Desire and Opportunity as a Basis for Arts Education (Part I)
I'll tell you what gets me going....desire. I distinctly remember the day in second grade when I saw a picture of an alto saxophone in my classroom music book. Though it is actually over 40 years ago (ack!), I remember it as if it were yesterday. That little picture of the saxophone was in the upper right hand corner of the page and it captured my attention in such a big way that I knew I had to play the saxophone.
When I was in fourth grade my parents finally let me take music lessons - but not the sax. It was a boy's instrument. Instead, I took guitar lessons. What they didn't know however, was well into a year or two of guitar lessons, I snuck saxophone lessons. The Buddy Reis studio where I studied guitar also provided lessons on all instruments....and I got the teacher to let me play the saxophone each time I came for "guitar" lessons.
Junior High. Oh dear - a blur in my memory (as Jr. high should be), with one big exception. We had assemblies and fieldtrips! I loved them. I can still see the assembly where the high school orchestra was up on the stage performing. I was in the back of the auditorium, and all that was going through my mind was, "I want to be on that stage." Around the same time, we took fieldtrip to the Boston Symphony for a Children's concert, I came back knowing I wanted to be a musician, and knowing I wanted to be the one on the stage.
High school was a playground for me. I was the kid who could pick up and instrument and learn it. The orchestra needed a bass player - no problem, I learned bass; it was easy - the bass is just like playing the bottom 4 strings of guitar. All I had to do was crack the secret code of reading bass clef, and learn to use a bow. The marching band needed a french horn. No problem - I learned that instrument. In the concert bands I got to play my favorite instrument, the saxophone. And, if music weren't enough to keep me busy, in the basement of our school we had a ceramics studio with the best looking teacher ever, Mr. Robinson. I not only spent a lot of time in the ceramics studio staring at my teacher, I even went so far as to make my own potter's wheel.
Here's the deal. My desire to want to play an instrument and make art didn't happen by chance. I had the opportunities presented to me as part of my everyday education. The arts weren't treated as special, they were a part of everyday business of education. After high school I went on to new England Conservatory of Music to study saxophone and then spent thirteen years on the road performing professionally with a band called the Klezmer Conservatory Band. Now I'm a music professor in southern California where I created a center dedicated to restoring arts education to schools.
I tell my students, "it's like eating food, this business of creating desire." If you never get the opportunity to try Thai food or Mexican or Italian food, you don't know if you like it or not. It's the same with the arts. If you never have the opportunity to hear a chamber orchestra or mariachi band or get your hands all wet making clay pots, you don't know if this is something you will like and desire or not.
I was lucky as a kid. I had exposure to many art forms and of course other subjects as well. I had a desire for music was able to pursue it with the encouragement of teachers and my parents (who by the way, obviously gave into the saxophone lessons!).
This generation of kids deserves and needs the opportunity to find their passions. Parents: insist that your schools provide a wide range of opportunities and exposures to the full range of the arts, humanities, and sciences. Teachers, get to know your kids, and work to uncover their passions and desires. Administrators: you have the power to lay the foundation for schools to become arenas of engagement. Desire can become a direct line to excellence in achievement, let it flow.