Dorothy, wearing her new ruby red slippers, was confused. She looked at the beautiful witch in front of her and asked “But, how do I start for the Emerald City?” Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, smiled at such an innocent question and replied, “It’s always best to start at the beginning. All you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road.”
Just like Dorothy, it’s easy to be so overwhelmed by the distance of our goals that we forget the joy that can be found in the journey. As musicians, our goals probably won’t involve faux-wizards, talking lions and tin men but our journeys can be just as magical. As music teachers, we should ensure that the goals we set don’t eclipse the wonders on the road that our pupils will travel to get there.
A graded examination can be a genuinely useful motivator for both teacher and pupil alike but getting the piece of paper shouldn’t be the end in itself. The real benefit of the exam certificate is the learning journey required to get it. Of course, when the Scarecrow was told by the Wizard of Oz that he had been clever all along, he was given a diploma to prove it but the message was clear – it was the journey on the Yellow Brick Road that made him clever. The diploma was just there to remind him of that.
When we take steps on any musical journey, there’s a certain joy to be found in the music that we learn and the skills that we develop. Just as Dorothy’s journey showed her a wondrous world of munchkins, wizards and witches, a musician’s path can be filled with beautiful new melodies, rhythms and harmonies. It’s worth taking the time to stop and really enjoy those discoveries and allow us to be enthralled by a musical world that’s just as rich as anything Dorothy encountered.
Of course, every journey has its problems. A phrase can prove infuriatingly difficult to learn, a particular technique can seem like witchcraft or you might just not feel like practising today. Again, however, we can take inspiration from Dorothy’s journey. When the flying monkeys took her to the witch’s castle, how did she escape? That’s right – with the support of those on the same journey as her. That’s not to say that music teachers need to march along singing ‘We’re Off to See the Wizard’ with their pupils (unless, of course, it’s on the syllabus…) but we should be prepared to lend a helping hand when our pupils are struggling. Our bit of extra musical experience can be leveraged to remind pupils that music is an end in itself and exploring new ideas is part of the very experience of being a musician.
So, next time you are working with a pupil and you come across something difficult, take a deep breath and share a conspiratorial grin. This is one of those times when both of you have to put in the hard work. This is one of those times when it’s going to be tricky. This is one of those times where you need to strive for more, explore more, adventure more! And, if you do, then before you know it, you won’t be in Kansas anymore…
John Kelleher is a freelance music education consultant. Former senior leader, HoD and music teacher.
#MufuChat Coordinator for Musical Futures. Follow him on Twitter here @johnskelleher