Recently I was given the opportunity to travel to Sabah, Malaysia to work with the Baylor Music Missions team. It was a last minute opportunity that arose and a decision I had to make amongst finals, the approaching freedom of summer, and family travelling hundreds of miles to see me walk across a stage and graduate. We left two days after graduation. Who does that? Who makes a decision to get on a plane to a country over 10,000 miles away with a group of 30+ individuals who they’d never met? I did, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life to date. While there I worked with the other members of the Music Missions team to help local communities incorporate music into their worship services. More specifically I spent 10 or more hours in small workshop sessions teaching music reading. I was given the opportunity to teach something so basic that most of us forget what it’s like to not understand, something that has become a second language to a lot of us- how to read note names, how to understand scales and pitch relationships, how to read and be able to imitate rhythms, and combine all of these aspects into the ability to read music.
We did these affirmation sessions while on the trip; Dr. Bradley (our leader and one of the faculty sponsors) would choose an individual and we would spend 10 minutes taking turns positively affirming that person. The words Dr. Bradley chose to share about me touched me greatly and made me think at the same time. He talked about my willingness to come on a trip last minute and serve in such a large capacity, but then he mentioned my level of education and dedication to music and more specifically the flute. He pointed out that most people so trained in such a specialized area aren’t often willing to sit down and teach basics like how to read quarter notes, and not only are most not willing to do so, they definitely don’t enjoy it. His point was that I did- but why is this so rare?
It really got me thinking. Community engagement and outreach is something I have grown to be more and more passionate about and something I have become more and more frustrated with. Somehow in “classical” music we have built up this wall between performer and audience that seems to become thicker with time and I think that music has become stuffy because of it. Symphonies are folding left and right because of lack of funding; ticket sales are too low to fund salaries and electricity. Music programs are being cut from public schools daily. As musicians this is devastating news and I hear a lot of my colleagues complaining and mourning this decline, but what are we doing to change it?
One of the aspects of music that I absolutely love is its ability to engage everyone- it is 100% a team sport, everyone is involved and equally important, and there are no bench-warmers. It is also something that every single person on this planet relates to; it’s what connects all of us as humans with human emotions. So why has “classical” music become something that so few want to enjoy? Is it because of higher ticket prices? Possibly. Is it because it’s too boring for the masses? Possibly. To me, though, it’s because of accessibility.
What happened to performing music with people you want to make music with, for the sake of simply making music?
In school programs why must there be a class implemented (with a designated time, faculty coach, and of course the ever-important “credit”) for students to join together and perform music together? When outside performances ARE given to students as part of their class requirements why is there moaning and complaining about “lost” rehearsal time? What is really important? Rehearsal time can always, always be found, but the chance to connect with community members outside of a school of music or already musical community is priceless and irreplaceable. These are the performances that matter the most! I was gently reminded of this the other day while talking with a good friend. We were joking about doing a recital early in the fall before I leave and I joked about the fact that it would be difficult because I’m not a student anymore- “So we do it off campus and we just go play somewhere.” I was sitting there thinking, “duh, Jill!” But it’s something that I think rings all too true in the culture amongst musicians today, especially young musicians.
We’re waiting for the culture to change and we’re waiting for someone to change it for us.
Music isn’t something that is stuffy or something that shouldn’t be accessible and relatable. Borrowing from the words of my wonderful and inspiring mentor, Francesca Arnone, music is meant to be put out into the world. Otherwise what are we doing? Inspiring those around us in our small, musical bubble? If that is the only circle of individuals we keep choosing to play for the circle will become smaller and smaller. We should be out there in the world- we should be playing every chance that we get in every location that will have us.
As I recently learned, music really is a universal language and there are a lot of people in the world hungry to eat up everything we, as musicians, are willing to share with them.
We are the advocates of the future- what are we doing for our craft?