Friday, 14 October 2011

Why Music Teachers go mad

Very frequently when I say I am a Music teacher, once we've gone past the bit about which instrument do you teach -  I don't as such, but I do have to be able to tell sections of orchestras how to do things and know what is hard and why and audition people and mark stuff - they then tell me how their Music teacher burst into tears, couldn't control the class and then left.

Well this is my 19th year teaching, and I'm coping OK thanks.

Aside from the sheer bloody-mindedness necessary, the need to remain sensitive to music whilst listening to things that are wrong in every way possible and the need to be able to recognise greatness when you hear it and encourage it - some of my pupils really are that good, you just seem to spend your time making performances that could flounder work.

So the two ways you have to do music.

Teacher way
You know how it should go and you push it in the right direction, but do have to follow people if they cannot for any reason do it right.  This means adjusting all the time to someone ( or indeed an entire orchestra) who alters the tempo and phrasing of things for non-musical reasons (they can't do it right,) and therefore the changes are not predictable, logical or musical.  They are not consistent and it can be differently wrong every time.  The amount of wrongness can vary wildly between people and between performances by individuals.  This puts you on edge all the time to some degree and also requires a huge amount of concentration to avoid stuff being derailed.

Musician way
You spend all your concentration on getting it right and do not have to consider any sudden unforeseen unmusical incidents.  Where changes do occur, they make musical sense and intensify the musical experience in a good way.

Basically, Music teachers can get burnt out, because being permanently irratated at a fundemental and personal level by what you hear, whilst having to react continually to other people, always making it work for them, whilst they ignore you musically is hard.  It's by no means all bad - sometimes it's amazing if risky- and I love what I do, but it's done at some considerable cost.

A few years ago my good String Orchestra did an all Bach Recital.  We did the first movement of the Bach Double Violin Concert and in about bar 2 one viola player rushed a group of semiquavers, pulling the music slightly.  Every time something like that happens it's as if I have been stabbed with an epipen of addrenalin.  My heart rate goes up and I have to react to put the thing back on course, because a failure to intervene as a conductor will result in a problem.  Such a possibility happens in every bar of every piece I do, even if it is very rare for something to be quite that bad in a concert. I should also say that we did it the following year and to have the two brilliant soloists, one in each ear was I think one of the most pleasurable musical experiences of my life.  Gotta take the rough with the smooth.

The only time I get annoyed is when someone comes and tells me how I should have done it better, but then as they are never the musicans in the audience, I listen less and less.

Music Teachers; walking that tight rope in front of audiences of hundreds.


Joe said...

Only music teachers?

leutgeb said...

No, not only music teachers, or I would have called the post, 'Why only music teachers go mad.'

All jobs, roles and positions of responsibility and authority come with their particular strains and stresses.