When I first married I did not realize I was marrying into a fraternity. I am not a blood member understand, just an in-law of sorts. They are called music educators. I became a member by marriage when my wife suddenly, and I do mean suddenly, realized that her calling was not to be a performer but a teacher. There is a difference. Many music educators are excellent performers, but their real passion lies in teaching music to others.
I was reminded of this recently when I attended the Missouri Music Educators Association (MMEA) conference along with several of our faculty and students. This meeting, for music teachers of student K-college is attended by some of the finest talent in Missouri along with those who teach them. Several of our students sang with the All Collegiate Choir which is made up of the best singers from each college or university. While waiting for their concert to begin we watched the induction ceremony for the MMEA Hall of Fame. I did not know any of these people but I was struck by the language that was used over and over to describe them – passionate, energetic, focused, and humble. Another theme that was constantly sounded was that they loved their students. I could have added that no doubt they were underpaid and underappreciated.
As I listened to the presentations, I began to wonder what it was about this group of people that made them so passionate about their work. Certainly a love of music is at the core, but equally as important is the desire to share that with everyone else.
I remember my first encounter with a band director. His name was Mr. Petersen. He drove a funny looking car and we drove him crazy. He would patiently explain the music to us. He would demonstrate how to play. Then he would raise his baton and we would play as loudly as possible. I was a percussionist (loosely speaking) and I would bang the bass drum for all I was worth. It served me well when our high school band did the 1812 Overture and I sounded the canon. Mr. Petersen would have been proud. He was red headed and fair skinned and before our fifth grade class let out his face usually matched his hair. Most of us would go ahead to join our junior high and high school bands. He probably never made it into the Hall of Fame but he should have been there.
When my wife started teaching K-6 music she had about 500 students go through her classroom each week. It was a private school and many of the kids were pretty spoiled to say the least. There was a great deal of pretension among the parents. I always hated it when report cards went out because our phone started ringing. “Why did Sky or Dawn or little Megan get a ‘B’ in music? That’s not a real class.” Frankly, I had some very unchristian thoughts on occasion about some of those parents. I know how hard she worked and how little she got for it. She put her heart and soul into teaching music to children.
What I discovered after being around some of these saints is that they are the ones keeping arts alive in our schools. They know the value of beauty and aesthetics to a full life. Today we are finding out that the study of music helps people learn and develop the brain in ways that other activities do not. Music teachers care about that but mostly they care about their students. Why else would they give up nights and weekends to go to festivals and band camps and direct concerts and musicals, often neglecting their own families in the process?
I had the opportunity to visit with some of our graduates who are out in the schools continuing this tradition of teaching. They are sustaining this important part of our culture. I hear the stories, both good and bad. One of our graduates had pictures from the local paper of his conducting a community concert. There he was in tails looking the part of the mature conductor. Needless to say it is a different side than I saw when he was a student! They all seem to love what they do. They are now a part of the fraternity of music educators. I say God bless them.