Posted by: Marie | October 5, 2012

(722) Song of the elite

Post #722
[Private journal entry written on Tuesday, November 8, 2011]

What a mess . . .

We had our music teachers association’s monthly meeting this morning. We always hold our business meeting first; then we have an educational program. This month’s program was a review of all the association’s student activities so we could walk through each activity’s format and rules.

I was one of the biggest catalysts behind the leaders deciding to hold this review . . .

Every time I’ve tried to get the rules pinned down, the leaders have treated me like an idiot. They seem to think that any “real” piano teacher would automatically know and understand the unspoken rules. I have tried to explain that some of us have not grown up in this culture so we don’t know all the unspoken rules – I’ve asked that they be written down, but I’ve been repeatedly told that there are too many to be documented.

In August, I contacted one of the leaders (Linda) about the upcoming ensemble clinic. The email exchange I had with Linda brought the ongoing conflict to a head. As a result, the leaders decided to set up this review of the rules. I was looking forward to this meeting because I would be able to uncover all the unspoken rules that have been creating problems for me for several years.

The Flower by Martin Chen

When I arrived at the meeting, I was glad to see that the majority of the members were present – 13 of us – plus, our state president was there. I thought to myself, “Oh, good! At least I’ll have support . . . all these other members, and the president, too, will see that my complaints are valid and will stand up for me!”

So, we got started . . . we held our business meeting and then we moved into the activities review. I quietly listened to the review for about 30 minutes. I kept hoping the unspoken rules I have run into in the past would be discussed. But, they weren’t. So, finally, as graciously and gently as I could, I asked about things like photocopying of music, numbering of measures, use of unpublished music, etc.

The emotional temperature in the room started rising . . . the tone of the responses I received was terse and argumentative. At first, some of the members said that we each should do whatever we felt best. I responded that I have been told my students would be disqualified from participating in events if I don’t do certain things in a certain way . . .

That’s when some of the members admitted that what I was saying was true . . . some said they had been told the same thing and others said they had been the ones to say those things. That opened up a dialogue though which some firm standards were set around those things. Despite the heat I had to take during that conversation, I was happy to get those standards set more firmly.

Then, I brought up the matter of using unpublished music . . . I pointed out that unpublished music is allowed at even the highest levels of national competition . . . that there are guidelines published in the state and national guidebooks for how to handle unpublished music . . . so I wondered why we were not allowed to use unpublished music in our far-less-formal non-competitive events at a local level . . .

My question was answered collectively by a few ladies who have been in the group for decades and who, more or less, officially or unofficially (and for better or for worse), run the group:

Them: “Well, we are professionals and it is critical that we maintain professional standards in all of our events. Therefore, we allow only high-quality published music to be used at the local level.”

Me: “I believe the music I compose and arrange for my students is of high quality . . . I mean, it’s elementary-level music with a melody line and a little bit of harmony . . . it’s not rocket science . . . “

Them: “We don’t want to put the students in a bad spot . . . we want to make sure they have suitable music to work with . . . if they are using inferior music, they don’t have a fair shake at performing well in the activities.”

Me: “Are you saying that my arrangements and compositions are inferior? How would you know, either way? You’ve never seen any of my work.”

Them: “We don’t need to see it to determine its quality. If your work was of professional quality, it would be published. The fact it is not published indicates it is not of professional quality. If you want to be considered a legitimate composer, you need to get your work published.”

Me: “So, if I get someone to publish my music, then it would be suitable? I mean . . . I share office space with a printing company . . . if I ask them to print my music on fancy paper and if I list my own business as the publisher, that will cause it to be of high quality?”

Them: “Well . . . of course not . . . it would need to be printed by an established music publisher . . . it can’t be published by just anyone.”

Me: “Okay . . . and where is that rule written down?”

Them: “Nowhere . . . it’s just something that everyone knows.”

Me: “I didn’t know that . . . how am I supposed to have known that?”

Them: “Well . . . teachers with a legitimate education and background would know that.”

