A few weeks ago, I began working on the song Titanium with a student. It was an exciting choice on my student’s part, as it fit her voice and style quite well. Later that day I came across the PS22 (choir-renowned public school) cover of the song and it got me thinking about the purpose of music lessons. Before you read the rest, watch the cover here.
You shout it out
But I can’t hear a word you say
I’m talking loud not saying much
I’m criticized but all your bullets ricochet
You shoot me down, but I get up
I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose
Fire away, fire away
Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium
A good music instructor should teach proper technique, strengthening exercises, ear training, musicianship, and performance practices. These dimensions can apply to any instrument—voice too—and can be neatly displayed at recitals and bundled up in progress reports. Each of these facets form the skeleton of the music education experience, which is fundamental to the development of an artist, and is continually being rebuilt and renewed. A lot of effort is spent building and bolstering that skeleton on both the student’s and mentor’s sides.
But at its best, music and, by extension, music education are more than the sum of quantifiable, progress reportable parts. Music is the message that those parts—the melodies, and harmonies, the rhythms, and the dynamics—speak to the performer and to the audience. If you lose that, you may still have a cold, dead skeleton, but you lose the heart.
As music educators, at our best, we help our students find a part of their song that speaks to them, and acts as a vehicle for their emotions and soul. On a practical level, that leads towards a more convincing and attention-catching performance. But the student catches something more important in the message that they can apply to their lives. It may be a small lesson, like finding the strength to get back up when someone’s criticisms shoot you down. But that can be rather major, after all.
Sometimes, students simply like the song – like the last boy in the video. Even then, there is something lasting from the experience of sharing the music with others and seeing others respond to it. That feeling of connection and success stays with you long after the song ends, and long after the stage fright ebbs away.
It’s that feeling that can make students young and old feel bulletproof.
It’s that feeling that can make students believe they are titanium.
That’s what we’re after.