Back in May, I had an outdoor gig at local sports bar/restaurant, Devines in Durham. It was a Saturday night and happened to be prom night for my school, the North Carolina School of Science and Math. Throughout the evening, I was delighted to notice lots of my students coming out of other area restaurants, on their way to the prom following dinner. Many of them stopped in order to hear me play a bit and take photos of me and my fellow musicians. The crowd that was at the bar to hear me play could see the joy and fun in the students eyes of seeing their music teacher in a performing setting, outside of school. What a fun experience for all!
Today I am thinking about the importance of maintaining a life as a performing artist while pursuing a career as a music educator. In the weeks around that performance, I was involved in a series of interviews, seeking a new visual arts instructor at NCSSM. One of our stated priorities for the candidate was that they, in addition to being an exceptional experienced teacher, had a vibrant life as a working artist. We believe that there is true value for students in having a role model that is a working artist. (By the way, we certainly found that person and are thrilled to have her on Faculty today at NCSSM!!)
I have worked hard over the past 30 years to maintain an active performing life. Many of you know that I still perform as a violinist both in the classical and in a variety of improvisatory arenas. I perform regularly in churches, as part of a string quartet, as a solo artist, as a recording artist, and as part of numerous pop and rock bands around Durham & the Triangle region of North Carolina. I also frequently pick up my violin and perform as part of conducting appearances.
I believe strongly that modeling a performing life is a vital part of the educational process. Students want and need to see their teacher actively engaged in the art that they themselves are working so hard to master.
That Friday night was a really cool experience along these lines. I couldn't help but think that this was actually another important part of the educational process for my students. It is not often the students get to see me as my alter ego, improvising violinist. They're used to seeing me in rehearsal, conducting the orchestra, and running the various programs at NCSSM. In the end, we all have a responsibility to maintain our life as an artist and practitioner in our chosen field. That's how students really learn. They see their mentors doing the thing they love. Students learn by example. And, they find an interest and passion in that same area as their mentors. For those of you that are young music teachers or perhaps even pre-service teachers, I encourage you to set concrete goals for both your teaching life and you're performing life.
Don't ever let your chops deteriorate to the point that you won't play for the public. Find time to practice. Find time to perform. And find ways to model your passion and expertise in performance for your students. Build advancing your performing skills into your professional development plans and time. Use some of your summer time and other breaks for practice, lessons, or other performing opportunities. You owe it to yourself and you owe it to your students!