Saturday, February 23, 2019

You Are What You Do- The Professionalism Pep Talk

Yeah so it's been a while....

So where have I been? Ok, well, I left Vegas, moved back to Tennessee, moved to Texas, began teaching middle and high school saxophonists, and then had another graduate teaching assistant position drop in my lap.....

.....and in the middle of all that, I've been watching and listening to college students from many many schools. (I just pictured Commandant Lessard from the Police Academy movies. Yes, I'm old.)

Here's the thing, folks. Many of you could use some guidance, an attitude adjustment, a swift kick in the posterior; however you prefer to phrase it...

Ok, the name of the blog is Ye Olde Music Major and this may be the official "Get off my lawn" entry.

The facts are the facts folks. When you enter school as a music major you might be following your passion. In the real world, though, you're also training for a career. Were it simply about passion, I would have had a doctorate in the 1990s. I'm speaking from experience here. I have done the stupid things about about to list. I've paid for them. Read and absorb what I'm about to tell you and perhaps you'll follow a smarter path.


Seriously, I don't know why this has to be mentioned. For starters, YOU'RE PAYING FOR THESE CLASSES. I get it, as a freshman or sophomore things like music theory and music history don't seem very important. THEY FREAKING ARE!!!!! You WILL use them. You WILL use what you learn in class piano. This stuff is important, guys. Even if you're lucky enough to perform for a living you'll need to know the history behind what you play so you're stylistically correct. You'll need to know how harmonic progressions work. You'll need to be able to conduct effective score studies.

You need to show up and be prepared when you do. I'm not saying you have to have it mastered every class. That simply isn't going to happen. You'll struggle in some areas. We all do. The point is to show up, with a good attitude, prepared to the best of your ability, and you have to try. Oh, by the way, you have to have good grades to graduate. Schools hiring band directors do tend to look at your grades and if you're looking at grad school....well, schools do care about GPAs.

Which leads me to my next point...


I don't care how good you think you are. I don't care if you really are that good. If you have serious attitude problems or are an habitual flake; people aren't going to want to work with you. A positive, humble, professional approach will take you much further than just having 'chops'. There are a ton of folks with 'chops' who have to keep their chops at home because people don't want to work with them.


A lot of issues in college departments simply come down to communication issues. This isn't just with students either. Professors and administrators are equally guilty. Do your part to avoid this. Email is the preferable means of communication. It gives you a record that you did your due diligence in any situation. Covering your backside in this manner gives you an answer to questions caused by communication problems.


Yes, this is part of communication but important enough that I feel it needs to be mentioned separately. If you don't understand something, ask. If the professor, conductor, or administrator doesn't do an adequate job of answering the question, ask again. If they blow you off, ask their boss. Remember that you pay to attend school there. They should remember that too.

Ok, here is a MAJOR caveat to that paragraph.

Faculty is there to teach and guide you. They aren't there to spoon feed you or do your work for you. Neither, by the way, are graduate assistants. This isn't middle school. Suck it up, buttercup. Some things you have to figure out on your own. If you show up for a lesson having practiced an hour or less total for the week; a teacher can't make you play better. If you don't come to class, a review session isn't going to suddenly provide you with all the info to do well on an exam. This is called learning to be a professional.


One of the most maddening statements I hear in music is "I shouldn't be asked to work so hard on my instrument. I mean, I'm just going to be a band director.". Real talk: If I hear a student say that, I will NEVER hire them nor will I recommend them to anyone for a job. If I cannot trust you with one instrument, why should I trust you to lead 40 or 50? You don't have to master your instrument to be a good music educator, true, but you have to try like hell. It makes you a better musician. It teaches you problem solving skills that you can then pass on to your students. Lastly, if you set such low standards for yourself as an instrumentalist, then how on earth can you set high standards for your students?


My undergraduate professor, Dr. Doug Owens, once said and explained that statement in a studio class and it has stuck with me ever since. In the age of social media, we (myself included) do a fantastic job of putting our foot in our mouth and losing coming common courtesy and decency. I'm not saying that one cannot go on social media and express themself, debate issues, what have you. I'm saying that the wrong statement, even one made in jest, can come back to haunt you. Take care in how you act and what you say publicly. Remember that you are in training to be a professional musician; whether on the performance or educational end. People need to have a high opinion of you because you will need them to help you get jobs, into grad school, etc. The folks you see every day are going to help you get a job, or not. Your reputation is the most important thing you have. Keep it good.

So, yeah, this blog was a bit of a rant. I felt it was needed and better you read these words than learn the hard way.... I did....