Ancient words of wisdom. I grew up hearing and seeing many interesting proverbs in Nigeria where I was born and raised. Taxis and trucks often had sayings and slogans painted on their rear bumpers and trunks--one catchy line that has stuck in my memory is “better late than The Late.” [The Late is used in front people I have taken that to heart in front deceased people’s names and been late on a few occasions, and hopefully it will be many more years before I am “The Late.”
A proverb from Etsako, Nigeria, that I particularly like is “A dog that wags its tail learned to do so when he was young.” What could this mean for us in the field of music education? Dogs wag their tail when they are happy, so maybe we could be inspired to share the joy of music with our young students. That is something I hope you all do, though the proverb really seems to suggest that the things we learn at a young age will stay with us for our whole life. When asked at what age music education should begin, Kodály’s famous reply was: “Nine months before the birth of the mother.”
So ideally, kids should be learning music continuously from a young age. But how do we engage our young students so they will be life-long lovers of music? I have heard of people who had an exciting time in their high school marching but have had little to do with music after their graduation. I think some performance oriented programs have the tail wagging the dog, and may not be developing musicians. One answer to this problem I is that we should be developing our students in all of the National Core Arts Standards which include creating, performing, responding, and connecting at every level from kindergarten through university. Traditionally, performance has been the emphasis of many of our programs and I am proud of the many fine ensembles we have in our Southwestern Section. However, “creating” is often left out of our music programs. Through the music has been valued for its creative aspects and fun it adds to life. Plato famously said “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” My goal continues to be trying to develop support for including more of the creating, responding, and connecting in our section.
At our fall conference, listening to LAUSD teacher Eloy Adame share how he engages his students through Latin-inspired music was really encouraging to me, and I’m very excited to help host a brand-new conference related to this idea called Casting a Wider Net on April 22 at Azusa Pacific University. This conference will focus on how we can reach the other 90% of students in that are not in the traditional band and choir ensembles. Mariachi, steel drum bands, and guitar classes are only a few of the ways among many that are possible to deepen our students’ engagement in music. Composing and improvising are also part of deepening our engagement and relevancy with students. When we can engage our young people through creativity, , and in addition performing, we really offer them the deeper learning opportunity to develop music as a something that will be a significant part of their whole life rather than some that is simply focused on a single performance event, such as preparing to play perfectly for a competition.
I’ve heard music teachers say that composing is just for advanced students, but I disagree. Kids of all ages, and in particular, young ones, naturally make up musical ideas and have fun improvising and composing. We need to nurture this aspect of our human nature in our music classes. The creative aspects of composing and improvising are best involved from the beginning of one's music education so that students continue this natural pattern of "making" original music throughout their life. As teachers, we are not trying to produce professional composers, but rather encouraging deeper engagement in understanding music and helping students express their own musicality. Just like the young dog wagging its tail, I dream we will all nurture creativity from our youngest students up through our oldest
In addition, encouraging students to be free to create their own tunes and accompaniments should be developed naturally rather than something only for professional composers. As teachers, we need to model creativity to our students and regularly open the door for their creativity. If we don’t, they are much less likely to ever add that component throughout adulthood.
Will you take the creative risk? Compose a for your students and then ask them to create one of their own next ! This is the nurturing of creativity and imagination.