Monday, June 25, 2018

Perfectly tacky

This morning I was happy to have some time to head out to the mountain bike trails at Brumley Nature Preserve as I have been doing a great deal this summer. It is a warm morning and I was excited to get my ride in before it got too hot. I pulled into the parking lot and started getting my bike off the back of my car. A younger, female mountain bike rider came off the trails just about that time. She was fiddling around with her headphones and music in the parking lot and I went about my business. After a couple of minutes we made eye contact and I said, "How was your ride this morning"  A big smile came to her face and she replied, "It is a beautiful day today!  Perfectly tacky!"

After another minute she headed back onto the trails to continue her ride. I finished getting my equipment together and headed out as well. As I was enjoying the Solitude of the morning on the trails, I couldn't get that phrase out of my mind. Perfectly tacky. What a great way to approach a warm summer day. Within a mile or two, I had a good sweat going and I knew this was going to be a fun morning ride. I really didn't see another soul for the rest of the morning. I listened to the birds, did my best to avoid the scampering squirrels, and even saw a couple of deer. The forest is so beautiful in the morning.

I was really blessed this morning to be reminded  that it is  perfectly tacky. As you approach your day today, I hope that you, too, can see it as perfectly tacky. I will be heading into work today. I'm looking forward to meeting an artist from the Morganton area. He is coming to take a look at some of our Ceramics equipment that may be sent to the new Morganton Campus of NCSSM. Meanwhile, a morning on the trails is a great way to start the week.

Here's hoping that your day is perfectly tacky. Mine is already.



Friday, June 22, 2018

C. Growth Mindset, The Musician, The Teacher, and Career Fulfillment

In this, the third and final of my posts regarding career satisfaction, I want to say just a few words about the book, Mindset, The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck.  This book has become an important professional development tool for educators across the US in recent years and has certainly influenced my thinking on the topic of career fulfillment.

Back in November, the counseling department at my school, the North Carolina School of Science and Math, presented a faculty in-service program that introduced this book and the concepts contained within to our faculty. As I listened to the presentation, I was compelled to purchase the book electronically (via Nook) and set it aside for future reading. This summer has provided the opportunity to dig into it and it has certainly helped to inform many of my thoughts about career fulfillment that I have been developing in recent weeks.

The in-service presentation was designed to give us a brief introduction the concept of growth mindset versus fixed mindset. “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment,” writes Dweck. Alternatively, Dweck states, "In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb." As part of the in-service, we were encouraged to think about our own attitudes towards learning as well as those of our students. Are we as teachers promoting a growth mindset for our or are we settling for some sort of fixed mindset from both ourselves and our students?

So, this brings me back to the idea of career fulfillment, Maslow, and my life this summer.

First, I have to believe that all of the models of career fulfillment that I presented contain some sort of expectation of growth mindset.  Music educators who are most fulfilled believe that their abilities can be developed as can the abilities of their students.  We believe that through focused practice, students can get over hurdles and achieve great things.  The trick for us is to extend that idea and practice to ourselves!  We must continue to believe that we can get better.  We can become better teachers, better musicians, better scholars, better colleagues. Fulfilled educators believe that small failures are opportunities for greater achievement.  If a pedagogical technique doesn't work, try another tactic.  If we are feeling a bit static, find a way to become dynamic.  (I love the concept that, "A body in motion stays in motion. A body at rest, stays at rest."  It is one of my great motivators in cycling and in life!) With a growth mindset, we can find dynamics and fulfillment year after year throughout a long and successful career.

Next, doesn't this fit well with the ideas that Maslow presented?!  At the highest level of the the hierarchy of human needs lies self actualization which includes achieving ones full potential, creative activities, spontaneity and problem solving.  A growth mindset would lead to all of these activities and attitudes.  If we truly have a love of learning and a desire to be "better" we will certainly be self-actualized human beings.  Alternatively, a fixed mindset would be in direct contrast to all of these.  I have to believe that Dweck has spent some significant time in the study of Maslow and his theories!

Finally, there is direct personal application here.  A person with a growth mindset wakes up every day with a plan.  They truly believe that brains and talent are just the beginning.  Our lives present an opportunity to develop ideas, theories, skills, and accomplishments.  For teachers, the summer provides both the opportunity to regroup and rest, as well as the opportunity to create, develop, and accomplish.  Our lives during the school year are so busy.  There is something absolutely refreshing about waking up, having a second cup of coffee, getting some exercise, and then  attacking some new idea, some task that has been put off, or that interesting book that one just hasn't had time to read.

