Teaching at a University is a dangerous post.
There is a quiet seduction to it, a worm in the ear that whispers the same thing over and over, and then you begin to believe it, and it changes how you perceive yourself, which is to say it changes how you perceive everything else in the world as it relates to you.
At every turn, the teaching life reinforces this one, singular idea. Your opinion matters more.
I mean, really, in what other line of work do groups of people flock together twice a week to hear you run your mouth for 60 minutes? Your opinion matters more.
Where else in life do people willingly submit to you their creative endeavors, to be critiqued and ranked according to your entirely subjective internal criterion? Your opinion matters more.
Who conceived of this bizarre environment in which people walk into my small broom-closet of an office, and wait expectantly for me to impart to them the secret wisdom of how to organize one set of frequencies next to another? Your opinion matters more.
All day long, in the repeated rituals of academic life, this mantra is enacted a hundred times. It is whispered low, just below the level of hearing, but loud enough to change how you view the entire world. And being told that your opinion matters, this is a dangerous thing to be told, when you are (relatively) young, and your character is not yet sufficiently formed, because it is, of course, exactly the sort of thing that you want to believe. It is entirely corrosive. It erodes the soul, which can only grow when it is humble.
In teaching music, opinion is the currency of the craft. The whittling down and building up of musicians is always done at the hands of someone who went before them into that world. The induction into the craft is always the imparting of perspective, the giving of opinion. To be told that your opinions matters more, in music, is to be crowned a Prince, complete with attendant court and vassals.
I am an addict at heart, to any kind of stimulant, and I don’t want to wait around to see what kind of track marks this mistress leaves.
So, this is my new project: to walk humbly in the midst of a dangerous environment. My plan is to repeat the steps of those teachers whose wisdom and humility I have admired, to imitate the practices that they have demonstrated, but never bothered to write down in a handly little list. So, I’ll just jot it out here:
The Cardinal Practices of a Humble Teacher
- I will spend time in the company of those who exceed me
- I will continue to learn new things
- I will admit my own ignorance, without pretense or excuse
- I will take creative risks in my field, sufficient to produce real failures