|My Spring Break is NEVER like this......|
It's always fun to go back and see New York. I miss it sometimes; many of my good friends are
there, and certainly many of the best musicians in the world are there. However, I think the West Coast lifestyle has spoiled me a bit. It's still wintery cold in New York, whereas Portlandlers are starting to put their winter jackets in the storage closet. New York has been slowly transforming itself from a mecca for artists into a playground for the wealthy. If you aren't a hedge fund manager, you will have a hard time in New York. I think even the hedge fund managers are complaining about the prices now. Portland has always been known as a place where "a musician can buy a house." Real estate in Portland is, at least for now, much more affordable than New York.
Now that we are back in Portland, it's time to get back to work. This term, I'm teaching both Jazz History and a brand new class called Jazz and American Culture. The latter is more of a jazz appreciation class, although it also deals with the cultural relevancy of jazz and related forms of music. We are two classes in, and we've had some really great discussions. The Jazz History class also promises to be interesting because we have a mix of jazz majors and non-majors in the class. (I call them civilians.)This will be an interesting way for players and non-players to find out what the other is thinking about various sub-genres of jazz. Both classes are lecture classes, however, it's much more stimulating for all if we have discussions about the music and the history. I think that a pure lecture class can be useful, especially if there are over 150 students; however, with interaction, the students feel better about the class, which hopefully will make them feel better about the music.
|Give it to me straight, McBride!|
Now, this young man has been working with Mr. Thara Memory, an Portland based musician who is
|Esperanza Spalding and Thara Memory|
So my young bass student, coming from this environment of seriousness, didn't want me to be NICE. He wanted me to tell him how to get better. This is really important, because why would anyone go to music school, or for that matter, anything school, if they didn't want to get better? And yet, because of the softening of our society, there has been a relaxation of our expectations of students and young musicians. We don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, and we don't want to step on anyone's toes, and everybody's a winner. Without any sort of motivation, how can we expect our students to get better? Are we preventing ourselves from "giving it to them straight' because first we don't want them to feel bad and second because we want them to keep paying for school? And when I say "we", I most definitely include "ME!"
I think there is a way to strike a balance. We need to be honest without being hurtful. Lately, I find that my pendulum swings widely and wildly from side to side. I'm either too nice or too mean. Also this week, I think I was overly harsh to a young musician who was having some issues on his instrument. I felt bad after the fact. However, I think the intent was correct. We need to "give it to them straight." After all, if you go to a doctor, and your body is riddled with tumors, you wouldn't want you doctor to come in and say "Hey, you are doing great! Picture of health!" You want him to tell you what's going on! Now, not every doctor has the best bedside manner. At best, your doctor could say, "Well, Mr. Jenkins, our tests show that there are a number of tumors in your chest. I've scheduled you for surgery at 2pm on Wednesday. I can't say for sure what the prognosis is, but we'll do our best." Of course, you might get a doctor who will say, "DAMN, YOU GOT TUMORS OUT
I hope you won't take offense at my attempt at facetiousness. My point is that in an academic environment, the most important thing is the LEARNING. So if no one is learning, it seems like we could be doing something else with our time. (perhaps DRINKING....ha ha). My quest is to be more efficient and more effective. How can I get the most out of the students without torturing them? This term is another 10 weeks of finding the balance.