Today is the day that all of my colleagues at Interlochen are converging on the camp for the beginning of the 6 week summer arts camp.  I have thought of Interlochen a great deal today.  The first day back at camp for the summer is always exciting.   It is so awesome to reconnect with old friends and anticipate the important work (and play) of the summer.  My work there has been the source of many of my goals, musical ideas and new scholarship over the past 7 years.  This summer is different for me.  This year, I am waking up every day with a different set of goals.  I am developing curriculum for NCSSM.  I am practicing my violin.  I am writing.  I am reading.  I am also exercising and taking care of household and family tasks that I have let slide a bit over the past 7 years. In the end, I am aspiring to grow and accomplish much.

I encourage each of you to set some goals for the summer.  Consider your mindset.  It is a growth or fixed mindset?  Do you feel like you are clicking at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of human needs?  Are you fulfilled in your career?  If so, congratulations and keep up the good work!  If not, I truly hope that these posts have shed some light on your situation and perhaps have provided a framework for some changes that might get you a little bit closer to the goal of fulfillment.


Its All About People

Hi all!
I am pleased to let you know that I was recently featured with an interview on the Critical Pedagogy Electrified blog, also known as MusicEdLove.  This podcast is run by my friend, Angela Ammerman, professor of String Ed at the University of Tennessee at Martin.  I am on Episode 12 entitled, "It's All About People."

The interview mostly deals with my first year of teaching and the ups and downs of a first year string teacher.  It was fun to think about those early days in my career.  Although, I must admit, some of the details are a little bit fuzzy after 31 years!!   I hope you enjoy it.

I encourage you to check out the rest of her blog and podcasts as well.  They are fantastic!


Saturday, June 16, 2018

B. Maslow and a Conversation with My Dad

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my father over a cup of coffee at his place on the coast of North Carolina. I was telling him about the professional development session on Career Fulfillment I have been presenting lately and the positive audience response it has received. I feel in many ways that I have hit on a very important topic for music educators and teachers in general.  My Dad is a retired educator, having spent the majority of his career as a school superintendent  in western PA and enjoys a good conversation about education, educators, and the teacher's work environment. As he thought a little bit about my topic, he reminded me a little bit about his dissertation. My Dad earned his doctorate in the early 1970s from Penn State University. His dissertation was on Differences Between Parents' and Teachers' Perception of the Teacher's Role. He enthusiastically told me that during his review of the literature he encountered a great deal about Abraham Maslow and the "Hierarchy of Human Needs." He explained it to me briefly and I took a little bit of time to study some more on the topic. He told me that he felt it might have a little bit to do with my research and consideration of career fulfillment. I remembered studying a little bit about Maslow in my psychology courses back in the early 1980's, but really couldn't recall the details of the scholar or the models that he presented.  Of course, my Dad studied Maslow's theory as it relates to Labor Relations.  I am more interested in how it relates to career fulfillment for musicians and music educators.

Abraham Harold Maslow (1908 –1970) was an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow's hierarchy of needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. Maslow was a psychology professor at Alliant International University, Brandeis University, Brooklyn College, New School for Social Research, and Columbia University. He stressed the importance of focusing on the positive qualities in people.  Maslow stated that human motivation is based on people seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth. Self-actualized people are those who were fulfilled and doing all they were capable of.  The growth of self-actualization refers to the need for personal growth and discovery that is present throughout a person’s life. For Maslow, a person is always 'becoming' and never remains static in these terms. In self-actualization, a person comes to find a meaning to life that is important to them. (Wikipedia)

Sound like what we are touching on here?
Maslow also stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on.

As I begin to superimpose the Maslow theories over the models that I had encountered regarding career fulfillment, it became clear that the two were very closely related. This notion of always becoming and never being static is, in my opinion, one of the great keys to career fulfillment. We, as teachers, must always be seeking out new challenges, new ideas, new motivations, and new strategies for delivering information and inspiring students. There have been several times already this summer that I have personally noted that it is important for me to "remain relevant" as I am not doing any hands-on conducting or teaching like I have for the past several years.  I don't want to be or become static!!  I feel like that relevance is strongly related to the notion of "becoming." If we are always becoming, we will remain a work-in-progress. We will remain relevant.  Sometimes artists refer to themselves as "creators."  Perhaps "creators" are always "becoming."

