Stop Performing and Start Leading — Message from Garrett

I am a musician.
I am a teacher.
I am a student.
I am now guided by faith – not fear.

Being a middle school music teacher in a public school was probably the hardest job I’ve ever had in my life. Being a capable adult (arguably “capable” and even arguably an “adult”) I took it upon myself to do everything that needed to be done. When I say everything, I mean everything. I photocopied and stuffed 200 music binders, I wrote in dynamic changes, marked breaths, gave them their starting solfege, played their melody for them before they had to sing, I even had a special “binder hospital” for when they accidentally ripped their music and needed a fix; all they had to do was show up. I wanted to be the super teacher…not because they needed me to do everything for them, but because I wanted to perform. Changes really started to happen – but not in a good way. My choirs were fine enough, and were capable of doing everything I asked, whether they did it or not is another story.

Our December concert went off with a huge performance, complete with poinsettias on stage and snowflake paper art. The kids felt great and slowly filtered out of the performance hall and then left for winter break. It was here I just broke down and wasn’t even mentally capable of walking to my car and driving home. I sat paralyzed for an hour or two completely drained, listening to nothing but the light hum of the fluorescent lightbulb above me.

We had a great performance, but what did we learn? In a classroom discussion I learned that “Grandma liked the piece where we clapped” or “the flowers on stage looked really nice.” Not one student had anything to say about the music, or the progress which took place from September to December, despite my scaffolding questions. They didn’t have to think about it because I did everything for them. It was in that moment I realized these kids didn’t learn anything I wanted them to because I didn’t show them how to learn it, I just told them to do it.

Yes, it’s wonderful to perform, and you really can learn a lot; However, I didn’t allow my students to fully experience music because I was afraid, and I let fear guide me. I took it upon myself to do everything but didn’t explain what it was that needed to be done. I showed them where to breathe in their music but didn’t explain why it was important to breathe there. I showed them how to sing “do-re-mi” with hand signs before a piece, but never had a discussion about why I want them to sing random syllables. I played the correct melody for them before they even sang taking away the opportunity for them to figure it out.

I remember back when I was interviewing to become the new DMM here at FPCY. Talking with Tami and Chip, we discussed how life is a lot like jazz. The most successful jazz musicians let go of deliberation and control; they surrender their consciousness to embrace spontaneity. The band members create as they play, improvise, and build on each other’s notes. They deliberately face the unfamiliar by creating their own challenges. In an uncertain world, adaptability is a competitive advantage, not a choice. By embracing the unexpected, rather than resisting when things don’t go as planned, that’s how your team thrives in a changing world. I gave my students responsibilities and showed them what I would do, but how they could do it differently and be just as successful. It was here I noticed the amazing changes taking place in my choirs. Students were learning how to learn and gaining a passion for music and each other. Identifying problems before they occurred, and most importantly for me, taking chances when there was no certainty of success. It allowed students to test their faith in each other and in themselves, overcoming obstacles that wouldn’t have been there, to be guided by faith – not fear.

Garrett Artman, Director of Music Ministries