IF A TREE FALLS IN A FOREST AND NO ONE IS THERE TO HEAR IT, DOES IT MAKE A SOUND?
Well of course it does, silly. We can’t argue with physics. The real question we should be asking is, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it matter?”
It is not a secret that there is a steady decline in support of live music. A large part is due to financial climate. Other factors, such as musical background, personal value, and time commitments/work schedules, are also culprits. So when we finally have a new audience member in attendance, one who typically does not attend classical performances, and happens to clap between movements, do we really need to turn to them with a glare and begin the ostracization process? Think they’ll be coming back to the next concert?
As artists, it is our job to train our audience, not through a pre-concert power point presentation of customary concert etiquette, but through a welcoming conversation and genuine display of empathy. Don’t get me wrong – I am not condoning a stadium-like atmosphere in concert halls; I am simply saying that more empathy will build a connection with your audience and make them more likely to attend your next performance.
Everything is about people. It’s not about clean rolls. It’s not about regurgitating information to score high on an exam. Those things are important to what we do, but we have mistakenly identified those as “goals.” Our goals should be about making meaningful connections with students and helping students make meaningful connections with each other through the process of cleaning rolls. Through the process of learning content. With enough bananas, any quality teacher can train monkeys to execute clean rolls or respond with correct answers. We need more connection. Connection with music. Connection with art. Connection with each other. These meaningful connections that we create open the door to an unparalleled level of teaching and artistry.
In Africa, there is a philosophy called Ubuntu. Ubuntu refers to the interconnectedness of all humans. It’s really more than a philosophy; it’s a way of life. The African proverb “Ubuntu ngumtu ngabanye abantu” translates as “a person is a person through other people.” More simply, “I am me because of we.” We owe it to ourselves as mentors, artists, and humans to mirror this philosophy. When we integrate and practice this philosophy, when we truly believe that self and other are one, we are balanced. Balanced as artists. Balanced as mentors. Balanced as humans.
At Southwestern, our percussion studio embodies the philosophy of Ubuntu. We have connected through our art. Percussion is the surface product. In the process of connecting, we found that we all share a passion for the hit NBC show The Office. So much so that we have appropriately nicknamed our studio Drummer Mifflin. Sure, anyone can create a cool studio name, quote lines from TV shows, and tell jokes. There’s nothing special about that. But our Drummer Mifflin is a byproduct that was created out of Ubuntu. On the surface, it’s a sign that hangs on the wall next to our studio door. But underneath, it is our Ubuntu. We don’t have Stanleys, Dwights, or Jims. We have far more important characters. We have Aidans, Matts, Tylers, and more. We don’t have a supporting cast. We have support. At Drummer Mifflin, it’s not just about pulling pranks that would make Jim jealous. On the same hand, it’s not about laughing through a poor rehearsal. Students are comfortable making a mistake, just as they are comfortable with high expectations. They are great at what they do because we are connected. We study and perform a diverse body of literature ranging from Cage to Sammut, Reich to Bobo, and Ewe drumming to steel pans. And performing the works of John Cage feels no different than performing Jimmy Buffett because we connect.
Without these meaningful connections, we become obsolete as humans. I have observed this obsolescence much more in this past month than ever before. It is saturated in our profession as musicians and teachers. I recently read several Facebook posts to the tune of, “I now have an endorsement with [company X]! It has been a career goal and a pinnacle that is finally achieved!” Now, I cannot emphasize enough how extremely blessed and humbled I am to have professional relationships with many of the top companies in the percussion industry. I could not do what I do without them and I am beyond grateful. I believe in the quality and craftsmanship of their products, and they believe in me as an artist and educator. Even more importantly, they are great people, not just companies. And I am absolutely thrilled to learn of new artists establishing professional relationships and am incredibly happy for them. What I am highlighting is what we consider “career goals” or “pinnacles.” I say this not to diminish the importance of these relationships, as they are extremely important, but to call attention to where our perspectives and importance are currently placed.
“Pinnacles” should be the daily interactions and meaningful connections that we make with students and colleagues. Helping students find who they are as an artist. As an educator. As a person. Supporting colleagues in their discipline and their teaching. And, even more importantly, personifying Ubuntu to both groups as they make their way in the world. A pinnacle should be the connection that we make with students during rehearsal. The connection that we share with an audience during a performance. Not the technique that was required to perfectly execute the notes on the page or the piece of paper that is signed confirming an endorsement. I am not proposing that the definition be changed, simply our perspective. Pinnacles, in our current usage of the word, are important milestones to reflect upon. This reflection is necessary to grow both professionally and personally. But our perspective should be focused on the slope. A pinnacle is supported by the slope; a pinnacle does not exist without it. The slope shows direction. The slope is our daily meaningful connections. The slope is where our Ubuntu lives.
Without the slope, our pinnacles have no support. They are simply rocks at the bottom of a quarry. And you don’t want to be hanging out at the quarry. That’s where Creed lives.
MORE COMING SOON!