Maslow's hierarchy of human needs looks something like this:  At the most basic level, humans seek their physiological needs such as food and water.  After those needs are met, they move to safety needs like shelter and protection.  When those are met, they move to needs of belonging and love such as friendships and intimate relationships.  (Sidebar: I am fascinated by the show, Alone, on the History Channel.  10 participants see who can survive in the wilderness alone for the longest. After studying this theory, I can see that they work their way up the hierarchy of human needs.  First, they take care of food and water, then shelter and safety.   The need for belonging and love is often where  many of the participants in the show falter.  They are spending day after day alone in the wilderness and simply can't go on.  They desperately miss their family and their need for belonging and love causes them to "tap out.")  Next, humans move to esteem needs such as prestige and accomplishments.  When humans have met all of these needs, they  move to self fulfillment needs including creative activities and living to their full potential.  If we are truly self fulfilled, at the top of the needs hierarchy, humans will accept themselves and others for who they are, are free to recognize the needs and desires of others, and are capable of responding to the uniqueness of people and situations rather than responding to the demands of reality.

So, really, all of this career fulfillment talk for music educators is about the very highest level of human needs.  We are talking about how teachers (1) achieve and maintain their full potential and (2) remain active in creative activities.  Well, one of the areas is clear. Music Educators must pursue music-making activities throughout their career to continue to find fulfillment in the classroom.  The process of teaching music can be a creative activity, but I believe that pedagogy and teaching is more strategy-oriented.  Of course, we utilize all that we know about music when teaching, but I think we are obligated to keep creating music outside of the classroom.  Music creation is how musicians continue to become. We are still a musical work in progress. I know from personal experience that when I am pursuing my own music-making, I feel more fulfilled, both in and outside the classroom.

Pursuing and achieving one's full potential in and throughout a career in music education can be a bit more elusive.  How does that happen?  I think that there are several steps to this.  First, one must be self motivated to succeed at a high level.  We can't be happy with "good enough."  Young teachers can find this motivation for seeking their fullest potential by seeking out mentors that exemplify those ideals.  When strong, fulfilled mentors are are present for young teachers, they in turn become fulfilled experienced teachers.  Maintaining one's full potential for experienced teachers can be tough.  The "been there, done that" mentality can be tough to overcome.  This is where new professional development activities can be a motivator.  Experienced teachers must find new activities, strategies, goals, and methods that allow them to continue to work and teach at their full potential.  This is where self motivation is really important!  All of this is to say that reaching one's full potential is vital to a sense of fulfillment no matter the level of experience.  The trick is to stay in the race!!  We must always seek to be better!

In the end, I really appreciate my Dad reminding me about Maslow and his theories.  This is definitely all interrelated.  I hope this has added a layer to your thought process on the topic of career fulfillment as a music educator. 

Are you continuing to pursue creative activities?  This summer I am working on some recording projects and trying to enhance my improvisation skills with some new ideas and methodologies.  I am committed to practicing every day.  Are you committed to reaching your full potential?  My professional development at the Conn-Selmer Institute and a commitment to reading this summer will help me with this. (I will write about some of the books I am reading in a later post.)

Let me know your thoughts on this and I wish you all the best as you reach for your full potential and continue to pursue creative activities while you are at the top of the Hierarchy of Human Needs!!

And, Happy Fathers Day, Dad!  Thanks for all of the great conversations over the years.  Thanks for always encouraging me to think and reach for my best.  



Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Conn Selmer Institute

Hello to my new friends at the Conn Selmer Institute!  Welcome to my blog!

This week has been such a wonderful experience and I am so pleased to meet so many new friends. I am honored that you took a minute to check out my blog.  You will find everything from pedagogical thoughts, to repertoire notes, to  family thoughts, and philosophical essays.

For those of you that are not here this week, the Conn Selmer Institute is a magnificent 4 day professional in-service conference held in South Bend, Indiana each year. This year represents the first year that there has been a dedicated string track at the Institute. It has been a true honor to participate in this event and I only anticipate that it will grow each year. Conn Selmer works tirelessly to provide the highest quality professional development experience for educators. As part of CSI, participants have been treated to a full schedule of educational sessions. Those of us in the string track have been particularly fortunate to be led by my dear friend Soo Han, the new Director of Orchestral Activities at Baldwin Wallace University. Soo has a stellar reputation in string education and has been a wonderful leader for those of us involved in the string track this week. We have been treated to several conducting sessions with renowned conductor Larry Livingston from the University of Southern California. Larry has really invested in the string teachers that are in attending and given a us great deal of himself. Larry was also the keynote speaker for the conference yesterday. In addition there have been wonderful sessions on scope and sequence, festival preparation, getting "inside the music," the basics of mariachi education, and others.

