The Beginnings of a Lifetime Career

By Carrington Thompson

THE BEGINNINGS OF A LIFETIME CAREER

Coming into Rowan University as a freshman in the fall of 2012, I cannot really say that I knew what I was getting myself into.  I had heard of other people’s experiences, and I had a glimpse into the musician’s life through a few of my own experiences, but I was not quite sure what music in college would look like for me.

Well, my first semester is over and I could not be anymore excited for my second semester!  Even though there were plenty of times where I was ready to pull my hair out, I was blessed to learn more in four months than I have learned in my entire musical career!

It was an interesting journey at first.  I came into Rowan as a music education and music performance major as well as being a part of the honors college.  I soon realized that if I wanted to try and finish my undergraduate studies in four years, something would have to “get the boot”.  Thus, I felt that a degree in performance was not the route I wanted to go, so I dropped music performance and I am now a music education major in the honors college.  Dropping performance freed up some credits that I could put towards honors so that I could fulfill the requirements to stay an honors student.

Then, as the semester continued and I got into the heat of my workload, I experienced first-hand the pressure of learning a whole lot of music (music for lessons, string ensemble, orchestra, chamber music, and opera) as well as making time to write papers for my classes.  The biggest lesson that I learned this semester was most definitely how to wisely and maturely manage my time.  I have noticed that I have a lot more free time that I ever did in high school due to the way classes are scheduled in college, but when I really think about it, I have absolutely no free time at all if I want to accomplish everything that I need to do to the best of my ability.  During the semester, I had to fit practice time and homework time in between classes, and I had to get things done in a timely fashion if I wanted to have any down time.  Procrastination was not an option!

Furthermore, other wonderful experiences that I had this semester were the numerous opportunities I was given to use my music outside of the university.  I am now “gigging” with a quartet, and I have private music students.  I would have never guessed that I would have my own students as a freshman in college!  Having private students has just confirmed in my mind that music educating is without a doubt what I want to do for the rest of my life.  After just my second lesson with one of my students, I left the studio thinking, “I find such joy in teaching!  This is definitely where I should be!”

Now as I prepare to start my second semester in a week, I am looking forward to starting public school observations, taking a music educational technology class, and going to my first NAfME convention!

Introducing Carrington Thompson and A Few Things…

First off, I’d like to apologize for our absence the last few months. Things have been incredibly hectic with student teaching and my senior recital, and we’ve also been putting some things together behind the scenes that will be seen in the coming weeks and months. However, we here at MEM are back!

Here to celebrate our triumphant return is Miss Carrington Thompson. Carrington is a freshman Music Education: Instrumental (viola) Major at Rowan University. She has been involved with music since she was 12 years old.

Some of her musical experience includes: playing with the Rowan University Youth Orchestra, Philadelphia Sinfonia Orchestra, Festival Youth Orchestra of The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, and the Commontime Music Studio’s chamber music performance tour to Ireland.

2013 TI:ME Leadership Academy

National Music Technology Leadership Academy
Sponsored by TI:ME and a NAMM Program Grant

Call for Participation

 

With the support of a grant from the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) we are pleased to announce a highly competitive program to selected a small group of undergraduate music majors nationally for the 2nd Annual Music Technology Leadership Academy.  The Technology Leadership Academy will be held in association with the TI:ME (www.ti-me.org) and TMEA conference in San Antonio, Texas, February 14-16, 2013.

 

The Music Technology Leadership Academy is a program for pre-service music education majors (juniors and seniors) to focus on strategies for engaging non-traditional middle and secondary school students through technology-based music programs.  Selected through a competitive application process, participants will attend the academy held in conjunction with the 2013 TI:ME National Conference/ Texas Music Educators Association Conference.  Participants selected through an essay competition will be required to attend eight leadership academy sessions (Thursday through Saturday) focusing on developing strategies for utilizing technology to reach non-traditional music students and attend sessions and program activities throughout the TI:ME/TMEA conference.  After the conference, participants will continue to share in an on-line forum, and will be asked to share the experience with pre- or in-service teachers in their community.

 

The Music Technology Leadership Academy is led by Drs. Rick Dammers, V.J. Manzo, and David B. Williams, nationally known music educators who specialize in working with non-traditional music students (see http://musicreativity.org).  Students who are selected to participate will have their registration, two nights of hotel accommodations, and travel (up to $400) covered by TI:ME through the NAMM program grant.

 

 

To apply, send a two-page (single spaced) essay on the promise of technology in broadening the reach of music education to all students in K-12 school programs.  Include your name, school, year in school, email address, and a letter of reference (preferably from a music education professor). Email to dammers@rowan.edu with TI:ME/NAMM Music Technology Leadership Academy in the subject line by 11/26/12. Participants will be notified by 12/5/12.

