My colleague, educator, lecturer, and etymologist, Eric Booth, defines a teaching artist as “a practicing professional artist with the complementary skills, curiosities, and sensibilities of an educator, who can effectively engage a wide range of people in learning experiences in, through, and about the arts.”
At the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids program we define our staff as Teaching Artists and look for three qualities:
1. Effective Pedagogy
2. High Level Artistry
3. Ability to ADVOCATE for the musical art form.
My mission in the following paragraphs is to create a series of arguments that may lead to other questions growing out of the query – “Are universities doing enough to train performers to be Teaching Artists?”
1. The real question should be: “How can we develop teaching artists starting in early elementary school.” At OrchKids, it is our belief that the student who knows 3 notes can teach the student who knows 0 notes. Although skilled and passionate teaching should always be present, it takes early immersion in teaching artistry for an individual to really own the profession. Another key component is teaching the children that they are “beating the drum” for support of music and music education every time they step into the classroom or on the stage.
2. The teachers I like most to hire are those that are artistically AND educationally driven. It is rare to find these folks. At the Peabody Conservatory faculty members such as Wind Ensemble and Music Education Director Harlan Parker demand both but many of the studio teachers look down upon music education candidates. The most interesting thing to me is that the teacher who is teaching them is a teacher. You would think they would want to prepare their students formally for the valuable life of a performer AND teacher.
3. Most music education programs are solely geared towards preparing students for public school teaching. It is time for these programs (there are some!) to wake up and start expanding their ideas of what music education is. We need people in our field that are trained how to teach private lessons, teach in community music schools, have the ability to initiate music education programs, and that can expand preexisting non profit music education offerings in orchestras.
4. The orchestral model needs to change. In order for the orchestral art form to exist in all but the elite and populous cities in this world, we must demand more from our musicians. This is already the case of music directors in the United States.
They are auditioned on their artistry, ability to communicate the symphonic tradition to varied audiences, and be the spokesperson for music in their community. (We happen to have the ideal one in Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director, Marin Alsop) The musicians and orchestras must take more responsibility for the education, promotion, and diversification and expansion of the audience base. This can only happen if our orchestral musicians are given the skills of a teaching artist.
So, back to the original question – Are universities doing enough to train performers to be teaching artists? Although there are exceptions, my sense is nobody in the system is doing enough. Not the individual teachers, the professional organizations, the elementary schools, community music schools, nor the universities and conservatories There should be a concern not only for the artistry of the university student, but also for that student’s ability to earn a living. Learning how to be a teaching artist improves the odds for being a successful, active musician/teacher, helps to sustain the artform for the future, and contributes significantly to the health and well-being of the community.