The Tragic Stigma Around Music Education

Saturday marked my return to teaching at Humber College Community Music. I was anxious about getting back to work. This summer I had a life-changing experience backpacking through India and Europe.  When I returned to Toronto, I enjoyed a month of consistent practice, playing gigs and jam sessions. The time away from my instrument proved to be refreshing as new improvisational and compositional ideas started to flow. I feared that starting my lessons was going to interrupt the progress I was making.


However, after the first 30 minutes of the ensemble rehearsal I was directing I was reminded of the rush that teaching had always given me. I felt rewarded as I managed to teach my students a song by ear. I felt a sense of purpose as I remembered all the creative and life lessons that my ensemble directors gave me.


My work as a peer tutor at Berklee and on faculty at the Global Music Institute allowed me to discover my passion for teaching. But until now I was hesitant to express that realization to my musical peers. This is because there is a stigma among the performing community towards being involved in childhood music education. Musicians who teach private lessons independently or for agencies are often looked down upon. Many practitioners in all artistic fields believe in the “those who can’t do, teach,” philosophy. This is a damaging way of thinking for a couple of reasons.


First, it has been proven that studying music allows young students to improve their performance in academic subjects. This is logical as music requires the use of the creative and logical parts of our brain. Personally, my high school music education allowed me to develop as a leader and team member. It taught me the value of hard work, discipline and practice. In college, my teacher Danilo Perez used music to teach values such as honesty, supportiveness and acceptance. When we look at the big picture, we realize the long-term impact music education can have on our youth whether they pursue a musical career or not. We should see the aspiration of a musician to become a teacher as an honourable quest, not one of resignation.


Second, by perpetuating this stigma we discourage musicians who have a passion for teaching from pursuing educational positions. Particularly as a performer in a genre to which children are not regularly exposed, I understand the necessity for strong teachers in jazz education. If we want the music we love to survive, we need people who understand it at a deep level to pass it on. So even if you are not interested in music education, it is destructive to the music community to stereotype those who teach as second-class.


Don’t get me wrong. I believe that musical performers play an important role in society as well. A vibrant artistic scene is essential to any community. I never plan to stop performing. But as artists, we cannot devalue the impact our teachers have had on our development as creators and people as a whole. To those who love to teach: Do not suppress your enthusiasm. We need you to foster the talent of the next generation.  You have a gift and it is your responsibility to share it.