Studying a Musical Instrument

Last week marked my tenth year opening school as a superintendent. All of our school employees are invited and it’s my chance to make an impression. I try hard to inspire and to set the course for the coming year.

This year, I challenged everyone by saying that if what we most want for our students is that they be agile, curious, interested, independent LEARNERS, we must be that very thing first. We can’t talk about developing a learning community committed to creating learning environments where modern learners discover, connect, contribute and adapt to the changing world– if we’re not doing so first.

What I didn’t count on from that first day is the meeting I had last week with one of our newest music teachers, Miss Jamie Newman. Miss Newman scheduled a meeting with me after opening day and at that meeting she invited me to join her fourth grade introductory band lessons. Her reasoning was simple, come and learn what it is that music teachers do, first hand. I heard her saying, “I so believe in the importance of music in our schools that I want to share it with you. Here’s a place where curiosity, discovery, creativity–those goals we have for every learner–happen every day”.

My reason for agreeing was also simple. If I’m going to walk the talk, push boundaries and ask our educators to move beyond what we’ve always done, well then, I suppose I’d better be doing the same thing. I’m a voracious learner, curious and hoping to learn from everyone I can about how to be better. I’m unafraid to tackle hard subjects, have difficult conversations, or accept a new challenge.

But this? I can assure you that there is likely no learning experience that would push me, my own boundaries and limitations, my own insecurities and feelings of ineptitude like this one. I’m in a full body sweat just writing about it here. 

I’ve never studied a musical instrument. When I was a kid, growing up in Pittsburgh in the seventies, my parents said no when I came home from school and asked about studying an instrument. I don’t know if it was a financial decision or why, I just accepted that they said no. I also don’t remember any basic music or chorus classes other than a teacher in the 7th grade who sat at his desk while we sang songs from a textbook on our desks. He was less than enthusiastic and certainly didn’t teach me a thing. I also can’t read music. Suffice it to say that I’m unlikely very evolved in music appreciation as nineties rap is my favorite playlist.

Because of my early education, I have little to no knowledge or understanding of music. When a friend comments that someone is singing off-key, I have no idea what they mean. I’ve observed music teachers as a school administrator and focused on the ways in which they teach the class with virtually no idea of the quality of their content. This is a weakness for me.

I sincerely hope Miss Newman knows what she’s getting herself into. I did go online and use an app that promised to identify if I’m tone deaf or not. I’m not. I scored an 86%.

I was encouraged to learn that a very small percentage of the population is actually tone deaf and more likely they just lacked a musical education. I also learned from the app that “everyone else is perfectly capable of becoming an excellent musician!” That may be overly optimistic.

My first band lesson is at 2:30 today. Clarinet. I’m sure our fourth graders will help me if I need it.

If I can do this, maybe everyone can find 30 minutes per day to read about modern learning or listen or try something new? I promise it’ll be worth it. At Springville-Griffith Institute, we are committed to developing curious learners–including our educators.

  1. We are fortunate in this school district to have such a wonderful music program. All 3 of my daughters played instruments from 4th grade through high school, and took piano lessons as well. While none continued professionally, the fact that they were committed to such an endeavor helped them be the people they are today.

  2. This is awesome! 🙂 I started with the clarinet, which then lead to a few other instruments. I think you will love it! I cannot wait to see the December concert! Enjoy this journey!

  3. Music – Great for the heart, soul and mind. You are truly an inspiration! Looking forward to the December 13th concert.

  4. As the retired band director from SGIMS, I am truly impressed with your dedication to the district and the thirst for knowledge you display! Have fun with Jamie and your 4th grade music peers😊

  5. Thank you all for the positive feedback! You’re cordially invited to our Springville Winter Concert on December 13. Jay, I’m fairly certain it won’t be worth traveling that far–perhaps I can send a short video clip. I’ll be the biggest one, easy to pick out.

  6. You’ve inspired me to learn the violin! My mother wouldn’t let me because she wanted me to be the very best at piano. I’ve always felt like I missed out. Miss Borneman, are you ready for me?

  7. I love that you are doing this! I play clarinet too! I was in the Jamestown Marching band in High school. I also played the Contrabass clarinet! I sang in A Capella choir and played the piano. Music has been a huge part of my life. I truly believe the reason I went into teaching was because of the creativity and inspiration my piano teacher gave me as a child. Cheers to the next Benny Goodman!

  8. Hope you come down to the High School and perform for us. If you need help we have a great amount of students in our Music Dept who will be happy to help you.

  9. You never cease to amaze me in your hands-on leadership role. I too look forward to hearing more about your personal learning adventures and sharing something about your experience with other superintendents. You say a lot through your actions!.

  10. I love this. I played clarinet and sang in chorus all through school and those experiences are some of my very best memories!

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