I spent all day yesterday training new Teaching Artists for Lincoln Center’s quickly expanding Education department. I am so thankful to have been using this particular method of pedagogy for the past 15 years, because if I had not been employing these strategies on a regular basis, I would not be performing and composing as much as I am right now.
So much of my conservatory education was built around lessons, coachings, and orchestra rehearsals where I was being told what to do. Very seldom was I ever asked to reflect on what I just did, or what inspired me, how my skills should improve, what steps I should take, and what I really needed to meet my artistic needs.
I was just told.
Some things were great nuggets of wisdom delivered with tact and encouragement.
Some things were the polar opposite of nurturing.
Since graduating, I have been working as a freelance Teaching Artist for Lincoln Center – whose pedagogy is decidedly different. When we work with students, we set up experiential situations where they get their hands dirty making art (whether it is a piece of music, a dance, or a skit). They regularly stand back and notice what they and others have created. They are encouraged to revise, and invited to question – therefore really owning their artistic endeavors from the get-go. Some people might argue that intense skills-based learning can’t come out of that, but I have seen and experienced quite the contrary.
Reflection is key to making progress while practicing, creating, or building a career. When a person empowers themselves with the tool of reflection, everything improves. Knowledge is power, no matter how uncomfortable that knowledge is.
However, it is not just the acknowledgment of certain information that will help propel you forward; it has to be coupled with intrinsic motivation – an authentic desire from within to create change or to forge a particular path.
Here is a non-musical example:
I spent most of my childhood and 20’s being 20-60 pounds overweight. I was told all the time how I looked and what I should do about it – by parents, family members, doctors, bullies, and even a randomly mean truck driver rolling through an intersection. But, being told was not doing a damn thing to permanently change my path. Fear can be a great motivator, but even that was not effective. It was not until I decided that it was a hindrance to being the person I wanted to be that I acknowledged what I needed to learn, planned the steps that needed to be taken, instigated change, and created a particular path.
In music (or any art form for that matter) talent, knowledge, and potential are useless unless the artist is:
1) Propelled forward by true intrinsic motivation
2) Regularly reflecting on which specific talents and skills are unique to them, while developing new skills that help strengthen the presentation of these talents
3) Regularly reflecting on the value their art can bring to society, and exploring the many different contexts where their art can be experienced, and
4) Adapting the mindset of a life-long learner, by learning and creating new strategies that enable all members of society to engage with their art successfully.
These things cannot happen without time being set aside for them. Individually, we need to write this stuff down. Collaboratively, we need to make time to brainstorm with others: teachers and students; musicians and dancers; composers and actors…people inspiring people.
So, here is a challenge for you (and me):
How often do you reflect?
Can you set aside regular times where you reflect on:
- Who and what inspires you? What specifically?
- How does your art serve those around you? What steps could you be taking?
- How does your art serve your personal needs?
- Are they being met? What steps are you taking to meet them?
- What events led you to this point? Which were intentional and which were serendipitous?
- What is working? What is not working?
- Who is in your current network? How are you supporting them?
- Who should be in your network? What steps are you taking to connect to them?
- What do you still need to learn?
- Who around you can hold you accountable?
Without taking the time to notice deeply what is going on within us and around us, our artistic potential may never be reached – and our true gifts will sit, with the wrapping paper still on, getting dusty in the corner of the room.