It’s late at night and it's been a long day of travel and speaking. As I sit and await my plane, the news channels are alive with yet another issue relating to race relations in America. Tempers are short and speeches are long as the pundits sift through it all. As I gaze at the TV in a sleep deprived stupor, I wonder how long it will be before someone pickets us?
Historically, the arts, and music in particular have led the way in accepting all people as equals. Whether we are talking color, gender, age, faith, or personal choice, music has long been considered a space where ALL persons are valued equals.
Yes, music may be “color blind” but that does not mean it doesn’t discriminate.
As an educator, you would never consciously offer a lesser experience or opportunity to any child based on extraneous circumstances. It would be unconscionable and illegal. And yet, we do it every day. How so?
In music, we don’t discriminate based on the person, we do it based on pitch.
Typically speaking, does a tubaist graduate with the same musical skills as a flautist?
Do most compositions offer similar musical challenges to a bari-sax as it does an alto?
Are your all-region etudes the same level of difficulty for all instruments?
Will the same audition score yield the same result on violin as it does on bass?
If the music is our curricula, can you name another subject that gives different textbooks to different students in the same class?
Do we offer equal challenges and performance opportunities to every student?
You don’t need a doctoral dissertation to see this. Pick up any score on your podium and flip through the pages. If you believe that the greater the challenge, the greater the learning opportunity, then the abundance of black ink at the top of the score clearly presents an inequality for the folks on the bottom of the score. After all, when was the last time you said,“...for the love of goodness, can you PLEASE take the concert bass drum home and practice?"
As I said, the lower the pitch, the lesser the challenge. It doesn't get much lower than bass drum.
Now, before you go all Al Sharpton on me, I know that you aren’t doing this intentionally and that I am just as guilty of this as anyone. I understand that the level of demand we place on our students has to do with other factors such as blend, balance, and harmonic structure. I get that you didn’t write the music and method books your students use. But it does not change the fact that in music, we discriminate. We have to consider the possibility that intentional or not, the "back of the room" could be viewed by your students as the "back of the bus," a place of second class status.
I have always believed that for every curse there's a blessing, and this is no exception. Buried within all of this is a silver lining and I will share it with you next week. Or maybe I will just share it with my treble clef friends. I don’t expect as much of you “low” people!
Then again, I’m a drummer and it doesn't get much lower than that.
Have a great week!