The nakedness of music-making

On Friday I taught a Professional Learning seminar on classroom composition to a small group of primary school teachers from around Victoria. One of the topics that came up was the fear that many people have in music-making.

It’s not necessarily a fear of the music-making itself, but the vulnerability that comes with it – that sense of revealing yourself, of not being good enough, of leaving yourself open to criticism.  Of being stripped bare, in some way. There is perhaps an inherent risk in music-making.

“Coming here today, I was worried I wouldn’t know enough,” one teacher confided. She added, “But it’s been good to find that wasn’t the case, and that there is lots I can do without having to be a music specialist first.”

Other teachers commented on the fear of the new – of having to step out of their comfort zones and be a beginner again in order to learn a new skill. “It’s a good reminder, though, of how our students must often feel,” one teacher suggested.

Music has a strange status in our culture – an artform that nearly everyone has a relationship with (in terms of favourite music and musicians to listen to, and in the way we build personal soundtracks to our lives) but that we are taught to distance ourselves from from an early age, as being something that is really only for the talented. Those that do get involved might be constantly challenging the little voices in their heads that compare them with others, tell them they don’t know enough, or chide them for trying to do this in the first place.

It’s a strange and uncomfortable thing, this insecurity. I wonder, does it ever truly end? I think about some of the professional musicians I’ve led training workshops with, and how so much of their discomfort about learning workshop skills and improvisation comes from a fear of ‘showing themselves up’, somehow (especially in front of their colleagues) – despite the tremendous expertise they have with their instruments, and musicianship in general.

Do other artforms engender as much fear? Do they feel as exposing? Do they bring forth the same kind of personal protective mechanisms? It is a reminder to those of us that teach and facilitate of the massive importance of the safety of the working space, by which I mean the way we establish an environment in which people feel able to let go of some of their personal protections in order to have some new musical experiences. And we need to ensure that every ‘event’ – every workshop, every class, every performance – brings with it a positive sense of success for the participants, some kind of feeling of exhilaration and wellness that will outweigh any fear they may have felt at the beginning or during the process, and bring them back again.

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