As with most things in our lives today, consider this a work in progress.
Michelangelo is credited with the saying, “I am still learning.”
As am I.
I once wrote in a paper for a class at Slippery Rock University about special education and inclusion, “I am not training students to be professional musicians. I am training students to be part of a unit, to belong to an organization, to work together, to take responsibility, to reach for a goal, and to put forth effort.”
As a music educator, of course, my job responsibilities lie within the practice and mastery of performing arts, but that is not all that band or orchestra or chorus or musical theatre teach. These are merely the academic subjects through which we communicate meaning in our lives and how we prove that we are human.
Yes, absolutely, I want all of my students to improve, to master their instruments or their voices or their presence, to learn new scales and chords, to new techniques for singing and acting, but my responsibility as a band or chorus or theatre teacher is to give them a space in which to express themselves, and a space in which they can feel safe enough to do so.
To be an artist is to be, in short, vulnerable.
The reason I have always favored the arts, especially in the public school setting, is because no matter how good or terrible you are at them, you can still participate in many ways. Will you be the first chair? Will you be the star of every show? Will you go to festivals and compete against other musicians? Will you eventually earn your entire living from making music or theatre? In all probability: no. You will be, like many who pass through public school performing arts programs, somewhere in the middle; not destined to be a music major, not someone who will be on stage every night, not someone who may even ride the coattails of the famous and the fortunate.
But your participation in the arts doesn’t end there. Maybe you sing in the shower, or belt in the car. Perhaps you rehearse lines for a work presentation in your head, exacting delivery, pitch, and emotion. Maybe you doodle in your notes during meetings. Maybe you hum your child to sleep every night. You will not stop being a musician or an artist once you leave my program. In fact, you may have only just begun.
And that’s fine.
That’s more than fine. That’s wonderful.
Because you have learned how to be human.
What matters more to me, and to many who participate in performing arts in public schools, is that you have a place within my classroom. You have a family, strange and silly as we may be. You have role models. You have a unit. You have people working just as hard as you are towards a common goal. You can earn the respect and camaraderie of people who are, in any other setting, profoundly different from you.
Perfect technical performance is not a requirement of my classroom. Concentrated effort certainly is. When I can tell that a developmentally disabled student is working as hard as they can but still falling short of age-expected performance, I reward the effort and work behind their performance. When I can see students who fly higher than I expected, I gather resources that can assist them both inside and outside of my classroom.