Producing responsible people with a lifelong appreciation of the fine arts using the medium of music is the main purpose of the secondary level music teacher in public education. Many essential facets constitute the complex job of being band, orchestra, and choir director, but this primary goal is the glue that holds each aspect together. Quality musical performances are the key to the successful attainment of this goal. They must be a primary focus of the director and the students or the overall structure will eventually collapse.
Good programs, whether we like to admit it or not, will have traditions of winning contests and festivals. This in and of itself is not bad. If the emphasis is placed on “win at all costs,” however, then the program should not be considered successful. Also, if the director manages to win at the expense of his students by either exploiting them or working them to excess, then it should not be considered successful. If the director wins at the expense of the competing musical ensembles (i.e. turning them in for trumped up rules violations, psyching them out, applying pressure to competing directors, etc.), then the program should not be considered a healthy one. Remember: the primary task is to teach our students to be responsible people through the vehicle of music. What kind of lesson are we teaching them if we teach them to win by exploitation, manipulation, or cheating? The proper message will not be conveyed and we will be doing our students a disservice in the long run…even if we win. Winning competitions is not the purpose of a successful program but the result. These programs win because the proper priorities are in place and the directors, students, parents, and administrators are willing to put up with the discomforts necessary to make the program successful, i.e. the time, effort, criticism, pressure, discipline, expense, creativity, etc.
The bottom line is the type of people our programs produce. Years later, when the superior ratings are forgotten and the cheers and applause are a distant memory, will the average student look back at his experiences in the band, orchestra, or choir with fondness and gratitude for what it prepared him or her to do in the real world? Or will he look back on this time and remember how hard it was, or that his director confirmed the fact that the world is an unfair and unloving place, or that anything goes as long as one wins? Let’s always remember that music teachers are in the business of producing quality people through the medium of music as well as quality music through the medium of people.
Drawing the Line on Non-Priority Tasks
In the process of teaching music one can easily become overwhelmed with the many secondary tasks that are necessary in the administration of a music program. There are rosters to make up, mailings to get out, fund raisers to start, and money to be accounted for. The list can literally go on and on. Each of these tasks for the most part is not cumbersome in and of itself but each tends to accumulate. In combined responsibility they become a bewildering mountain of time-consuming obligations.