I consider myself a pretty composed person. I generally have excellent performance nerves (which I came by much later in life, more on that later) and can handle most unfamiliar situations with a commendable degree of aplomb. When I made my début with Canada’s National Arts Center Orchestra, there were approximately 2000 people in the hall. When I presented my doctoral lecture recital (along with oral examination), it was again a capacity crowd, but one there for the music, not the speechifying, of this I’m certain. I’ve done keynotes in front of hundreds,
I’ve played ice hockey games in front of thousands… and yet the only time in recent years I’ve really found myself out of my depth internally was when confronted with a class of first-graders in London UK for all of 25 minutes.
Nothing like teaching to keep you honest, as I’ve said before, and there’s NOTHING like 20 children to force an Inquisition (with a capital I)-like degree of veracity in self-assessment upon you.
It wasn’t a complete disaster….not complete, anyway, but it wasn’t great. My own consolation is that our contact was brief, and that the children’s memories of the time will be fleeting, if they recall anything at all. But the entire experience was an invaluable reminder of how challenging and multi-faceted Education is, and how much more I have to learn.
Easier said than done, of course. Educating oneself about education is a more than a monumental task, it’s essentially impossible to complete. There’s a reason there’s so much literature on the subject: as an object of study in itself as much as a practice, it is an incredibly complex, multi-dimensional proposition, touching upon just about all the ologies and osophies in a good Humanities department. (Side note A: That’s why they call them Humanities. Side note B: Gymnosophy is NOT included.)
But that too is the nature of education, including self-educating about education: it’s a process, or a journey, and not a destination. I acknowledge that I will never be an expert in all the different facets of music and education that Sistema touches on, but I hope I never stop attempting to expand my knowledge of the issues, and never stop trying to do everything that I do better each time. I don’t hesitate to admit that’s a lesson from Venezuela as much as a lesson from life too.
And so I encourage you to come to London, Ontario between the 29th of this month and the 1st of June for the Leading Music Education conference, hosted by the University of Western Ontario, and coordinated by Dr. Ruth Wright and Theodora Stathopolous. I’ve attended a lot of the “let’s sit around and talk about Sistema” meets, but this will be very different. It’s the first serious examination of El Sistema from an academic and sociological perspective, and will be invaluable for those wanting to understand the why and how, not just the what. I’ll be doing a keynote on Sunday morning, but it will primarily be the what to get that out of the way, for speakers like Christopher Small and Hildegard Froehlich to focus entirely on key underlying concepts. There’s great passion in the international movement, and were it to be coupled uniformly with the great knowledge that already exists, it will become an unstoppable force.
Hope to see you there.