Moreover, the community that has developed among the folks involved in the string track has been absolutely wonderful. It has been so great to meet so many new friends, to learn together, and to socialize together after the work of the day is done. As I find so often, the warmth of the string orchestral education community is palpable and we all seem to sense that we are all in this together.
In addition to the educational sessions, we had the pleasure of touring the Conn Selmer manufacturing facility in Elkhart, Indiana. I was moved by the level of expertise of all the workers and the level of commitment by this company to exceptional quality at every step of the process. It really gave me hope for the future of our country.

To my new friends from CSI:
If there are topics you would like me to address here, just let me know. I will be posting more thoughts about CSI in the coming days.

Meanwhile, it has been my true pleasure and honor to hangout with and learn from you all this week.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A. Seasons and Finding Fulfillment

In recent weeks I have been thinking a great deal the various seasons that we experience in a career. It seems to me, as I complete my 31st year as a teacher, I have experienced 3 significantly different seasons in terms of how I relate to students and how students relate to me.

The initial phase is the first 5-10 years. For this article, I will call this “young teacher.”  The middle 15-20 years will be referred to as the “Advancing Professional.”  Finally, the 20 year plus teacher will be referred to as the “Seasoned Pro.” The transitions between seasons can be difficult and certainly have been for me to some extent.  I have realized that we must be mindful of the seasons and our role that we serve for our students and for our teaching community in each of these seasons.  If we are not mindful and reflective of these seasons, things can become difficult for us.

About 18 months ago I developed a conference session for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Southeast String Teachers Conference. The session was created at the request of my friend, Dr. Rebecca McLeod, and centered around the topic of finding career fulfillment as a string educator. I presented the session in January, 2017 and it was very well received by college students and seasoned professionals alike. The session presented 7 different models for looking at career fulfillment and encouraged colleagues to consider which model resonated with them in the most profound way. I found the various models in books on the topic, on social media, through light research, and even created a couple of the models myself based on my life and experience, coupled with conversations with colleagues.

In May 2018 I was invited to give a session at the Music and Arts Directors Clinics in Fredrick Maryland. I was asked to present to a mixed group of music educators including orchestra, band, choral, and general music teachers. After thinking about it for a while, I suggested the Career Fulfillment session as one that might resonate with my colleagues from a variety of disciplines. I spent a good deal of time revamping the session and updating it to match with my audience and current thinking. As part of the updating process, I began thinking about how we find our fulfillment in different ways as we move through different seasons of our career. This grew from the knowledge that the college students at UNCG responded equally enthusiastically to the content of the session as did teachers of 25 years or more. My guess was that the teachers at the Music and Arts Directors Clinics would be of a variety of ages.  This, coupled my own experience of the past few years and, frankly, struggling with some fulfillment issues, made the preparation process challenging and enlightening.  For a look at the session handout and the 7 models, click here.

One of the models which I developed is called “The Journey Begins.” In this model, I ask teachers to consider their sphere of influence as it relates to their students and their professional community (colleagues at work and beyond). I ask them to consider what their sphere of influence is or what they would like it to be during each of their career seasons.   In the weeks since giving the talk, it has become more and more apparent to me in my transition from “Advancing Professional” to “Seasoned Pro,” I have realized that I have not been reflective about differences in how students might relate to me how I need to be comfortable with my current sphere of influence and skill set.  This reflection is certainly an important facet of career fulfillment.  Here is an example of the potential discomfort and transition:  I am now the age of my student's parents or older.  Lets face it. Kids relate differently to their parents and their parents' peers than they do to younger adults.  My role is no  longer Mr. Laird the "cool (hopefully) young"  teacher.  I really do think that was once me.  But, that really can't be me any more.  Now I aspire to be the compassionate parental influence in my students' lives.  But, in my conversations with young teachers and advancing professionals, I may have the opportunity to share some of my experience and provide information, inspiration, or insights to their situation.  I have walked in their shoes and come out the other side.  My role and sphere of influence has changed and will continue to change.  We must be reflective to find peace in that transition.  (Otherwise we might even become dissatisfied or bitter.  Did you ever know a teacher in that situation?)

