The Naked Truth – Pt.3 “Music doesn’t save lives”

I’m starting to realize that it’s about relationships and not music that’s at the core of this whole situation. Truthfully, it’s only been a few weeks since I’ve actually been teaching music and I’m sure you’re wondering what we’ve been doing in the meantime.

Well, lots of talking and listening.

I’ve decided to start each class period sharing our highs and lows of the day. Sometimes this takes a good portion of the time, but I don’t care. The kids are learning to listen to each other which is a hell of a lot better than listening to me! They’re asking questions and laughing with each other instead of yelling and bickering.

When we do get to the music lesson, they’re learning the true meaning of teamwork. A concept quite different from what our society tends to promote which is, that we’re all perfect – in rhythm – in sync – and other misconceptions our competitive nature seems to conjure up. The reality is, teamwork is about working with and working through the person that’s not quite getting it and may never get it. Everyone deserves to be successful. An obvious concept to most of us, but for kids who’ve been practically living in solitary confinement…togetherness, whoa! What’s that?  Of course, before we even got to a point where we could have a civil discussion about teamwork, there was a near knock-down-drag-out fight between three girls, another class cancellation, and a second near knock-down-drag-out fight out on the courtyard after I canceled class.

Here’s the part where the “music doesn’t saves lives” comes into play. See, I’ve made no impact teaching world music—the shit hit the fan a long time ago. They could give a rat’s ass about learning African dances, playing Gamelan instruments, and what not.

No connection. Nada. Zip. Zero.

The thing is, me teaching music to these kids is not the same as experiencing it for themselves; but they have to experience relating to one another before the musicking becomes meaningful–the ultimate challenge, I think, for all music teachers out there.

Relating = Musicking = Meaning

Music isn’t going to save these kids from domestic abuse, nor save them from school suspension, nor save them from a night without dinner because they ran out of food stamps. It might get them through pain and turmoil, but it doesn’t save them. Not yet.

Does this make sense?

Furthermore, that utopian idea that music is ‘universal’ is really confusing and somewhat inaccurate. What’s universal about it? What universal message are we transmitting? That we all share the commonality of music perhaps, but it doesn’t convey the same emotion to all people. The music pounding from their boom box for instance, isn’t reaching everyone, it’s annoying and negative! And clearly the music I’ve exposed them to hasn’t reached them either.

Do you see why relationship is key here? I have no commonality with their lives. Besides differences in musical experiences, there are differences in our upbringing. Raised in a functioning community, I function rather successfully in our society. As much as my heart is there, and my compassion is there, and my willingness and dedication are there; it doesn’t change the fact that the kids and I have nothing in common.

I know this sounds depressing, but just stay with me here. This is the truth of life, teaching, music, and just trying to make a damn difference. I know for a fact, after long phone conversations and several email exchanges, that my Musiciancorps fellows share my sentiments.

Not a lot of people will write about this stuff, but I will because I’m all about keeping it real. This is NOT Mr. Holland’s Opus, or Stand and Deliver, know what I mean? Let’s stop romanticizing the truth shall we?

So what’s next?


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