I think my students are pretty good at seeing the big picture. When I ask my students about goals they usually have well thought-out responses: make Wind Ensemble, participate in a summer festival, attend graduate school, get a teaching job, etc... These are all great goals. The tricky thing with most of these goals, though, is that they are off in the distance. Most students' goals are a semester, year, or four years away from being met. There is nothing wrong with long-term goals, and in fact, I would say all musicians need to have a list of long-term goals. We all need direction in our lives. Where the issue lies with many students is how to translate long-term goals into present practices.
Even in my relatively short time at IUP, I have seen several students become increasingly discouraged as they progressed through their degree. They began their academic career with high hopes of ascending to the top of the studio, sitting principal in the Wind Ensemble, and winning the concerto competition. However, as each semester passed they realized that they were hardly any closer to meeting those goals. The problem for most, if not all, of these students is in translating their goals into an effective gameplan. They honestly desire to succeed in these ways, but they are either too ignorant to see the amount of work needed or they are lazy and distracted and would rather spend the afternoon playing video games than practicing.
You can think about goals as investments. Let's take, for instance, buying a car (which I know is an awful investment). Let's say you were bored over Christmas break because you didn't have a way to get around. You'd really like a car so that you can get away from home if you want. So, you decide that you'd really like to have a car by summer so that when you go home for break you can drive to a friends house if you really want to. The problem is, you are broke. What would you do? You wouldn't just sit around hoping to get a car in five months - you would get a job and you'd start saving. You would work day after day in order to meet the goal that you have. After a day's work, you might only take home $30-40. That doesn't make a dent in a down payment for a car. It might be easy to just quit. What's the point? But, if you quit, you certainly won't have a car. So, you trudge on. A weeks worth of work means you might make $150-200. Not bad, but still not anywhere near enough for a car. A month gets you to $600-800. Getting closer, but still, even though you have strung together 20+ days of work, you are a long way off from being able to buy a car. But, if you worked steadily, day by day, week by week, month by month you might have $3,000-$4,000 after five months of work. It might not be the prettiest car, but you can now get yourself a starter car to get around for the summer.
Practicing is a lot like saving up for your car. If you look at a day's work, it might seem like it's just not worth the time. In the case of the car, what's $30 when you need $3,000? In the case of music, you have so far to go to make Wind Ensemble, and in the hour you just spent you were only able to speed your etude up by 3 clicks. What's 3 clicks when you need to go 30? Well, just like the illustration of saving for a car, you have to be willing to put in sustained work over a period of time before significant progress is made. You have to be able to see that the microscopic improvement you made today is part of a larger picture. It IS worth your time if you feel strongly about your goals.
Goals are great. Goals, I would say, are even necessary. We probably won't even meet all of our goals, but by earnestly striving to meet our goals on a daily basis, we will have (at the very least) grown in our musicianship. I would encourage each of my students, as we begin the semester, to think about the goals that you have and resolve to work towards them on a daily basis. Your work may seem so small on a day-to-day basis, but when you step back at the end of the semester you will be amazed at how you have grown in your musicianship.
One thing I thought I might do with the blog is highlight some fun and interesting videos. I might use this as a chance to point my students towards something I think they should experience. Or, in this case, I am featuring Mnozil Brass because IUP is fortunate to be hosting them on their upcoming tour. In fact, IUP is one of only four U.S. stops (with the next closest being in Kansas!).
Think before you type
The tuba and euphonium world is a funny place. Compared to the rest of the musical world, it is a very small, tight-knit club. Because of this, I would encourage my students to think before you type or speak.
I remember when I was younger, and had yet to attend any national music festivals, I had a naive perspective on the tuba world. I bought my first tuba CD in 1997 as a sophomore in high school. It was a recording of Roger Bobo. I thought it was the most amazing thing in the world to hear someone playing solos on the tuba. He seemed like a rock star that happened to play my instrument. And, clearly he must be living a completely different life than me because he has a CD. From my perspective as a high school musician, he was on a similar plane to a sports or TV celebrity (surely he was rich and lived in a beachfront mansion with four yachts, right?).
Now that I am on the professional side of things, I have a different perspective. Over the past decade and a half I have had the opportunity to meet many of the musicians that I grew up listening to and admiring (in fact, I am now peers with many of the musicians I listened to as a high school and college student). I almost always come away from these encounters struck by the fact that these musicians that I have known only through recordings and reputation are real people. These encounters also serve to remind me how small the tuba and euphonium world is. In our profession, we could easily play 6 degrees of Arnold Jacobs, although we would really only need 2 or 3 degrees. Everyone knows everyone.