Okay . . . that pissed me off . . . well, the fact that several of the ladies were saying those things to me is not what was pissing me off (I’ve heard it all before) . . . it was the fact that no one in the room was coming to my defense. I couldn’t believe that none of the other members – nor the state president – raised her hand and said, “Now wait a second . . . ”

The years of frustration rushed up from my gut and the tears started . . . and the fact that I was so angry that I was crying made me all the more angry . . . so, I stood up and walked out into the middle of the group . . . I let the tears run down my face as I said my final piece . . .

“Not all of us have been lucky enough to be raised up from childhood in this elite world of culture and privilege. Some of us were raised in the boonies where these programs didn’t exist. Not all of us have had the opportunity to earn multiple degrees. Some of us have been too busy trying to put food on the table. Some of us have had to teach ourselves much of what we know. But, that doesn’t take away from what we have to offer our students. It doesn’t make us illegitimate teachers.

“It is not fair for you to demand we follow rules that have not been documented. It is not fair to my students to ask them to start preparing for some special event and then to tell them they can’t participate because their teacher was unaware of unwritten rules.

“I don’t have a problem with rules . . . I have a problem with unspoken rules that cause my students to be disqualified. But, it is abundantly clear to me that things are not going to change . . . I’m wasting my breath.”

I looked around the room, hoping someone would come to my defense. No one said anything. Everyone was looking at the floor; no one would look me in the eye. The silence was deafening.

So, I walked back to my seat, threw my stuff into my bag and angrily walked out. A couple of the ladies followed me to the door and said they understood my frustration . . . that I should just cool down . . . it would be better next month . . . I thanked them but said that I was done fighting this battle . . . that I was done beating my head against the wall.

One member whom I love dearly – a tiny but fiesty 88-year-old sweetheart of a lady who has been teaching for almost sixty years and who was one of the founding members of the group – expressed her dismay at my feeling so frustrated. She asked if I would be coming back. I answered, “I doubt it . . . I don’t think it’s worth the fight.” She nodded her head and responded in a way that reflected her many years worth of wisdom, “Well, maybe it’s not . . . maybe it’s not . . .”

I sat bawling in my car for 10-15 minutes before I calmed down enough to make the 30-minute drive back home. On the way home, I promised myself I would not require myself to deal with that abuse anymore.

An hour after the meeting, I received an email from Linda with the subject line of “Apology”:

Dear Marie,

I am sorry you were so upset at our meeting today. I apologize for any of my comments that may have contributed to causing it to happen.

Sincerely,
Linda

Seriously?? She was one of the biggest mouthpieces in this morning’s meeting. It is clear to me that she isn’t really sorry . . . if she were really sorry, she would be looking for a way to understand and address my concerns. I think she is just covering her butt since she holds a number of state-level positions and can’t afford to look bad.

I decided to take the high road [because I’m no longer motivated to fight back]. I responded:

Thank you, Linda. I appreciate the gesture.

– Marie

What a mess. But, it won’t be my mess for much longer.


Responses

  1. The wealthy and powerful love to exclude – and their arrogance assures them they are in the right. And ‘meritocracy’ is used as the cover.

    Isn’t it intriguing that all that training doesn’t lead them to be able to decide whether a piece of music is any good? (this has to be delegated to publishers to decide). That could lead one (or at least this one) to question whether the musical education they got was worth anything at all.

    Perhaps it’s different in Australia, some of the published music I’ve heard is crap. Much of it not as good as that written by my friend Davey who hasn’t had anything published. Perhaps things are different in your town (somehow I doubt it).

    • Hey, Evan –

      I laughed out loud when I read your comment! I so love the idea that these know-if-all women believe they have to delegate the task of deciding if music is of high quality or not . . . I’d never thought of it that way!

      I agree . . . whether or not something is published is definately not a good indicator or quality!

      Thank you for the wise insight!

      – Marie

  2. Franz Schubert couldn’t get published until a group of his supportive friends raised money to pay for “Erlkonig” to go into print. You spoke up for him and every talented person who couldn’t follow elitist rules because they needed to make a living. You said something that needed to be said, and whether or not anyone there heard you, the universe heard you. Bless your brave heart, darling.

    • Thank you, David . . . and, I agree with you on all points!


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