by Tony Scaltz
I have been a musician all of my life. In fact, it is very difficult to remember a time when I wasn’t involved with something to do with making music. I can recall moments of my childhood when I harbored an intense curiosity to learn things, and I am proud to say that I maintained such an attitude within my own education to this day. What is strange is that I easily recognize that during the course of my musical evolution, I drifted away from being a player into that of a learner…and there lies the path to growth and success in personal and professional life.
I need to slightly amend my opening line: I have been a teacher all of my life. I began in the craft of musical instruction around age 17, when my teacher first sat me down to discuss the possibility of becoming an apprentice instructor….now at 42, it’s easy to see how long I’ve been training people to grow in their musicality. Teaching has been part of me for so long now, that it is likewise difficult to imagine a time before it, and as the power of introspection can often provide light in darkness, I can, at the time of this writing, clearly see that my early desires and pursuits in the field of musical understanding were simply markers on the road to teaching. I know that without a strict dedication to my own musicianship, my ability to teach and train musicians would falter and become ineffective over time. So, now I recognize the feedback loop of learning and teaching, teaching and learning, that has rooted itself firmly in the core of my philosophy, my pedagogy, and my way of living as an artist.
Interesting that through this reflection I arrived at the term ‘artist’. In anticipation of the content of Episode 009: Art is What You Can Get Away With (a phrase I borrowed shamelessly from Andy Warhol), I love to consider the fact that I can live as an artist in the same way my educational core has guided almost every aspect of my actions and decisions- that is I want to wake people up. Yeah, the money is nice, and the recognition is fun too. I mean, who wouldn’t want to sit back and have a complete stranger tell you that your work on this planet has resonated with them in some deep way that provided comfort or insight just when they most needed it? These perks are quite enjoyable, but for me the joy is to know that I helped someone attain an awareness of something previously darkened by a lack of attention or understanding. That has impact. That has depth. That is the ultimate currency in our field.
Every year, I get students who say to me they now wish to go into education as a result of the growth they have experienced during our time of study. Again, this is the feedback I most respond to: the knowledge that my teaching has awakened in my student a love for learning so profound that the only clear path (the one that they can now see) is to, in turn, awaken others. Truthfully, the only way to gain the most authentic understanding of your own shortcomings and strengths in your artistry is to teach others how to do the same. For some strange reason of logic and irony, finding the words to articulate an idea awakens not only the student but the teacher as well, and as one of my favorite humanist teachers, the late Leo Buscalgia, used to say “you can’t give to others what you don’t already possess for yourself”.
So, if you Fret Buzzards are considering a career in music teaching, please know that this is imperative work. If you don’t commit to a deep curiosity of how nature operates in the form of sound, and subsequently show others this endless magic, who really will? If you never had that one teacher to illuminate the path for you, would you even be here reading and playing and composing today?
Teachers are students-students are teachers.
We’re the coolest feedback loop.