Ms. Debra Burnell was my band director at Pleasure Ridge Park High School from 2006 to 2010. My senior year she encouraged me to become a music teacher. Dr. Greg Byrne was my college percussion professor at the UofL from 2010 to 2015 for my undergraduate and graduate studies. My senior year he encouraged me to live beyond the moment. I graduated college in May 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Music Education and a Master of Arts degree in Teaching. Not only did my teachers help me find my passion, but they helped me find myself. Because of arts education, I became a better student, thinker and human. Ms. Burnell and Dr. Byrne taught me the four C’s:
Music is a subject that stimulates the mind in ways that correlate with all other subjects. Math is practiced within fractions of rhythm and beat. Reading is necessary for score analysis and interpretation. History is also needed for interpretation and performance context. Science is heard through sound waves of pitches and harmonies. Geography is used for cultural understanding and purpose. We even get exposed to other languages to learn expressions and techniques. I often felt behind in grade school, but never understood why until finding music. Being challenged to use all of the subjects in a new way woke up my intellect, forcing me to think critically.
You wouldn’t know it from watching me perform, but I used to be shy. Those high school band performances were a comfort zone that transcended into other parts of life. Ms. Burnell used to always say “practice to perform.” She meant that you should treat the process like the product. This can also be interpreted as we are practicing to literally perform, giving our creation to an audience and sharing what we have learned. Either way it takes a special child to have enough confidence to perform in front of any audience. Performing without confidence is flying with no wings, and sometimes students don’t know how far they can soar until you push them out of the nest.
Contrary to popular belief not all formal music training is white-wig European. With Dr. Bryne we were encouraged to improvise often, and those moments of freedom were just as important as reading ink on sheet music. The combination of learning by note and rote makes it significantly easier to compose my own music. It also makes it easier to perform with a wide variety of musicians in different contexts, like when I perform with a symphony orchestra or a bluegrass band.
You can sit down with a complete stranger from across the world and communicate through music. I’m fortunate enough to have done this many times, and it never ceases to amaze me. I traveled to England in January 2016 and had a gig while there. The musicians I performed with were complete strangers, but they could read, interpret, and understand my music. Collaboration is key in any workforce, and music is the best way to practice it. Even when performing music from centuries ago, we collaborate through time and space, breathing new life into composers who are no longer here. My path as a musician is pursued through engagement. I’m constantly thinking of ways to connect with an audience because in that moment we’re all musicians. The same applies for teaching music. For those lessons, we are all mini-musicians.
Even if my students don’t continue making music beyond our moments together, they will continue the four C’s in other aspects of life making themselves and the people around them better humans.
That is why arts education matters. •
Jecorey “1200” Arthur is a music educator who works with students of all ages, from primary school to college, and has collaborated with the Louisville Orchestra.