The Start of Classes and Teaching with Kindness

Every year, teachers face the excitement or perhaps anxiety of starting a new school year. There is something about meeting your new students or packing away the summer clothes that recalls a feeling of renewal. In Saskatchewan, this is usually accompanied by crisp fall weather and I'm sure there is an element of dread as one can sense the impending snow fall that will occur by the end of October.

This is the first time in nine years that I am not heading to my studio to greet all of my new and returning students. I've been receiving well-wishes from some of them. One parent told me that his young daughter can't believe I am across the world studying. I think that has more to do with the concept of geography on a young mind but I can't believe it either!

I have to admit that I experienced anxiety rather than excitement at the start of this school year. After a week of placement tests, it's hard to know what to expect. Will you be made to feel foolish? Are your abilities sub-par? I'm not sure why my immediate thoughts went to a negative place, as if the school somehow has it in for me, even though I am clearly here to learn.

There are a few interesting ideas about the Kodály philosophy that I discovered this week. Number one - that we as teachers should possess the highest degree of musical aptitude in order to provide the best education to our students and number two - that we aren't here to train musicians. The first part makes sense but what?!? - we aren't here to train musicians?

The idea behind this concept is that we are here to develop a well-trained ear so that a child can cultivate throughout his or her life a depth of understanding. We have all read some of the amazing studies to come out about the benefits of musical training on cognitive development but this approach is more about granting a child the ability to have an understanding of music in order for them to grow into adults who actively participate in musical activities throughout their lives.

There are three ways in which we express ourselves through music. We perform, listen, and create. We have become really good at the listening part but we have somehow lost the performing and creation aspect, especially at the amateur level. Even our listening has become perhaps a bit too mainstream - because without understanding the forms of classical music - we lose the ability to interpret for ourselves what it's all about. We know we like something but to be able to internalize it means understanding the tension and release, the anticipation and conclusion. Music training develops the ear to hear these masterworks and feel the story that is being communicated. This musical training should be challenging but also taught from a place of love and kindness.

We had an entertaining choir rehearsal where pitches and rhythms were a little out there (as is always the case on the first read-through). When the basses were lost for rhythm, they were told: that was very nice but let's not be on a moon station! Of course, the next try was perfectly in time - one of the many amazing experiences of singing with an incredibly adaptable and talented group of musicians. Kindness doesn't mean rejecting criticism. We cannot become our best, no matter what level, if we are coddled or given undue praise.

When teaching children it's important to give them visualizations so that they can imagine themselves floating through space when their tempo has erred. It's important to always approach their lessons through kindness too because our main purpose is to give into his or her "hand the small key that can open, if he so wishes, the magic garden of music that multiplies the value of his whole life" (Kodály). I personally found my lessons this week, although intimidating at first, to have been taught from a place of kindness and respect. I'm excited to see where we will go this year and what we will accomplish together.

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