which was just an awareness of rhythm that would help them enjoy the performance they would see later. Patrick gently corrected them without turning it into a music lesson and without detriment to the excitement about rhythm and music that he created among the kids.

I knew that we weren’t there to teach the kids how to be musicians, but by the end of the day, I realized that teaching music skills was my default setting. A real teaching artist can resist the urge to overwhelm students with music skills that aren’t related to the lesson. And the music teaching artist possesses much more than just music skills, himself. The job requires a a deep knowledge of the goals for each grade level and a creative way of thinking that uses these goals to inspire relevant activities for the classroom. It’s more than I’ve ever had to handle as private lessons teacher alone. The artist as a teacher is several things rolled into one. He is involved in a balancing act that serves the integrity of the art form being studied and the leaning goals of the students in the class. It’s something that not just anyone can do, and I’m so glad to be working with someone as gifted in the ways of the TA as Patrick.

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