Something is dumb and something is stupid. Something is ape with a cerebral cortex. Something is anthropologically awry. Something suspiciously sounds like Dr Seuss version 5.0.

These days, with all the hyper-normalisation, the inner self can appear to be on vacation. But let’s try and work backwards, counter intuitively.

You’ve heard the old tale about the bank manager from a bygone era being a friend of the family. A trusted confidant. Somebody you could turn to that had your best interests at heart. Well, sadly that era has all but vanished and not just from the banking perspective. The local music teacher typifies this in a humbler way, perhaps with greater resonance if the general perception of music wasn’t bird brained superficiality and society was not lured into disconnecting, despite humans being a relationally dependant species. Fortunately, there is still good to share around. Homo-sapien museums have not quite been fitted out yet.

These days, reading even a quarter of a product discloser statement will cause eyes to roll, as we attempt not to dose off, delicately side stepping to the next disconnected experience. It leaves us feeling that a task is somehow incomplete, maybe somewhat at odds with the world around us. Even an old transistor radio has an on/off button. Simple and effective. Who’d have thought we would one day use it as a metaphor for letting go.

One must possess more than an understanding of game theory or the asymmetrical skillset of an agency operative to navigate through corporate and technological control and an infinite array of passwords that suck the time, collagen, vitamin d and mitochondria out of our day. As we unwittingly scorn relics of the dot com boom, traverse the debris filled plateaus from the explosion of big tech, chaperoned by the noxious bipolarity of social media, it is then, clinging to a fingernails worth of optimism, we find ourselves both raising eyebrows and furrowing brows over forty years of trickle “up” economics, twenty years of wage stagnation, ten years of quantitative easing and five years of a globalism versus populism war, enmeshed into the fabric of most societies.

What sort of music is appropriate for this scenario? What sort of radio and television programming? Not to mention radically titled click bait. No wonder there is underwhelming sludge everywhere. The supply chain is broken. News outperforms entertainment and Daddy Pig must surely win for best moral fortitude on television. How can education, in all shapes and sizes, public or private, possibly run parallel to this shit show?

The arts, in particular music, offer us perhaps the most important ingredient of our lives. Meaning. The arts were always going to be an unquantifiable basket case since the industrial revolution, even before. Bach fathered twenty children. Mozart was neurotic. Franz Liszt, the first pianist to perform a solo piano recital, paid child support to kids he never saw and the love of his life was an already married woman. But the legacy of the gift of music lives on. There are steadfast educators closer to home, with volcanic belief and cyclonic passion. My friend and mentor, the late Richard Gill unleashed his energetic and inspired message to get music into schools, championing so many great initiatives. But the fight will always be young, for every generation.

So, what does music education need to do today to stay relevant? How does it speak to the individual, delousing and transcending what appears to be an existentially threatening avalanche of disposable perishable gunk? It really is a simple answer but it has become lost in the noise.

Guaranteeing young people magical future employment through a narrow, pseudo weaponised style of standardised individualism, between visits to the counsellor, while glued to a phone, fulfilling the role of food photographing brand ambassador is not exactly an enlightened outcome. It is a counterfeit business model, designed to fleetingly succeed at the shallow end of the pool. If this model continues, mental health, addiction and domestic violence will continue to be our primary concern. Jobs for all! It is education for the collapse of a chorus of dysfunctional, borderless corporate states.

Education, (which a google search states is an enlightening experience), has the potential to be transformative and connected, with infinite possibilities, if possibility alone were to exist. It’s just that debt, private wealth, rent seeking, share buy backs and legal red tape, continue to mutate it into a lavish, desolate enigma, like prime and composite numbers that have no relationship to each other. Education and its debilitating debt servitude and ranking system have contributed to crushing the hopes and dreams of developing young minds, down skilling for schools sake and creating ready made customers of the big pharmaceutical industry. Get people to fight over the diminishing table scraps and they become barbarian. The issue is inequity and a resulting despotism.

Now to the core message. I believe that everybody, no matter who they are, has the right to an education and must be afforded the ability to dream of a secure future. I also believe music must be a funding priority, not dismissed as a lightweight afterthought or given to already extended teachers. Music is as good for mental health as exercise. I am prepared to think binary on this one.