I have been privileged to spend the last 4 days with a small group (30 or so) of string educators from around the country at the Conn Selmer Institute.  Is part of our time together, I have had numerous conversations with pre-service teachers from many collegiate programs, young teachers, advancing professionals, and seasoned pro colleagues.  Many of those conversations centered around career, career advancement, time management, and overall fulfillment.  All of us, in one way or another, are chasing fulfillment though impact.  And all of us are in different seasons and phases of our careers and personal lives.  What a rich tapestry of conversation and ideas.

I encountered a pre-service teacher while at CSI who told me that he used to be an Environmental Science major and had changed recently to Music Education.  I asked how the change was going.  His response was that his life is now so much more fulfilling!  That  really moved me.  He, of course, had no idea who I was or that I was interested particularly in the concept of fulfillment. He was simply at the conference, soaking up all of the information he could from the expert faculty, and making connections with other folks that were interested in the same things ye was interested in.  He was seeking out the fulfillment that he was missing in his previous major.   I applaud him for chasing fulfillment and not reputation, money, or fame.  I assured him that with fulfillment in his sights as a goal, he couldn't go wrong!

What season are you in?  Have you been reflective about transitions from season to season?  Have you experienced any of the discomfort I describe?

My Dad spend over 25 yeas as a school superintendent and retired over 20 years ago.  I was telling my him about this line of thought a few weeks ago.  As part of the conversation he mentioned that it reminded him of some of the research he did on Maslow and Self Actualization as part of his dissertation in the early 1970's.  Come back to my blog in coming days part part 2 of this article where I take a look at Maslow's research and theories and attempt to superimpose them on this concept of career fulfillment.

Meanwhile, I wish you all fulfillment in your career and life as a music educator or in whatever you do!


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Critical Mass

Last weekend, the North Carolina School of Science and Math held its 37th commencement exercises on the lawn of the school.  All week long we were concerned about the possibility of rain on Saturday. But, in the end, the rain held off and we had a lovely ceremony. The class of 2018 commenced as scheduled. And school is officially closed for the next week or so while we prepare for the beginning of summer activities.


There were a number of wonderful speakers at the ceremony.  The primary speaker was Dr. Billy Pizer, '86, Susan B. King Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Programs at the Sanford School of Public Policy and Faculty Fellow at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, both at Duke University. Among his remarks was a bit of an introduction to the concept of "critical mass."  He explained that critical mass is key to a variety of unfolding reactions. He further explained that in any system there is typically some sort of order. But given enough critical mass, the order can be broken. If there's not enough critical mass to break the system, the previous order remains. I believe during his remarks used the metaphor of people standing in line. One person breaks in line, it probably isn't enough critical mass to cause chaos in the line. However, if 50 people break into the line, there's a likelihood that the critical mass of those 50 people will break the order of the line.  My recollection is that his explanation of the concept was in regard to his thoughts about climate change and his work in that important area.  He encouraged our graduates to be aware of the inertia that can be created by committed groups of people.  Critical mass can both stabilize and alter systems.

Interestingly, "critical mass" is a concept that I have thought about a great deal over the years as it relates to music education and my work as an orchestra director. So, today I will share some of those thoughts and models.

Critical Mass is defined as "the minimum size or amount of something required to start or maintain a venture."  Think about this as it applies to your work in the music classroom both as ensemble director and as administrator of the program.  Have you ever started a venture as music instructor?  Have you started a program? A new ensemble? A new initiative? Even a new job?  Once in place, we all must maintain our programs. At it's core, critical mass involves a venture and we all certainly have experience with ventures and undertakings!  As music instructors we are program administrators as well as instructors.  So, I hope you can already see how this concept is in many ways central to a variety of aspects of our work.


