I’d Rather Teach Street Musicians

It’s that time of the school year: Countless social media posts celebrating all-state ensembles, superior festival ratings, and on and on about “winning” (and often by teachers who have the advantage of affluent environments to foster the success). Amidst this often ego-driven high-fiving (and I’m just as guilty as anyone else!), I was blessed to discover of this video of the great jazz (though classically trained as well!) clarinet player and singer Doreen Ketchens and her band so I would be reminded of how students SHOULD be “winning”…that this excellent playing (and singing!) of culturally important and relevant music on traditional band instruments with such expression and feeling–on a street corner rather than Carnegie Hall or other prestigious venue, not in expensive concert dress or with top-of-the-line equipment, with what might be considered “unbalanced” ensemble instrumentation, and not for any apparent extrinsic reward like money or prestige–is a true goal for students.

As I reflect, I’m feeling a little silly about my obsessions with what is, in a broader perspective, music education minutiae: which reed brand is the best, which method book to use, earning a superior rating at contest, and so on.  Instead, I was reminded by these musicians of what I really should want my students “to know and be able to do.”  Rather than illustrious careers of highly trained, elite concert performers, I’ll feel greater accomplishment when my students grow up to make the music of street musicians.

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