Posted by: Marie | July 15, 2012

(669) Sticks in the mud – Part 2 of 2

Post #669
[Private journal entry written on Thursday, August 18, 2011 about an email exchange between a leader of our local music teachers association and me – continued from the previous post]

Hi Marie,

Since this is an event sponsored by our professional music organization, you will need to enter students performing published music, not arrangements you have made for them. Each of the students in the ensemble needs to perform on a musical instrument. Vocals would be accepted if they are written for the singer and other instruments.

Any of the association’s events that involve students performing for evaluators, judges or clinicians would need to use this standard of music. The options they do at Achievement Day in the option room might be more flexible in this regard.

Keep in mind that this Ensemble Performance Activity requires students to work with a clinician at the conclusion of their performance. Our clinicians often are college professors, as the person is this year. Students need to be able to understand their suggestions and endeavor to make changes right then. If a student is shy, this would probably not be a good event for them to participate in. They could attend of course and observe this year and try it next year if they feel they are ready.

Hope this clarifies this for you.

Take care.


By this point, it was clear to me that I had hit a brick wall. I know this group of teachers very well . . . they think quite highly of themselves and they believe they know the “right way” to teach and to conduct collaborative events. There is no room for thinking “outside the box” . . . which, by the way, I do on a daily basis.

There has always been a level of tension between me and the rest of the group . . . they have often treated me, and any contribution I might add to an educational conversation, as suspect and not worth acknowledgement.

I’m trying hard to make up for the fact I don’t have the formal education one would expect to see in a professional piano teacher. I study my butt off in order to be the best teacher I can be. I seek support from mentors. I read and ask questions and observe.

Going Down by Martin Chen

I really don’t like the overall personality of the group, but I continue to participate because I find it very educational and helpful in fulfilling my intent. And, being part of the group allows me to enter my students in some really cool large-scale activities that would otherwise not be accessible to them. So, I participate but just keep my distance, socially, from most of the members. However, there are a few ladies in the group with whom I genuinely enjoy socializing, so I hang out with those ladies during meetings and events.

Because I know this group so well, and because I know Linda so well, I knew I was fighting a losing battle with this ensemble clinic. I know that none of my performers would be allowed to perform their pieces as designed. There is no way I would crush their creative energies by going along with the standards listed in Linda’s email. I want the kids to create and think wild thoughts and allow their unique personalities to shine through.

Why would I ever do anything to limit or squash that? That’s what gets kids excited about music! I want to encourage that “out of the box” thinking! Who cares that the result doesn’t look “traditional”? It’s much more fun to be unique and to break the rules! Hah!

So, I called most of the parents, brought them up-to-speed on what was unfolding, and asked if they would support an ensemble clinic in my own studio (not associated with the teachers association in any way) at a later date. The parents were all for the idea. They really want the kids to have the opportunity to perform what they have created. The parents encouraged me to break away from the association’s activity and do my own thing.

And, I called my piano playing / teaching mentor and asked her if she would be the clinician. She agreed . . . and, she expressed disgust at the snobby, closed-minded mindset shown by the leaders of the association. She, herself, is a very free and creative spirit. She doesn’t like rules, in general.

She is also a music teacher in a public school and believes kids are losing their ability to think creatively in our current compliance-based educational system. She supports anything that encourages kids to think big and wild thoughts, and anything that allows them to manifest their wild creative ideas. So, she was on-board, big time.

So, within a matter of hours, we were able to set the date for my own ensemble clinic for early January with my mentor as the clinician.

I sent Linda one more email . . .


Hi, Linda –

Yes, it does clarify things for me . . . I have been struggling to understand the state and local rules as they apply to this event. Upon careful review, I did not find any rules that state:

– we have to use professionally published music

– the teachers cannot arrange music for the students

– no modifications or adaptations to the music are allowed

– only skilled and confident students are encouraged to participate

– reading of poems is allowed only if originally designed as part of the music

– ensemble music must be written in ensemble format

– dance or other related forms of artistic expression are not allowed

I’m not saying that I disagree with rules being established around association events (I actually strongly agree with some of the existing rules). I just think the rules need to be documented and distributed prior to the time students start preparing for an event. I have run into this same issue repeatedly and I’m finding it difficult to anticipate all the rules I’m going to encounter as I attempt to responsibly participate in the various association events.

I know that is not your problem, so I have cc’d [the association president] so she can maybe give some consideration to the issue.

I’ve been talking to the parents and we have decided the better option, rather than participate in the association’s event, is to hold an independent clinic that mimics the association’s clinic. That way, we can better meet the needs of the students.

Thank you for all the information.

– Marie


Hi Marie,

I have sent copies of my emails to you to [the association president] throughout this discussion.

Take care.



  1. Yay. Good for you standing up for creative thinking Marie! Your students surely benefited hugely from your commitment to their musical growth. Very inspiring.

    Is it just me, or is Linda super annoying with her ‘take care’ at the end of each email, when she’s essentially saying FU? What an annoying woman.

    Great to hear this.

    • Hey, Ellen –

      Thank you for the supportive words . . .

      Yes, Linda is super annoying . . . her emails reflect her personality . . . inflexible, complaining, believes she is beyond reproach even when she is way out of line . . . I don’t like her. But, I’ve always gotten along with her . . . until this happened.

      – Marie

  2. Great decision Marie.

    The association is a good example of everything that is wrong with schooling (I don’t think it should be dignified with the term “education”).

    I could go on at great and boring length – there is much research into learning and basically all of it is a detailing of why this approach is hopeless – but shall refrain.

    And how this approach is tolerated in the arts is utterly beyond me.

    • Hey, Evan –

      You bring up some very interesting points about education. I don’t know what education looks like in Australia, but in the USA, school funding is determined by test scores . . . so teachers have to teach students to score well on annual testing by regurgitating data . . . not for thinking freely or for being authentic or for expressing opinions and preferences.

      When I suggest to some of my students they “play whatever notes they feel like playing”, they look at me blankly . . . they say they don’t know how to “do it the right way”. They have no idea how to look inside themselves to explore what they might prefer. It makes me sad.

      – Marie

  3. On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of children who were belittled, emotionally/creatively abused, and stifled by music teachers, I just want to say: Marie, I love you. From the bottom of my heart, I love you.

    • Wow, David . . . thank you. Your words take my breath away! I am humbled.

      I didn’t show it in my communication and in my journal entry, but I was really, really angry for two whole days about this exchange with Linda . . . I was angry that she refused to create space for what my students and I had co-created . . . after fighting all my life to create space for myself to express my deepest feelings and emotions through my music, it was a personal attack . . . and it was personal for my students, although they couldn’t fight for themselves, so I had to fight on their behalf. I did it gladly . . . there was never a moment when I considered backing down.

      Again . . . thank you for acknowledging what I did!

      – Marie

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