Thursday 17 December 2009

External validation

Yesterday was my graduation ceremony: I got to dress up in very silly clothes and was given a piece of paper confirming that I have done the work and can put letters after my name. It was a happy occasion, and a slightly surreal experience.

I have observed, as have many other graduates, that I couldn't have finished the degree without the help and support I received from family, friends, and Trinity staff. But it has also been pointed out that while I have had some help, it was me who actually did the work in the end, and that deserves recognition. Yes, it was a lot of work: but I think it's very difficult to separate my part of that from that of the people who helped me along the way.

Yesterday was happy for another reason, too: I got the results back for my students' most recent round of exams. I had four piano students take a TrinityGuildhall 'Initial' level exam this term. I'm extremely pleased that all four of them passed, as I thought they would. I'm delighted that three of them not only passed but were awarded Distinctions! But as a teacher, I am acutely aware that I turn up and teach for a half hour or so a week and my students are the ones who put in the time and effort to practise. I try to make music interesting, I try to show that learning is worthwhile, but no matter what else happens, I cannot practise for them. So while I'm pleased for and proud of my students, I mostly feel very fortunate to have students who work hard and do well.

Clearly there's some attitude adjustment to be done there, given the gap between how I feel about my students' achievements and how I feel about my own. Am I to take credit for anything?

But what I told my students going into the exam, and what I told their parents, still holds: it's only an exam. It's very useful and can be highly motivating to have an external measurement of how you are doing, to compare your skills to someone else's, but that isn't the end point of what we're doing in piano lessons. It's good for me to know how I'm doing in teaching basic skills like sight-reading as well as accuracy, technical facility and communication and interpretation, but that isn't the point.

Likewise, the piece of paper I received yesterday is a good marker of what I have done and how I developed musical skills over the time I was at Trinity, but the piece of paper was not why I was there. I was there to become a better musician, and I am not a musician because I get shiny pieces of paper to frame -- or the other sort of piece of paper for that matter, the ones that can be exchanged for goods and services in a lawful market.

I am a performer and a teacher of music because music brings me deep and lasting joy and fulfillment, and I wish to share that with others.