Artistry and Music Education

Some quick background…

What follows is a brief personal statement I shared at our first departmental music education research colloquium at IU this Fall. Each faculty member had an opportunity to share their thoughts about the intersections between artistry and various aspects of music education. It was terrific fun to hear everyone’s perspective and an energizing start to the year. I enjoyed thinking on the topic so much I thought I’d share my own excerpt here…

Artistry and music education in higher education: A personal view on the topic as a developing scholar of music teaching and learning

I truly enjoy thinking about intersections between artistry and music education. The tensions surrounding issues of identity that I and I am sure many others have experienced while going down the path of becoming a music teacher were profound and the personal growth and development that occurred was equally so. Embracing a multi-dimensional perspective of one’s identity and the professional roles one can play in the world is a notion I challenge all of the undergraduate music students I work with to grapple with. Considering how one’s artful musicianship can inform one’s music teaching is an important part of that challenge. Similarly, I believe that puzzling about how one could be artistic in their approach and application of pedagogy is valuable for all teachers who would like to make a positive and lasting impact on their students. Ultimately, an inclusive and flexible view of self seems likely to be a more productive perspective than a fixed and rigid view when it comes to doing good and personally fulfilling work in music education.

More recently, I’ve been thinking about the possible paths that might lead to stretching and reconceptualizing music teacher identity to incorporate that of a scholar. In my experience, it appears that the profound tensions and shifts in identity that pre-service music teachers experience as they ponder their roles as musicians and teachers are likely similar to those that an emerging scholar encounters as they begin to imagine themselves as researchers and music teachers in higher education throughout their time in graduate school. If a similar assumption holds here – that a more flexible and inclusive view of self could ultimately be more valuable than a fixed and rigid view – then I find myself wondering what it would mean to merge an artistic worldview of music education with a scholarly one and vice versa?

My goal in this informal talk of our introductory research colloquium is to try and explain how I’m beginning to see properties of artistry embodied in scholarship and the pursuit of research, given the role of scholarly activity in the functions of a music educator in higher education. More simply, I have been thinking about the questions: What might it mean to pursue scholarly work in music education with a sense of artistry? What if some of the most prominent virtues of artistic activity were mapped onto scholarly activity? I’ve tried to answer these questions by imagining ideas I might give my “13-year-ago” self… …someone starting out down the path of growing a scholarly identity around fairly well-established musical and pedagogical dimensions of self.

A quick side-note on artistry…

Whether it’s in regard to being a musician, a teacher, or a scholar, for me, artistry most often implies something extra-ordinary — a type of activity that is clearly beyond the mundane and everyday – it’s something special – something heavily soaked in personal meaning, activities with intense levels of engagement, and a mode of doing that can lead to transcendent experiences.

With that, some thoughts on artistry and scholarship…

Imbue the goals of your work with your unique perspective. An artist scholar seeks to make a contribution to the field that is both personally rewarding and enriching for the broader profession. An artist scholar aims to develop a personal voice. They work to develop a style of writing and communication in general that is their own. Moreover, an artist scholar either chooses work that is intrinsically meaningful or finds a way to inject intrinsic value in the work they are confronted with. Ultimately, their scholarly goals reflect their personal values and view of the world.

Embrace the same things an artist needs to embrace in order to carry out their best work. An artist scholar has very high regard for craft and skill in methods and techniques. They dedicate the time and energy necessary to refine their craft and strive for elegance in execution. An artistic approach to scholarship involves periods of immersion in their work and high levels of focus and concentration on the task at hand. It involves the deliberate practice of the skills necessary for conducting their research as well as the deliberate play necessary for energizing their approach. An artist scholar seeks inspiration from a wide variety of resources and muses and keeps an open mind.

Reward yourself for incremental successes and learn from your mistakes, but have high expectations, as any artist would – in other words, seek to transcend. An artist scholar respects the past but does not settle for stagnation or the status quo. They work to induce transformation and progress through their work – of themselves, of others, and of their field. Artist scholars will push themselves to learn, to grow, and to be more. Artist scholars push their field to consider new evidence, perspectives, and ideas.

In sum, what could I tell my “13-year-ago” self? I’d say to approach the goals, work, and expectations of scholarship as an artist would. I would challenge myself to be more than I was before. I would encourage myself to ask the following questions: “Are you an artist musician? Are you an artist teacher? Are you an artist scholar?” Perhaps, some of us here might consider asking yourselves… When I leave my music education experience at IU, will I be something I wasn’t before? You might aim to be a different musician, a different teacher, and also a scholar — and above all, to imbue each with artistry.

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One comment

  1. very nice – esp. point two. (“Embrace the same things an artist needs to embrace in order to carry out their best work.”) I always think monks/holy communities are particularly good at this – that is, embracing the process, taking an artful approach to even the most mundane processes. Of course, they have the added impetus of their faith – how can brewing beer, raising llamas, or transcribing scrolls bring greater glory to God? Don’t know if that makes sense. But the second point is an important one to me, and one I struggle with a lot!

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