- Posted March 12, 2013 by
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First Person: Your essays
Music School Confidential
It’s no secret that education in America is broken. We have a long way to go and it’s all very complicated. We can’t define a good school, let alone figure out a way to measure success. Yet when budgets are tight, the first thing to be cut is always the arts. I’d spent 6 years in music school studying with world-class musicians before making a switch to Business School. I’ve seen the benefits of music education firsthand and I promise, Music Ed is an integral part of the educational value chain.
The focus of the curriculum isn’t about forcing everyone to learn that Bach’s music is mind-blowingly awesome (but seriously, it’s AMAZING). It’s about learning how to think, not learning what to think. That ‘how’ seems to be the Holy Grail of education. It’s exactly what makes a good scientist, a good entrepreneur, or a productive member of society.
To fully make the case for Music Ed as a wealth of value, I need to take one hot second and tell my (abbreviated) story...I was convinced that I was going to be a musician. I loved music, I was good at it, and I was willing to do ANYTHING to get to the top. But I then I realized it didn’t matter. Even at the top of the music game, the job security isn’t there. So I dropped out of grad school.
Fresh out of school, I had no idea what to do with myself. You can’t exactly get a job with a BM (that’s a Bachelors of Music, which is worth about as much as the other type of BM). So I sat down and analyzed who I was, what it was about playing music that I loved. What were those intrinsic properties that got me excited? It was those things (the endless pursuit of perfection and knowledge, making others smile, etc) that I loved, as well as the music. And while I’m still defining those properties, I’m able to follow a path that I know will make me incredibly happy. How did I get to this point of pure happiness? The answer brings me back to why music education needs to be a cornerstone of education. I learned so many amazing life lessons through music; it’s not just an art, it’s also a science and quite possibly one of the best ways kids can learn that mythical ‘how’ to critical/creative thinking.
Hard Work Pays Off
This one came early on in my short-lived musical career and went through several different adaptations but it’s the basis for the following lessons. I wasn’t a very good musician when I first started out and it was obvious as to why. I would practice 1 hour a day, but Katie down the street would practice 4. My solution was to kick it up to 6 hours a day until I was just as good if not better than she. I had to make up for lost time, and soon I would overtake her in hours worked. I figured things out by trial and error. And there was a lot of error.
Make it Happen
An amazing musician (and an amazing person) said these exact words to me. It’s so simple, yet so deep. There will always be obstacles in your way. I remember in my junior year, my quartet was making a recording for an international tuba competition (seriously). It was almost impossible for us to get together to record, but we found one time. 10:00 at night on a Thursday. We had all been in class since about 8 in the morning and I had a very serious sinus infection. Now it might have been the IV of coffee and much more Mucinex than a doctor would recommend, but I’m convinced that these simple words cleared my head (well, not literally) and allowed me to power through the pain and exhaustion. We made the semi-finals and competed out in Arizona. It was nice to get some sun.
Know Where You Truly Stand
This bit was learned when I was in grad school. My teacher at the time was fanatical about controlling variables. (Hey, this could be a great B-School lesson!) But in order to control anything or move forward, you have to have as much data as possible about current conditions. This meant everything from designing your own instruments to recording everything that you play and breaking that down to the smallest minutiae. But it didn’t stop there. What about your diet? Your exercise regimen? (Cue Barnaby and Finneous, the old time weightlifters from Family Guy…) Literally everything that has an impact on your life needs to be taken into account. Obviously we need as much data as possible to make decisions.
Again, if we don’t have accurate or complete data we can’t make a decision, right? It kills me how often I see people making bad decisions because they have don’t have enough data. A piece of sheet music doesn’t exactly tell you how to play everything. In fact, it’s just a general guideline. You would play a staccato note differently if you’re playing Shostakovich than you would if you were playing Mahler, and not all of Mahler’s staccato notes should sound the same! It’s important to fully understand context. The only way to do this is to do some serious research. Read a biography, read what the composer wrote, talk to the composer, analyze several different versions of the score, and listen to a hundred different records to figure out exactly what you’re supposed to do. What you see on your sheet music could be wrong. Believe it or not, some mistakes are made when things go to pirnt.
Before I started learning the science behind music and perception for Tunefruit, a hip Atlanta-based music licensing startup where I intern, I was just a lowly tuba player. We always related the music to something else. Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries is just a waltz, which makes it no different than Diane Birch’s Photograph. So take what you know about one song and apply it to the other! Of course when you dig deeper, it’s different. But there are different connections you can make the deeper you go. Chief Seattle famously said that everything connects, but it’s not just a web of life, it’s literally everything.
How to Work With People
In Business School everything is a group project because ‘in the real world’ you work in teams. Great. That’s what music school was. Put 5 people in a room together, all with different ideas on how a piece of music should go and you need to figure out how to make the best music that you can. And there is NO escaping these people. You HAVE to work together. If your French horn player gets mad at you because you didn’t eat the cookies he brought and walks out, you can’t perform. Business School? Please, if a team member’s work isn’t up to snuff, I do it myself. You really don’t have to do work as a group. And sometimes it takes less effort to just ‘fire’ a person than to work with them. Clearly the better lesson in cooperation comes from music school.
You Are Responsible For Your Work
All of these culminate in the fact that you are completely responsible for the end-product being well received. When you’re performing music, you can’t cheat. In art you can’t say to the audience “You don’t get it.” If they didn’t understand it or like it - you failed. I recently spoke to a recruiter from one of the big tech companies and two of the most important traits they look for in new hires are the ability to think of the customer and to take complete responsibility for your work. It’s a sense of responsibility that has to be learned, and I learned this one as a musician…in high school.
Obviously, I’m not advocating for everyone to go to music school. I am saying that we as a nation need music education to teach everyone these lessons and more. It’s what will create more scientists and help prepare everyone for that glorious time when students leave school and join the workforce. All it takes is a little more time in the K-12 level. Keep students involved, even if it’s just a little bit. Stop cutting Music Ed, there is inherently more value in that part of the education value chain than most realize.
Huckleberry (@tunefruit) hails from Connecticut. After a short stint of walking the streets of NYC at 4am (with a tuba) he finally had enough dough for a bus ticket down to Atlanta where he graciously accepted the job of "overworked, paid in smiles intern." After all, what's a berry gonna do with money?
Check out their Website:www.Tunefruit.com