Saturday, November 7, 2009

"Music Makes Winners"

I very much enjoyed having Dean Chin come to speak in our class this week. I feel like he touched on a great deal of things we have been talking about all semester. He also made me think about my musical past. Dean Chin and I actually graduated from the same high school, Norwood High. He mentioned the phrase "Music Makes Winners" and his distaste for it. This was one mantra of our music program. While I am not sure it was enforced or used as colloquially during my time at the high school, I do remember hearing it on occasion, and seeing it on pins sold at marching band competitions. I actually tried to look for some old paraphernalia or articles with the saying included, but came up empty handed.

Despite not hearing the phrase consistently, this was definitely an underlying part of the mentality of the entire music program. We were constantly encouraged to strive for the gold. There was a trophy case spanning the entire length of the hallway outside of the auditorium proudly displaying the multitude of medals won by various music groups over the years. It was virtually unheard of to not come home with a first place win. I will never forget one instance of this. It was my junior year in high school, and I was a part of the Madrigal Choir. We were not off to the strongest start, and at one point Paul Alberta (the Director of Fine Arts at the time, whom we all referred to as "God") came to one of our rehearsals. He bet us all a nickel that we would not received a gold medal at our MICCA competition. This of course affected us all in a big way. We went on to improve as a choir, and to win the gold medal in spite of Mr. Alberta's prediction. Following the win, he came into our rehearsal and gave us all a nickel. I still have mine in a frame in my room.

Another recollection from that same year was our trip to compete in Washington DC. We sang the best we could, and did not even place in the top 10 choirs in the Festival of Gold. Every one of us was extremely disappointed, including the director. It tainted the entire trip, and I remember hearing "Let's just get the hell out of here" from many, again, including the director.

Another question Dean Chin brought up was "Why are we musicians?" Do we do it do win? Maybe some people do. For some it's the prizes, the competition titles, and the fame. Others, including myself, fall in the "range of successful outcomes" volume. I believe that the majority of people fall under this category. Are there really enough prizes and first place wins for all the musicians in this world to have one? I doubt that. So why then push the younger generations on winning? Honestly, I was never one who cared about a score or a placement. I cared more about feeling good leaving the stage and knowing that we did all we could to be great. I try to encourage that way of thinking with the kids I teach now, though I am not sure they really get it quite yet. I think Dean Chin is right to be bothered by the "Music Makes Winners" slogan. Not all musicians will win, but that doesn't mean that they aren't musicians. It doesn't mean they aren't successful. Having a reminder of this in class was reassuring. Thank you for that.


Anonymous said...

In response to Grace’s post and Dean Chin’s discussion last class, I agree that music education does not need to be tainted with the slogan “Music Makes Winners”. The experience of music is its own reward. Students do not need the “gold” medals and 1st place trophies in order to be “successful” at music. Music educators who feel the need for their students to “win” these superficial prizes are cheating themselves and their students out of a “real” musical experience. The “gold” medal is not the prize…the aesthetic experience you get from performing music is.

What makes student musicians successful? I believe it is the experience “inside” music that they discover. Music is not about things, or “winning” anything. Music education should be about the incredible process you go through while studying and performing. Where else are you being challenged as much as with music? You can be asked to make thousands of musical decisions in one piece of music. Everything from the correct pitches, articulation, dynamic and musical message you are trying to convey. Should that be the motivation and challenge? A trophy or medal should be irrelevant.

I was fortunate to grow up in a music program where the “experience” of music was the most important thing. Your personal growth and collaborations with fellow musicians to have incredible musical experiences is what mattered. We were challenged on a daily basis to be the best musicians we could be. Yes, we performed at competitions and often won the “1st place” trophies and gold medals. However, that was not the goal! The goal was to put in your best effort and enjoy every moment of the music making. Our director could care less if we came in last place or ended up with a bronze medal, as long we gave it our all. Again, it is about the “experience”. Isn’t that aspect that makes music so wonderful? I know that is why music is my passion in life, and I encourage my own students to embrace music with the same attitude.

Billy O. said...

I would have to agree with both of you that the slogan "Music Makes Winners" is definitely bad. Music is about so much more than placing first or winning the trophy.

But I would also say that there is at least a little bit of good hidden in that phrase. While music is about so much more than competing with each other, some competition is needed in order to progress is music as well as in society as a whole. If you listen to early recording of orchestras and other classical music and compare it to the recordings made today, there is a world of difference. Granted, some of that difference is because of how far we have come in technology, but another reason is because competition in one way or another has raised the level of musicianship throughout the world. Maybe this whole argument comes from my personality and my extremely competitive nature, but I still believe that there are benefits to competitions.

Though, I do think that in high school, and now even before high school, that these competitions are stressed way too much. My own high school program did eventually seem to grow to the point where it didn't matter whether we took anything out of a performance as long as we won whatever competition we were in. And the majority of performances that we had were in competitions or festivals.