From Teacher to “Teacher”

Recently, there have been a lot of articles in the newspaper and on the internet about teachers’ unions and their negotiating tactics.  One of the articles I read that struck me the most refers to a union that is in the middle of renegotiating their contract, which expired in 2010.  That means that for the past 2-3 years, the teachers’ union and the school board have been at odds over salaries, workload, and a lot of other issues.  In response to the school board’s “unreasonable” requests, the union has directed its members to take numerous so-called “job actions”.  These include (but are not limited to): leaving school the moment they are contractually allowed to do so at the end of the day, not coming in early or staying after school to give extra help to students, and (most controversially) not writing recommendation letters for students applying to college.

Now, I understand that sometimes there is a temptation to use less-than-desireable tactics in a negotiation, particularly in a union negotiation.  However, is it really fair to allow “adult problems” and issues outside of the classroom to affect what is going on inside the classroom?  Conversely, is it fair to judge and look down on teachers for not doing extra, unpaid work, when in any other job field that would be a perfectly acceptable negotiating tactic?

This dilemma has been a source of a great deal of internal conflict, personally, because I both empathize with and abhor tactics used by both sides.  I can fully sympathize with the teachers, who just want to be compensated fairly and are using one of the only negotiating tools at their disposal.  However, I really cannot get past the fact that in the process of making a political statement, the teachers are creating the potential for serious educational malpractice towards their students.  A very wise professor once told me that the first rule any teacher should follow is, “Do no harm.”  Are these teachers following that rule?

The more I think about it, the more I believe that this is a situation where there really is not a “right” side and a “wrong” side.  No cut-and-dry, black-and-white answer.  Both sides are clouded in gray.  Whether those clouds will lift in favor of a solution that is most beneficial for students remains to be seen.

******Please share your thoughts and comments on this thought-provoking issue with us below.

BURN OUT

When I began my career as a music education student at Rowan University, I immediately became involved in our chapter of NAfME (MENC at the time) Collegiate. One of the biggest contributions that our chapter makes to the local music education community is our involvement in local all-state and region honor band auditions.  At one of these auditions, I was put in charge of the student registration table along with a veteran music teacher.  We began talking, and I asked him, “So, how do you like teaching in your district?”

“1,093 days until I can retire, but who’s counting?”

 

Wow.

 

Just…wow.

 

My shock and horror must have shown on my face, because the “teacher” assured me that he was like me, once.  Young, full of hope and passion towards music and music education, ready to change the world.  So what changed?  When did this former educator (and I say “former” because he cannot possibly be considered a true educator) lose his passion, his joy, his hope for his students?  I don’t know.  All I know is that I don’t want that to ever happen to me.

So how do we avoid it?  How do we maintain what amounts almost to an obsessive interest in our students and their musical well-being?  I know sometimes it’s tough for me to even muster up enough energy to go to class.  I can definitely understand how teaching wears at a person, little by little, over the course of 30 or 40 years.  I think to avoid ending up like the person mentioned above, there’s a few proactive steps we as pre-service educators can take.

1) Take Steps to Remember Why You Love Music – As an instrumentalist, I never really was really involved in choir.  I joined the men’s chorus at Rowan last semester, and I don’t know when I’ve ever had more fun!  It’s a way to make music with absolutely no pressure.  It’s not a job, it’s not something you take a jury on.  I think everyone needs the opportunity to make music in a fun, low-pressure environment.  I have friends in rock bands, friends who do musical theater.  One of my friends is even in a handbell choir!  The point is, most of us got into this field because we love making music.  We need to maintain that passion.

2) Have a Life Outside of the Classroom – When I leave the music building at Rowan, I leave pretty much everything about my ‘music’ life there, as well.  I’ll go home, make dinner, watch a movie, read a book.  I try my best to NOT take schoolwork home with me.  I love what I do, but I don’t want it to creep into every aspect of my life.  I’ll just resent it being there, after a while.

3) Change Up Your Routine – Try something new.  Learn about an aspect of music or teaching you didn’t know about before, come up with a new way to teach a lesson.  From a non-teaching standpoint, read a new book.  Go hang-gliding.  Keep the excitement in your life alive.  This excitement will carry over into life at school!

 

The scary thing is, you usually don’t know when you’re becoming one of “those teachers” until it’s too late.  I hope it never happens to me (or any of you!).  Here’s hoping that seeing my students each morning is always the best part of my day.

The Switch

Ask me why I am a music education major and I can actually tell you a relatively interesting story, the beginning of which started when I was still in high school.  I think that by the time I was a junior in high school, I was largely sold on the idea that I wanted to be a professional horn player.  However, once that proverbial “growing up” started to happen, I found my priorities to have shifted quite dramatically.

