Robert Duke is speaking at the next plenary session and the topic is Beautiful
“For many years of my life I’ve been working with people who teach children about the arts. I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t hear the word Beautiful enough from people in the arts.” He proceeded to play a recording of Cecilia Bartoli singing Giunse alfin il momento…Deh vieni, non tardar from Le Nozze di Figaro, Act IV for the next five minutes while he sat in a chair and the audience just enjoyed listening. He follows it up by saying that every human being ought to have an experience like that every day. The problem is that we’re busy. Most of us in the room got into the music field because of that.
One of the things that Dr. Duke hopes for all of his students is that he will be able to make them intellectually uncomfortable…because that is when learning takes place. He hopes to accomplish the same today.
How often do we work to include something beautiful in each lesson we teach?
A Vision of Students as Accomplished Learners
Dr. Duke states that he is always thinking about what his students will be like when he is finished with them. That helps him determine how to spend the time each week. We should teach every lesson as though it was the last we would ever teach that person. Will they leave having experienced something beautiful? He share a list of his favorite kind of student (and tells us not to write it down… 🙂 ):
Attentive, Diligent, Inquisitive, Skillful, Literate, Patient, Thoughtful, Meticulous, Discriminating
They don’t come like this, though. They have to learn these things. He then shared a list of what we desire musically in our students.
Excellent Position, Beautiful Tone, Intonation, Note Accuracy, Rhythmic Precision, Clear Articulation, Dynamic Variation, Expressive Inflection
“With the exception of beautiful tone,” says Dr. Duke, “all of these are easy. Consider a child telling a story. They don’t need instruction on how to apply inflection in their voice. It comes naturally.
Dr. Duke shares about his work with young children and their inhibitions and desire to participate and answer questions. He goes on to tell how these same students come to him years later as doctoral students and are unwilling to participate, don’t want to answer question. Why? What turns these kids into this? It’s not part of the natural growth of human beings. The only common denominator is that they all went to school. “School does that to kids.”
Teaching Like Beauty Matters
Knowledge of Subject Matter
Sequence of Instruction
The least assessed of all the above is the first. Knowledge of subject matter.
* From outside your expertise – “We are the products of university and conservatory educations in music…and that’s too bad.” We must forget the way we learned to play the piano and remember why we learned to play the piano. He exposes the absurdity of degree programs.
* Fundamental structure of the subject
* Broad underlying principles that are
…intellectually interesting and
This is not a unique phenomena in the music field. In many fields, the teachers forget the point.
Dr. Duke says that on his mind all the time is the realization that he is conveying something to another human being. Beauty takes time. Quality takes time. Excellence takes time. The goal of teaching is to help our students experience beauty in as short an amount of time as we can so that we don’t lose them. We can be really busy and do lots of teacher-like stuff and not get anything done.
What’s the Point Again?
Next, a video clip from a graduation ceremony for graduates of Harvard and MIT is shown. Graduating students are asked, “Do you think you could light a bulb with a battery and wire?” Almost always the students respond affirmatively. However, they are not successful. They are asked if they know why it didn’t work. Most are unsure. This clip illustrates the fact that all of these people have reached a very high level in thinking about scientific concepts and physics, but you hand them a battery, a wire and a flashlight bulb and they are stumped. But they have missed the point entirely. Sophisticated teachers set students up so that they look like they have a deep understanding of their area, but they really don’t.
He shared how he gave a graduate level student a recording and asked her to share for 10 minutes about the music. She couldn’t do it. Students may be able to identify keys, form, point out the theme and recap, etc. They know all the right answers, but what’s the point? Students can identify key signatures, but have no idea why it’s important to know that. We spend a lot of time teaching this sort of thing because we believe it’s important to a student’s understanding of music.
The Process of Learning (A.N. Whitehead)
The first time we approach something we want to know more about, we have a romanticized view of it. This eventually channels into Precision which leads to generalization, which is when you can actually do the thing you set out to do. You can substitute other words to see that romance must give way to struggle to eventually produce beauty. Beauty is the goal, the final aim of the struggle. However, we tend to over-emphasize the struggle and place beauty as a distant objective.
Find out what your students’ motivation is and tap into that. Help them reach their goal and experience the thing that has motivated them in the first place.
How Difficult Can We Make This?
Prerequisites lead to prerequisites which lead to more prerequisites, ad naseum, until eventually we get to the good stuff. Why not experience the good stuff now? Start with the idea. The motivation to play beautifully will drive technical development.
Two Keys to Excellent Teaching:
1. Elegance and simplicity about everything
2. Matching musical intentions with outcomes
Our students have a tremendous potential that almost every educational experience they encounter underestimates. The “meaningful stuff” must come first. Let’s help them experience beauty at every level.
Dr. Duke suggests a homework assignment: Record the next four lessons that you teach and see how many times you can have the word beautiful come out of your mouth.