Self (deception) Portraits

Recently Canon Cameras conducted a very unique and compelling social experiment. Six photographers were given an assignment to shoot portrait photos of one man. Each photographer is told a different story about the person they are shooting: he's a millionaire, a lifesaver, an ex-con, a fisherman, a psychic, and a recovering alcoholic.
click below to watch the experiment

It was remarkable to see how the fictitious "story" changed the way the photographer shot him and the how varied the photos were. Same subject, same room, but very different results. It was also interesting to see how the photographers responded to seeing the other photographs of the same subject.

I realize it's a bit of a stretch (since when has that ever stopped me?) but I wonder what a similar experiment might look like with music teachers and their students?

Here is my experiment:
Imagine you receive a call from the front office saying that a new student is registering for your class and would like to meet you. Excited at the prospect of adding to your class count and possibly filling a musical void in your ensemble, you make your way to the office with visions of grandeur and hopes of all-state playing... Twins perhaps? YES!

You reach the registrar's office, the new student student stands up, extends her hand and says, "Hi, my name is Malika and I play the....

If we were to video tape the exchange that follows, how might your reactions change if the next word to leave the her mouth was;

  • drum set
  • oboe
  • alto sax
  • violin
  • guitar

or if she followed it with, I am

  • a brand new beginner
  • an all-state player
  • a jazzer
  • only here for a semester

Would your reaction change if she played an instrument of need in your ensemble? Would your response change if she were coming from a very successful program or a very weak program? Even more uncomfortable to think about is how your reaction would change based on her age, gender, dress, height, weight, vocabulary, etc.

The change in your body language/tone/energy level would likely be small and perhaps imperceptible to the student, but would likely be there nonetheless.

I do firmly believe that en large music educators are among the most welcoming, kind, and accepting group of people you will ever meet. I also believe that they work tirelessly to ensure that EVERY student grows and evolves, both musically and otherwise, but the nature of what we do has us placing "value" on students that may not necessarily be fair.

Yes, it's human nature. Yes, we strive to treat every child equitably. But as unintentional as it may be, it's possible that we may bring biases to our students that might in some way change how we (or other students) treat them. Perhaps, the lens we see our students through affects the way they see themselves.

Just some Wednesday morning thoughts...

Heads up, around here we are equal parts stressed out and excited. We have LOTS to share in the coming weeks, so you may hear from us a little more than usual, but we promise it is worth it!
Thanks and have a great week!
p.s. Keeping the newsletter light and the stereotypes alive... Researchers have found that participating in a drum circle can have mental health benefits. Maybe that's what we have been doing wrong with the drummers? We forgot to put them in circles!