"The free play of art is the result of mastery. " --Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art

"Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them." --Ladybird Johnson

"...a well-trained ear, a well-trained intelligence, a well-trained heart, and a well-trained hand...." --Zoltan Kodaly


Dear J,

"The joy comes from doing it well." -- Laurdella Bodollay

Right.  It can be an elusive goal, though---holding to the standard of excellence.

I mean, what is excellence, anyway?  Is it being able to perform music without a single error?  Performing every note with exactly the correct pitch and rhythm?  Getting the answer right every time?

Or is it about play?  Play:  being comfortable enough with the skills & materials at hand to be able to use them as part of  imagination, as an integral part of the communication  toolbox we all carry around.  That's a lifelong skill---one  not limited to a single subject, either.  It's part of learning to live well.

Ernst Fischer, in The Necessity of Art,  says that 'the free play of art is the result of mastery'.

OK.  So now, it's even more clear that the goal is to provide our students with opportunities to develop 'autonomy, mastery and purpose"  (in Ken Robinson's pithy phrasing), so that they can experience that "joy that comes from doing it well".

How do we do that?

 I said yesterday, J, that I was going to try just  being very aware of the present, working on whatever came up that was right in front of me during class.  Specifics, not general vague ideas.  Well:  we created a rhythm piece together today--working on listening to each other, staying in the same tempo, playing our parts clearly, holding the instruments correctly.  Playing real music, enjoying a jam session together.   On our first round, we tried to do it all, all at once.

Disaster.  Too much to think about, not enough chance to get comfortable with any skill.  Well, in truth, it wasn't really disaster--the music sounded like the kind of stuff one might expect from little kids.  

But not from young musicians.  So we tried again. This time, I reminded students (and myself!) to listen carefully to each other, to play their instruments as a part of a conversation.  To focus on their own technique and to listen, to listen hard, to the music we were all making.

What a difference.  Not perfect--but right in the pocket.  In the groove.  It was obvious to all of us: the children's faces  (and mine!) lit up with delight, and the circle literally leaned in closer.   I'd say that was excellent.  I think I like this building up process---going slowly enough so that each experience yields fruit, so that our play can also--even for just a few measures at a time--feel like mastery.

More, later.

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