Learning From My Students

January 22, 2014

I’ve worked for many years to engage listeners through my music, and my efforts took a more formal turn this past fall when I taught a music appreciation class for the first time. Titled “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Classical Music But Were Afraid to Ask”, it was sponsored jointly by the Monteverdi Music School and the Montpelier Senior Activity Center. It was a dream come true for me: an opportunity to talk about music I love and bring to life the composers who created it. At the same time I hoped to de-mystify the world of concert music by explaining musical elements (melody, bass line, etc.) as tools for enhanced listening pleasure.

I had a wonderful time! These engaged elders showed obvious pleasure in listening to and exploring musical examples with me, even though some of the pieces were unfamiliar to them. However, I found that the teaching went both ways, as I was confronted by some of my unexamined assumptions. One student approached me after class and said she didn’t understand many of the words commonly used in talking about classical music. As a result, I created a glossary of terms that was appreciated by all members of the class. I also learned that, despite my best efforts to keep things simple, many concepts needed more repetition than I provided. It seems that for many in the class, the experience of listening and absorbing the music itself stuck with them more than some of my explanations. (Well, duh! The music itself is much more important than anything I could say. My task now is to find more direct ways to help them “get inside” the music.) I was grateful for their feedback, and I plan to incorporate what I learned from my intrepid students into the class when I offer it to a new group in the spring. I’ll also offer a follow-up set of classes for those who took the course last fall. For me it’s important to keep at this. Not only does teaching such a class help me grow, it also gives me a chance to share my passion for music and little by little to help strengthen the musical community right here in Central Vermont.