I currently enjoy directing fairly large ensembles at my school. I typically have between 40 and 60 string players enrolled in my orchestra during any given term. (Our total student enrollment is ~680, so those are pretty good numbers!) I often think back to my early years at NCSSM when the numbers were much smaller. I believe in 2001, when I first arrived at NCSSM, there were about 12 string players enrolled in Orchestra. This creates a very different musical and social environment on a daily basis. First, when there are large numbers (critical mass) in the room, the group simply sounds better. Large string groups generally have a very appealing corporate sound. (I am often reminded by my wind ensemble directing friends that this isn't always the case in a band class.) When there are only 12 or 15 in the room, every voice counts to a much greater degree. One out of tune B-flat can really adversely impact the overall sound of the ensemble. There isn't that "critical mass" to keep the system from breaking down. We, as ensemble directors, really rely on critical mass to generate a great sound.  And, as a result, individual players can take musical risks that they might not otherwise embrace in a smaller ensemble.  A wrong note or fudged lick here or there won't really be "heard."  There is freedom  in numbers.  A friend once told me of an experience she had playing the Bach Double Concerto with about 3000 violinists at an international Suzuki gathering.  She told me that she thought it would be confining and restricting before the performance, but in the end , it was actually the opposite.  She said it was one of the most freeing and musical experiences of her life. Cool!


But, there is so much more to it than simply generating sound. There is a real social impact to critical mass in the ensemble as well. When we think about enticing students to take our class, critical mass is part of it.  It is much more appealing to join an ensemble that has lots of people, lots of interest, and lots of potential each the individual student. Without critical mass in the ensemble, students may fear that their mistakes will be heard more prominently, that their role in the small ensemble may be more than they can handle as a musician, or that it will be less of a positive, large ensemble experience. Critical mass can play a role in all of these social implications.


My orchestra gave its final performance of the 2017/2018 academic year just a few weekends ago. Within two weeks of the performance, I found out that my principal second violin would be attending a science competition across the country on the evening of the concert. I also found out that one of my top first violinists would be in Singapore at a math competition. Additionally, another important member of the second violin section was scheduled to get her wisdom teeth out that week and wouldn't be able to play in the concert. I could mention couple other similar situations that occurred in that time frame as well, but you get the point. Now, I know that all music directors struggle with these issues of schedule conflicts. Some of this is par for the course at our specialized school. Students are involved in a large variety of activities and events. We understand that music program simply one cog in a very complex wheel. So, I try not to lose sleep over these conflicts that seem to come up from time to time. However, this attitude and reaction is much easier to implement when we have a critical mass of players in the ensemble. In other words, those three students missing the performance would not break the order of the system that I have in place. I have plenty of violins and, while we really did miss each of those players, the system remained strong and the performance was magnificent. Critical mass was really important on that evening. If I had an ensemble of 12 or 15 players, the absences would have been catastrophic.


Another area in which I notice the impact of critical mass is teaching various technical and musical skills to the ensemble. Let's use player movement as an example. I am always encouraging ensemble to "breathe into entrances." I ask them to breathe for any entrance as if they are in a string quartet giving a preparation beat. I want them to lift their instrument and prepare for the entrance in a way that is called for by the musical style. This clearly is not natural for all young musicians. It requires concentration and an active mind to play with this sort of proactive physical performance technique. It requires leadership and strong understanding of the repertoire. That said, when an entire ensemble breathes into an entrance, the musical impact is stunning. When I first introduce this concept to an ensemble, typically only one or two players really get it at first. I have to keep working with and coaching a section or the entire ensemble until a critical mass of the players commit to the action. Finally, when we get over the hump of critical mass, those that are not fully invested in the physicality of the performance become the outliers and eventually realize the importance of the action. They would rather join the system than break the critical mass.

This concept of critical mass can be replicated in many other facets of the ensemble. I find this to be true with commitment to dynamics and phrasing, commitment to appropriate playing position and bow technique, and commitment to eye contact and musical interaction within the ensemble. I know that I find it much more satisfying to teach and to learn when there is a critical mass of students and interest in the room. This can be one of the most difficult hurdles for young teachers to overcome as they are thrust into a new classroom or teaching environment. It takes time to generate a critical mass of interest, trust, and commitment in a community or classroom. A music program is a "system" and systems with a low critical mass can be compromised easily. This can create a great deal of stress for teachers young and old!


How do you relate to the concept of "critical mass?" I was really thrilled to hear Dr. Pizer bring it up in his commencement remarks last weekend.  Clearly, he is thinking about it through the lens of his work and I through the lens of mine.  What have I missed here?  Do you relate to this concept in your work?  What systems are you developing?  How has that system been compromised in the past? Can a critical mass stop it from being compromised?

I would love to hear from you. These are just some of my thoughts as we begin the summer of 2018.  I am sure there will be more.  Until next time...