Monday, April 25, 2011

Read Music?...Not Enough to Ruin My Playing

By Mark T. Burke

It's Easter Sunday, the family has gathered to celebrate life, individual spirituality, the gifts we all have.The food is being prepared, the sweet treats are enticing us all, the sun is shining.  On this day, we look forward to sharing what is most near and dear to us.  We talk about the past few weeks, the past year, work, accomplishments, future endeavors, travel, school, health, relationships and, of course...MUSIC.

My wife's family is filled with talented musicians.  She and her 4 siblings...all musical.  Her twin plays clarinet with my wife in the Williamsport Symphony and Saxophone in our quartet.  Her older sister is a music teacher from New York State. Her younger sister played clarinet in high school and her brother...well...he's got the music within.  The list of musicians goes on, but this year, one family member, Atom, my wife's grandson, made a big musical impression on me, on us all.

Atom is the model of the musician described in this fantastic article by Dr. Robert Woody.  This Easter, Atom walks into the house carrying his guitar and amp.  As I mentioned, at times like these, we share what is most near and dear to us.  It makes sense that on this day, he would want to share his music.  Atom has had some instruction over the years.  But, mostly, his talent comes from within.  His desire and abilities to listen and replicate what he hears is amazing.  But, he's also creative. For sure, he is intrinsically motivated to be musical.

Interestingly, structured music at school doesn't work for him.  He's tried band and chorus. For him, music is more personal, more intimate even.  As several us sat and talked and listen to his impromptu performance on the outdoor deck, I started to think of where his interests and talents fit into his schooling and life.  My first though was, "Wow...I wonder how many band trumpet, saxophone or flute players brought their instruments with them to their family gathering today and are now performing for the family?"  With no disrespect, I chuckled at my own thought.  Then, I felt bad. I felt bad because I chuckled, and because I too am an instrumentalist as are many of my friends and family. Does Atom exemplify a passion for music that is unknown by many who are labeled "real musicians?"  The answer I gave myself was..."soft of."

As a teenager, Atom serves as an example of how true inner passion communicates so much better at times than talent or skills.  He reminds me that as an educator, kids like him scare me....that's right, I am not afraid to admit it.  I am not alone.  Kids with talents like Atom's scare many teachers, so much so that providing educational outlets for students like him is rare.  But, this type of music education is exactly where we need to put our efforts.  The lesson we can learn from students him, is to learn from them.

Before Atom finished his family concert, I turned to my brother-in-law, Wayne, a musician himself, not a formal musician, but one heck of a guitar player.  We talked about Atom and his music.  Wayne passed on a quote that I know will stick with me for a long time. While listening to an interview highlighting an elderly folk guitarist, the guitarist was asked, "Do you read music?"  The guitarist from the Appalachians responded, "Not enough to ruin my playin'." 


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