When I was in Berlin with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus in 2003, I was mesmerized by Donald Runnicles assembling Brittens formidable War Requiem. He was working in two languages with the Berlin Philharmonic, the 200 American choristers, a boys choir, and three soloists. And all I could think was I want to do that. On the bus to the hotel I shared my starry-eyed dream with an ASOC acquaintance. He pointed out, rather flatly, that people have to work their entire lives focused on the goal to achieve a position of such prominence. The implication, obviously, was that I could never catch up at my age. And of course, he was right.
Lets ignore the intangible benefits to the community and focus, as Eric suggests, on the outcomes. What will those students of mine become? At the risk of theorizing on a topic in which I am poorly qualified (a new running theme of the blog?), I think there are three broad categories of futures for Music Students.
First are the professionals. Almost all of them will have focused, as I have not, on their instrument(s) from a remarkably young age. Music has been a pretty decent meritocracy since the days of Bach (except of course now its financed by corporate underwriting instead of the treasury of monarchs), and these people work hard as hell to rise to the top. Most Americans in this category either settle down with an orchestra or are recitalists who travel too much for too little money. They become adjuncts to colleges. They teach private lessons. A very, very few become the world-spanning elite. And after all those labors, the most famous classical musicians in the world are relatively quiet and obscure in the constant shout-fest that is modern celebrity.
Okay, granted, there are rock stars. Im excepting this category from my analysis mostly because it is a mystery to me (and everyone else) how that magical alchemy coalesces. Where classical pros are long-suffering workers, pop music musicians are constant inventive gamblers. Fame is bigger, but harder to find and more fleeting. And nothing I teach can really convey the bizarre risk-taking and self-deprivation necessary to become the next Beatles.
Second, I can teach students to ultimately become like me: another music educator. Its a crucial process, and of course immensely flattering to the educator who did the inspiring. But it is by definition a limited calling, a fraternity/sorority of special people who really want to spread the love of music to create more than just a replacement set.
Lastly, and heres where the wide-eyed optimism returns, are the vast majority of those who are taught music in school. Im just going to call them happy people with good memories and richer lives. Many of us have known great voices or intense musical talents who go on in their adult lives to do almost no music at all: not even a community group or even really playing for their own pleasure. Nevertheless, these people are the ones I hope to reach the most. They represent the greatest possible area for growth, because their maximum size is EVERYONE ELSE.
It is in this spirit that I often tell people that anyone can and should sing. If I am going to be a music educator, I should believe that I can reach each and every child, even if only for a little while or in a little way.