I used to get mad at my school. The teachers who taught me weren't cool. You're holding me down, turning me round. Filling me up with your rules.
I've got to admit it's getting better. A little better all the time.
A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 54% of adults say that they're either uncertain, pessimistic, or worried about the upcoming year. Yes, 2016 was a little rough around the edges, and the body politic may not be exactly what our forefathers envisioned. But through it all, I remain unabashedly and unapologetically optimistic about the coming year.
Why, you ask? Because regardless of the prevailing sentiment, that is what we as a people do... GET BETTER! When viewed through the longer lens of history and evolution, we as a people have always invariably improved.
This is as true for music education as it for us as a people.
In his book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, Anders Ericsson describes the constant condition of human improvement in a way musician educators can uniquely understand and identify with. As an example of his treatise, Ericcson argues that Mozart's youthful prodigy would not hold up to modern standards or scrutiny. He further states that Little Wolfgang would be considered average according to today’s Suzuki standards.
Blasphempous as it may sound, Anders believes that Mozart's abilities are significantly magnified by the limited musical understanding and teachings of the 18th century. Yep, you heard (read) me right. If Amadeus himself were to wander into today's classroom, he might just find himself hanging with the third violins!
As another, more recent example, Ericcson tells the story of Alfred Cortot, hailed in the 1930s as one of the world's greatest classical musicians. His early recordings of Chopin’s 24 Etudes were considered to be the definitive interpretations of these landmark works.
Today, teachers offer those same recordings, marred with mistakes, wrong notes, and careless technique to be an example of how NOT to play Chopin. Any professional pianist today would be expected to perform Chopin with much greater skills and musicality than the once hailed Cortot did just eighty years ago. To add fuel to the fire, New York Times music critic Anthony Tommassini believes that musical ability has increased so much in the part 80 years that if Cortot were to apply again to his alma mater, The Julliard School, he might not be accepted.
Musically and otherwise, the unmistakable and undeniable fact is that humans are getting better at just about everything we do, including teaching music. Yes, today's student musicians are better in just about every way than they have ever been.
Why are young musicians getting better? BECAUSE THEIR TEACHERS ARE! You as a teacher are better prepared, better trained and better equipped than any group of music educators to date. Let me be clear, YOU are an example of the finest music educators to have ever stood on a classroom podium!
So how about this... The next time you hear someone complain about how our education system in crisis, or how bad kids are today, look them right in the eye and say...
"The good ole' days weren't all that good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."
If they don't believe The Beatles, surely they will listen to the Piano Man!