For the past five years, I have had the wonderful pleasure of working every summer at one of the finest music camps in the United States. UNCG's Summer Music Camp provides high quality and fun instruction to over 1,800 students, ranging from 6th grade through high school. We have bands, orchestras, choirs and piano camps throughout the two weeks of this camp. It's a highlight for me every year to work and be a part of such a wonderful group of people.
For the past three years, I have taught Musicianship Class at UNCG's Camp. Musicianship class is very similar to a Music Appreciation class, and I only get an hour with each group a day for five days. It's a real source of fun and inspiration for me, because there is only rule with the class:
"Make sure that the kids learn something about music."
With such an open-ended description of what to do, there are many different avenues to take in teaching this class, each of them with pros and cons. Having seen a lot of people teach classes similar to this in the past, whether at this camp or others, I had a great deal of thought on what I would try to teach in my class. I usually come back to the same basic concepts of showing passion for what I discuss in class.
Students love to explore areas and support subjects that teachers really care about. It doesn't matter what the subject material is, but if the teacher really cares and shows tremendous amounts of passion about what they are teaching, the students will be attentive, learn something, and walk away from it with a positive experience. I know from my days as a student, the teachers that leave a lasting mark in my mind are the teachers that I thought cared deeply about their subject matter.
I remember one of my first ever times teaching Musicianship at UNCG's camp. I was very nervous about what I was going to discuss, as I thought my material might be a bit over their heads. My second day of camp was on the music of one of my favorite composers, Gustav Mahler. Mahler's music is very complex, so trying to get a young student to understand anything about Mahler is difficult. That year, I had the luxury of teaching Junior High Orchestra in my Musicianship class, and I remember vividly playing and discussing the Adagietto from Mahler's 5th Symphony. The students were so captivated by my discussion of this work, and explaining the story of how Mahler wrote this piece to woo his soon-to-be wife, Alma, that they asked their orchestra teacher if they could play this piece on the concert that week! Nothing made me happier when the orchestra conductor ran into my classroom and said, "What are you teaching these kids? Why do Junior High students want to play Mahler 5?" At that point, I realized that no matter what subject I decided to teach these students, I felt like if I made a personal connection to them, they would come away from the class with something.
There are so many great stories I have from teaching this camp, but my point in writing about it is that with our education system in serious need of an overhaul, it's so crucial that no matter what you are teaching to students, you have to teach them to care about what they are doing. The world is such a better place when you actually care about what you are doing everyday, as there is a certain sense of pride that comes from it. I think that passion and pride are wonderful things and should be some of the basic blocks that we teach our students. Forget test scores and all of that nonsense, but wouldn't the world be a better place if students actually took pride and cared about what they did?
I can't wait for this year's camp to start, as my students will see my passion about Frank Zappa, Richard Strauss, Percy Grainger, Duke Ellington, and cartoons. What passions of yours are you going to share with your students the next time you see them?
Andrew Smith currently serves as the Director of Athletic Bands at and Assistant Professor of Low Brass at Campbell University and is Principal Tuba of the Fayetteville Symphony. Andrew also maintains a low brass teaching studio in the Triangle region of North Carolina.