Teaching Artist

STEM and STEAM schools in our region (Northeast Arkansas) have popped up in recent years due to the direction of our state education board, the support of our state representatives, and the chancellor of my university. I have come to embrace this development as a means to once again retool our education system in a manner that returns music education to the degree of sophistication appropriate for learning environments. That is, I see music composition and therefore music in general as a hub for learning all sorts of things related to mathematics, the sciences, history, technology, etc., etc. In this way, we can complicate the musical idea in ways beyond traditional music education practices.

While traditional practices and the legacy ensembles of band, choir, orchestra are important activities for students, new non-traditional approaches to music education can be a game-changer for schools for reasons of creating a more vibrant, exciting, modern, and inspiring educational model. Imagine a musical ensemble of students performing on touch surfaces exploring the properties of sound from an acoustical perspective. Imagine an orchestra with electric guitars and laptops sections involving film/video and performing music composed by the students that explores body systems, physical movement, density, and space. Activities like this are community projects that can create amazing learning results that last. Perhaps most importantly, what the students learn in the problem solving moments of these types of activities is a transferable skill that can be used in every life problem that occurs.

Music, along with just a few other activities, is the perfect tool for discovering how to learn. Learning in music involves the pursuit of important life tools and character development such as problem solving techniques, critical thinking, discipline, commitment, organization, the concept of patient learning (learning that takes time in order to notice results), togetherness, and the important intellectual growth that develops in the exercise of compassion.

For example, in music education, one learns a musical note. It is then possible to complicate that learning by the introduction of a rhythm, then a dynamic, then a timbre, then an articulation. Other concepts from math, science, language, history courses, among others can be introduced providing a means to further and deliberately introduce complications that preserve and deepen the learning experience. Concepts such as spatial positioning, density, temperature, and so on. This creates an opportunity for deeper learning, activation of one’s imagination, greater flexibility of thought, and integration of ideas. The result is a learning environment that is something more common to real life situations. The result is something in which the student has ownership and values as a reflection of their human experiences. Students will develop a flexibility of thought that allows them to  become more aware of how seemingly disparate ideas may function together to produce not only a satisfying and enriching result, but one that can be shared with others as the exercise of one’s compassion. In the process, they will learn to understand concepts more comprehensively.

My vision for a redesign of public school curriculums involves collaboration and the interdisciplinary sharing of ideas in project-based learning. It involves an intensely imaginative environment that pursues the creative act with courage, sincerity, and honesty. The learning objective involves developing competence, problem solving, discovery, and trial and error with not being afraid to fail. Success relies on students’ individual interests to motivate the creation of projects and drive learning. To facilitate this effort, teachers of various disciplines and guest specialists (The Teaching Artist) need to coordinate on customizing arts-focused projects.

The Teaching Artist is what I would like to see augment the roles of the traditional teacher in area schools. The Teaching Artist is a professional who is not only comfortable working in higher education environments but has also learned certain skills that enable them to effectively engage students of all ages with the arts (visual, music, dance, theater, writing, etc.). These projects are highly creative and promote the active exploration of interdisciplinary concepts and their intersections. The arts are invaluable in one’s education as they serve as a hub of learning. Improving any learning environment begins with a deeper investment in the arts in order to create a sophistication appropriate for an efficient, powerful, meaningful, and thriving educational system.

Because they rely more directly on extramusical ideas for impulse, it is my experience that most modern music composers and performers of new music are uniquely qualified to work in such an environment. I have been teaching music composition for 25 years. The act of composition draws from every conceivable resource and experience, and lessons with students invariably involve some discussion of inspiration from non-musical ideas. For all artists, life experiences integrate to produce the impulse that leads to the creative act. It is always a fascinating discovery to explore the intersections of various thought and experiences and how they can ignite the artistic pursuit. It was in Edward O. Wilson’s 1998 book, Consilience that I first became aware of my personal pursuit of a unity of knowledge that involved the impact of the sciences, the humanities, and the arts. Please contact me if you or your school is interested in pursuing a collaborative activity.