Capitalism, and an inherited literalism, have all but guaranteed we worship the past from a far, freak out and lament the advertised scarcity of the future, attaching so many political conditions to everything in society, we can barely make eye contact. Neuroticism incorporated by design, with bedfellow social media, is for open for business 24/7 and has more influence than the burgeoning sugar industry. Much of todays “music” is a tired, bleak reflection of the bet hedging casino capitalist culture. The bar has been set so low, only a worm or insect could limbo under it. So where do you fit into all this complexity? This is precisely the question. The answers, despite community outrage, must be discussed with dignity and civility.

How do you bring enlightenment to a culture that has researched and now teaches the benefits of boredom in tertiary institutions? What music will we be listening to in driverless buses or when an artificially-intelligent robot asks if we would like a foot rub? I hope it is music that not only utilises the wonderful technology we have available today, but revisits and respects the learning of yesterday, to create a sense of space and balance we have chewed up and spat out over the decades. I encourage a lot of genre hopping.

The take away or dine in, is that communities are becoming more localised again with the advent of the Covid-19/20 pandemic. Over the years, a significant amount of farms have been transformed from culture to business and it’s not like the planet has been eating well, working out and drinking heaps of fresh water. This has been coming, no matter how you see it and believe it or not, is a spiritual wake up call to the human species, aided by big tech. In such an uncertain world, with feudalism spewing toxicity omnidirectionally, there has never been a better time to embrace and study great art, such as music and literature. Or we could just sit around and debate what “great” is?

Like much of the arts, music has suffered from a limited allocation of teachers and a lack of effective advocacy. Sorry, make that a lack of funding! I hear countless stories of children that gave up learning for all the right reasons, only to find an empty adult, dreaming of learning again for the meaning it brings to a life. One of the greatest joys of teaching is witnessing students describe the music close to their heart. Eyes light up and an inner child appears for a fleeting moment, until social conditioning reboots adult sensibilities. Profound shifts are now happening in all areas of life, good and bad. We all have choices to make about the kind of life we want to live and more importantly, what we want to leave our children. The arts, especially music, is a vehicle for expressing the real meaning of life. A meaning that transcends words.

So now that the other stuff is sorted, let’s talk about a few pro’s and con’s of music education and studying the piano.

 

The Positives…

  1. The piano is an ideal first instrument for children or adults. It allows us to express both a soft and loud tone.
  2. The piano provides the student with both bass and treble clef study.
  3. The piano offers the student increased hand eye co-ordination and fine motor development.
  4. The piano provides a kinaesthetic style of learning, promotes spatial-temporal reasoning ability and concentration and focus.
  5. The piano champions improvement in stem subjects and overall school performance.
  6. The piano helps kids understand concepts behind science, math and engineering.
  7. The piano is understood through decoding of complex symbolic systems of time and notation. There are algorithms, logarithms and ratios to work out.
  8. The piano fosters appreciation of the arts and music engages everybody in a deeper conversation. This often facilitates a lifetime of music appreciation.
  9. The piano helps develop well rounded personalities with a balance of sports and music.
  10. The piano helps build confidence. The self esteem boost that is attained from mastering pattens and pieces is significant.

 

The Negatives…

  1. Be aware of some music teachers, academies or schools that hire employees who teach to supplement their income.
  2. Not everybody is a suitable teacher for children or adult learners.
  3. A good teacher is a busy teacher and can afford not to take students who are disinterested or do not practice.
  4. A music school can survive easier because they can lower prices and undervalue teachers.
  5. Some good teachers are overlooked for the cheapest option. I have had offers simply because the school wants me to “blow parents away with my playing.”
  6. Often, the music program in a school is at the mercy of core subjects. With low funds, the program suffers and short cuts are taken. This impacts the student.
  7. One of the issues today is sustainable long term goal orientation. Parents and teachers have a crucial role informing kids how to hang in long enough to benefit from a skill.
  8. Lack of communication with your child can result in undefinable outcomes. Know what you are both going to do prior to contacting a music teacher.
  9. Experience cannot be taught. Teachers must have a realistic, age appropriate grasp of the curriculum.
  10. Many teachers did not reach an elite level of musicianship and may not be able to pass on some of the more unknown tricks of the trade.