In a moment when all music has to happen at a distance and so many subjects keep me up at night, I decided to talk to you about “being a music teacher”. In Portugal, many may not know or remember me, but like most musicians I I am also a teacher. It was an important part from my studies and I consider it to be at least half of who I am professionally.
When I started, with the predictable immaturity of being 18 years old, I didn’t immediately understand the responsibility of being the teacher of a small or grown up person, who out of curiosity, courage or admiration chose to learn the instrument that I myself had chosen 10 years before. Going back to the beginning, I can’t write about who teaches without mentioning those who taught me. I had four teacher that taught me as much about music as about being a person. They were and are vital people in my life and some of the best decisions in my journey. José Pedro Figueiredo, Pedro Silva, Marcelo Padilla and Giorgio Mandolesi. Without foolish reverence, I like talking about them. Saying their names is the best gratitude gesture I know. Knowing that, after my family, they’re on the top of my list of remarkable influences in my life, helped me through the years to draft the teacher I want to be. I never wanted my students to be polished perfect things rough diamands that vibrate with what surrounds them. I don’t want them to be virtuosos before falling (deeply) in love with music.
Being a music teacher is never only the good things, but what privilege to have a fixed time every week to grow with each of our students and even to trip over obstacles with each of them. I have many friends and relatives with whom I never spent as much enriching alone time like that. The concept of having a weekly moment where they’re free to open their eyes, ears, brain and heart to us is overwhelming sometimes.
My teachers got to know all insecurities and victories that no one else knew about. They are that good. They met my bad temper and combativeness in times when frustration was stronger than my social filters, but they still wanted to keep on teaching me. They understood the vulnerability of giving them access to my Self as a musician and person and they cherished it. After 8 or 9 years of a teaching experience full of doubts and tumble, I also had the joy and anguish of witnessing some such moments with my students and I’m grateful.
By the end of last school year, I left all my five music schools in Switzerland to move to Vienna and I don’t remember many bigger “lump-in-the-throat” moments in my life than each last lesson with all of my “little” bassoonists. And it didn’t help to not being allowed a hug.
Prior to starting writing this reflection, I conducted a social media poll for all my Portuguese teacher colleagues, asking them about their experiences with this pandemic odyssey and reached two conclusions that I want to share with you.
First, all without exception immediately started telling me about their student’s hardships instead of their own’s. All of them at first forgot to mention their own struggles, disappointments and frustrations as teachers, with the distant and online situation we found ourselves in. They spoke of their students as if they were their own children, their worries about the children’s development and mental health without ever calling on the increased amount of extra (unpaid) working hours that the new (hopefully temporary) system expects from them. And secondly, as the pandemic months passed, along with a rebuilt motivation to help their students, they all mourn the enthusiasm of before, the masked childhood and teenage years they’re witnessing. They remember their own beginnings in learning music and how the collective experience of orchestra, chamber music, choir and concerts was often the motor of their joy and motivation and regret some of their pupils will stop before ever experiencing it again or even for the first time.
Being a music teacher rarely means getting paid a lot by the hour, but it is working a lot of unpaid hours. It’s going to sleep chewing over many worries and it is suffering because you care. When well done, it’s often not just a job. It’s noticing when the silent kid in front of you is just trying to figure out which adult to tell what’s bothering them. It’s even missing them sometimes and staying their cheerleader for life.
Art – whether learned, taught or practiced – is sanity, is knowledge and it’s necessary. I hope the world and governments realize the public service of comfort, inspiration and daily challenge that culture and music in particular lend to the people of each country.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all teachers and educator for your efforts and dedication.
February 24, 2021