I managed to make it through my first year of college as a horn performance major, although I was entertaining the idea of pursuing a double major, perhaps in psychology.  I did what every good freshman music major should do: study hard in music theory, struggle my way through aural skills, and practice my instrument (although probably not as much as I should have…which just might have been the first indicator in the shifting tectonics of my career priorities).

The summer after my freshman year of college saw me as a member of Team SWAG at Music for All’s Summer Symposium, held at the time on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal, IL.  Team SWAG was made up of fifty or so crazy music majors and teachers and we were responsible for doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes work needed to ensure that the camp ran smoothly.  I spent much of my time as a counselor for the girls on floor eight of Hainie Hall and I had a blast.  Perhaps this whole music education thing could work out after all.

Well, I ended up switching my major from horn performance to music education during my sophomore year, but not for the reasons that you might be thinking.  Practicality facilitated the switch, and I was encouraged by the fact that I would have a teaching license (and therefore, a job) when I graduated.  Shallow, I know.  It wasn’t until the practicums for my instrumental methods class that I really started to get the teaching bug.  I was beginning to realize that education might be a good vocational path for me.  I had also been tutoring music theory and aural skills with the Academic Enhancement Center at my school, which I have been enjoying immensely.

Now I am a senior music education major and I am no longer motivated by practicality or the singular desire to possess a teaching license. Rather, I am invested in education because I love to teach and am passionate about it.  My journey to this point was not linear, and although I often prefer planning, organization, and straightforwardness in general, I would not change how I have arrived to this point.  The individual journeys that we embark upon in our lives are determined by unique sets of circumstances, which consist of conscious decisions we have made, as well as a healthy dose random chance.  For that reason, I would not go back and change anything, even though I think about all of those “What if” questions at times.  If my personal journey has taught me anything, it has been that it is always important to pursue your passions, regardless of what they may be. For me, that passion is education, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

A Push For Well-Rounded Singing

A wise choir director once told me “When you finish your undergraduate degree, you think you know everything. When you finish your masters, you realize you don’t know everything. When you finish your doctorate, you realize nobody knows anything.” Now that I am near the end of my senior year of college, I appreciate that quote more and more by the day. As a vocalist, I have endured my fair share of jokes about the difference between musicians and vocalists, fought my way through music theory, and felt like my band/orchestra friends were speaking a whole different language when they talk about their musical experiences. I brushed it off at first, but the more I learned the more I realized we vocalists tend to live in a small, small world. Yes, there is absolutely more to our unique art of making music with an instrument than meets the eye. However, being a music educator does not only entail being an advocate for your performance medium, but music as a whole.

A personal epiphany I had this summer came when, after I had taken a summer voice intensive. From a nurse who just wanted to sing better to a young woman who had traveled from China, I was surrounded by people from all walks of life. The variety of experiences I heard about in regard to singing, teaching, the voice, and other topics was so incredibly mind blowing because I was finally out of “the college bubble.” While I feel as though I have been afforded a fantastic education, I came to appreciate how little I knew about what I am getting a degree in and how much more there is to learn. This was hard seeing as a lot of things I heard did not necessarily coincide with what I have been learning for so long but the excitement of having a fresh angle is nothing less than inspiring. I can only encourage students to go out and get as many different experiences outside of school as possible and appreciate that there is so much more to music than you can begin to fathom in four years.

Knowing that going out and getting experience can make you a better musician and thinker, this can only prepare current singers as future teachers for what lies ahead. Fortunately for me, I have had an array of brilliant professors and an unforgettable point driven home by one is to always be mindful of “the other 80%.” Who are these people? They are the 80% of students, on average, who are not involved in

music. They are the people who only have music teachers to get well rounded music exposure from. They are the people who can speak life or death into your program as they become adults. We are their resource and possibly only means of enlightenment as to how complex and beautiful the world of music, not just voice, is. What does this have to with being well rounded? Choir teachers especially know that “the other 80%” tends to gravitate more toward choir than band or orchestra. What an amazing opportunity! Let us capture students’ attention with singing and keep them engaged with what the world of music has to offer.

One might notice I did not give specifics as to what “getting experience” or a “well rounded person” may look like. There are so many programs and opportunities available on large and small scales that it is difficult for me to put some sort of parameter on what constitutes a worthwhile experience and what does not. There are so many educational opportunities from workshops to clubs, to something as personal as picking up another instrument that the possibilities are endless. One piece of wisdom I heard and has held true for me in many ways is that “if it’s not comfortable, it’s probably good for you.” All I seek to do is to convey just how essential it is to keep learning and to never get complacent. As vocalists, we need to understand just how vast our field, and that of our instrumental colleagues is, and take pride in how complex and beautiful a skill we are passing on to our students.

A blog for college students of Music Education