I finally did see Roger Bobo in the flesh in 2002 when I was a college junior. He was at ITEC in North Carolina. But, I was so awed that I couldn't pluck up the courage to introduce myself.
I could be wrong, but I think that the perspective I had as a high schooler is not generally shared by young musicians today. I think that the internet has broken down many of the facades that I perceived. In 1997 the internet was still somewhat in its infancy. My only connection to Roger Bobo was his CD, and obviously anyone who could make a CD must really be somebody. If he had walked into my high school band room I probably would have frozen in fear (since five years later I still couldn't bring myself to say "hi"). Nowadays, students can interact with professional musicians through Facebook and Twitter. I think this has positive and negative results.
The good thing about this availability of information is that students hopefully realize that the great musicians of today are, by and large, regular people. They started in the same way that the students now find themselves and they continue to work hard. They weren't born as professional musicians, and they don't maintain professional lives without continued hard work. The down side is familiarity that leads to forwardness and informality. This is generally true as technology leads to a more convenient openness of information. Every professor has had to deal with emails from students that say something like: "sry i missed class did we do anything 2day?" I'm not a demanding person. I'm pretty laid back, but I expect students to be a bit more thoughtful when they email me (particularly after skipping class to nurse their hangover).
So, where am I going with all this? I am glad that my students have the conveniences that we have today. I am glad they are able to read about Sotto Voce touring. I'm glad they can see pictures of Sergio Carolino in the recording studio. I'm glad that they can easily contact a musician if they have a pedagogical question. But, I don't want this accessibility and familiarity that technology affords us to lead to disrespect when interacting with professional musicians.
A few rules to follow when talking to musicians (i.e. your future colleagues and employers):
I want to be clear that I am not discouraging my students from interacting with professional musicians. I wish I had the courage when I had the chance to introduce myself to Roger Bobo. I have been fortunate in my position at IUP to have university support to take students to conferences and to bring guest artists to campus every year. I want them to interact and ask questions. But, I want them to interact in a manner that shows respect for the individual's status. Musicians are busy. Most are very kind people that are willing to share their time with students - particularly students that are respectful - but, their kindness is not an open door to disrespect.
So, students, be thoughtful in your conversations with professional musicians. They just may be your future employers and colleagues.
So, I've decided to start a blog. I know that the world doesn't need another blog. It especially doesn't need a blog written by me. There are already blogs for every topic imaginable. There are certainly people who are funnier than me, more well-traveled than me, and concerned with more important things than playing the tuba. There are plenty of people that are better musicians, have more knowledge than me, and are better writers. So, now that I have explained why there is no reason for this blog, I'll tell you why I am bothering to start it.
I believe it is my job to train young men and women to be successful musicians. At IUP, most of my students desire to be educators. By now they all know that I expect them to practice as though they are performance majors, but there is more to being a complete and successful musician than being a capable performer.
I feel that over the course of a four-year degree I do an acceptable job of covering the necessary information of general applied musicianship (fundamentals, didactic materials, solo repertoire, chamber repertoire, etc...), but I don't feel like I always address the other situations and issues that they will almost all inevitably run into. 45 minutes a week is barely enough to say hello and hear what the student has worked on for the past seven days. And even though the studio meets for 2.5 hours a week in Tubaphonium ensemble, it always seems like we are scrambling to put our next concert together (even though I always have the best intentions of doing more master classes). I want this blog to be a place to bring up those issues and get my students to think about the things they are going to see in the future.
Also, there are times when I have a conversation with a colleague that sparks a thought that I want to share with my students. However, by the time I see my students next, the thought has left me. Or sometimes I run across an article or video that I think would be profitable for my students to read or see, but I have already cluttered their inboxes with reminders and don't want to send out one more thing to that will only be overlooked. I'd like this blog to be a location where I can point my students to interesting information and music and start some conversations.
Lastly, this blog is for me. I am not finished learning and forming my own pedagogical ideas. Between my family, practicing, preparing classes, reading facebook and twitter, and keeping up with the Texas Rangers and TCU football, I am just as distracted as my students. I'd like for this to be an opportunity for me to focus on what it is that I think will make me a better teacher for my students.
With all of that said, I don't promise anything with this blog other than typos. I hope this will be a valuable growing experience for me and resource for my students.
Author - Zach Collins
Professor of Tuba and Euphonium, Indiana University of Pennsylvania