The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible:
Becoming a Virtuoso Educator
By Eric Booth, 2009,
Oxford University Press, $24.95
As we reported in the last issue of Harmonic Dissidents, the Obama administration intends to increase funding for the arts under House Resolution 1388. A significant portion of that money is allocated through AmeriCorp/Vista-like programs called Arts Corps and Music Corps. Kiff Gallagher formed the nonprofit Musician National Service (MNS) to position it first in line for Music Corps funding.
As a director of MNS’s Board and as Artistic Director for Juilliard’s Mentoring Program, Eric Booth’s opinions on how to teach music could matter, especially if the MNS model takes hold.
His Bible is a collection of essays he wrote since 2003, mostly for the magazine Chamber Music. Considering the original publisher and his long employment at Juilliard, Booth’s emphasis on building an audience for classical music through the teaching efforts of highly trained musicians is no surprise.
The book’s main concern is satisfying granting agencies in these days of corporatization of the arts. As a consultant to heavily subsidized orchestras in major US cities, Booth is comfortable with corporate philosophy regarding arts funding. Although the HONK!/Community Music world does not universally appreciate the classical canon and its musical hierarchy, many of us agree that corporations and government spend more money on worse endeavors.
Booth argues that the general community – that never sets foot inside a concert hall – benefits from the presence of high caliber musicians on its street. In fact, he advises the teaching artist to be always on the lookout to promote interest in music—even over oranges in the produce aisle.
He argues further that even the best musicians improve by connecting with their audience in an educational setting–that they re-ignite their own passion for music that might have been dimmed by years of mastering technique. Connecting with the public’s wonder at a well-turned cadenza not only builds future audiences, but reminds the artist of his or her own naïve fascination with music.
On a more ominous note, he states that the days of elite musicians perfecting their performances in artistic isolation are over. The economic reality of decreasing public subsidies and splintered audiences pursuing evermore entertainment options has driven musicians to begging for corporate dollars. CEOs want an economic justification for their tax-deductible donations. Besides conducting public workshops, etc., the modern teaching musician has to persuade business men of the value of supporting art in terms of a better-trained workforce.
CEOs want their “metrics,” they want to see results on paper. Booth says the past practice of arranging an in-school performance, answering a few questions and then packing up is finished. The modern teaching musician must coordinate the music and its message with teachers, administrators and other stakeholders caught in the same bind. CEOs want records, reports and statistics to justify the teaching of art. Who took the humanity out of the humanities?
Booth is an actor not a musician. Through most of his Bible he maintains a tone reminiscent of the corporate motivational programs popular in the ‘80s (e.g. The Pursuit of Excellence and Context Training). Like these programs, the Bible is strong on namedropping, buzzwords and inspirational anecdotes but weak on content. Confidence and acting skills are important to performing and teaching but they cannot cover a lack of substance.
In one of his few deviations from his usual “motivational” tone, Booth allows that this planning, coordinating and bookkeeping is a lot of work for the amount of money the teaching artist is likely to make. Among the Bible’s strong points are the studies Booth cites that tie arts instruction to improved test scores, higher graduation rates and so forth. These studies could be used by anyone making an argument for arts funding to a school board or granting organization. To his credit, Booth notes that some of these studies have weaknesses (and again, his motivational tone wavers).
Most trained teachers, if they are honest, will admit that even after 5 years of college education, it takes another 2-5 years of practice to master classroom management. Reading Booth’s Bible, straight through or in review, won’t cut that time by much.
—by Bill Clifford