The Independent Student

Great insight into the minds of our teenage students. Take away thoughts:

  • We need to give students a a sense of agency.
  • When given the choice, the student will choose the task that gives him a chance to be creative.
  • When given the freedom to explore, students begin to find questions in everything.
  • Everybody truly wants to learn.
  • This type of creative learning doesn’t involve a lot of fancy equipment.
  • When the adults get out of the way, the students learn.

Now how can we apply these ideas to teaching piano? Maybe the first step is to put away the method books for a while and see what happens.

Lessons from Detroit

Anne Midgette’s recent blog posts “Orchestras and Outreach” and its follow-up post – and also this post by my Twitter friend, Cory Davis, got me thinking about whether or not music education has any affect on the number of people who attend classical orchestra concerts.

To start off, I must admit, I haven’t been to an orchestra concert in two years. And I’ve had many years of musical training.

It wasn’t always like this.

In college I attended a recital or concert nearly every night, many times, two in one evening. My friends and I would switch venues at intermission depending on what was on the program. Like Cory, I went to concerts because I wanted to hear friends, or friends of friends, or faculty who were performing or who had pieces being performed. I also went because the concerts were free. And finally I went because there were good times to be had post-concert. This was my social life.

Today I really have no excuse. I just don’t feel like going. In my opinion, at this point in my life, sitting in a crowded concert hall, with cramped seating, and listening to a long symphony by Bruckner or Neilsen can be uncomfortable and sometimes even boring.

Yet I’m happy to listen to Bruckner or Neilsen at home while reading about the composer online, following the score on IMSLP, or reading reviews of performances by various conductors and orchestras. I’d prefer to be free to pause the performance while I get up to get a glass of lemonade, or take a phone call, or talk to one of my kids. I like that I can repeat sections of the piece, or switch to another piece of music altogether. Believe it or not, sometimes I even watch an unrelated video while I listen to music (not often). Other times the music has my full attention. I also like to write blog posts while I listen to music. As a matter of fact I’m listening to cellist, Narek Hakhnazaryan, perform in yesterday’s final gala concert of the Tchaikovsky Competition as I write this blog post.

Just try to take the wrapper off a piece of candy in the concert hall!

Are our 21st century lives changing too drastically for us to ever be comfortable sitting and listening to concert hall performances whether or not we’re musically educated? Or are we looking at the end of an era and just don’t want to admit it? Are big concert halls and community orchestras destined to go the way of many large churches? Or for that matter, some of our large cities?


This morning I was reading about the new entrepreneurs who are rebuilding the city of Detroit. I Am Young Detroit is a movement of young creatives who are turning Detroit into the next Tribeca. From urban farms to pop-up shops, restaurants and bike shops,  a new generation is reinventing Detroit. Read about them in this article from the New York Times.

Maybe it’s time for orchestras to stop trying to squeeze more money from the usual donors, put a hold on the outreach, and stop trying so hard with the creative programming. What’s the worst that would happen if we just let things take their natural course?

Maybe, just maybe, there’s a group of young musicians waiting in the wings to rebuild from the ground up with fresh new ideas that we can’t even begin to imagine.