Music Education as Sacred Practice: A Philosophical Exploration
I am writing this while snowed-in at my cabin which is at an elevation of 6200 feet in the mountains two hours east of Los Angeles. It will be at least a day before the road to the house is plowed and probably another six to eight hours until “Mountain Mike” comes by to clear the driveway which will allow me to physically reenter the world. For those who live in snowy climates, times such as this are probably a routine part of seasonal life. However residing in Southern California, where even rain is an increasingly rare occurrence, the wonder that accompanies being isolated by an intense late winter storm is miraculous. The crisp air, the complete stillness, and the solitude that is impossible to find in the city create a truly sacred space. It allows me to reflect on how I have come to view my professional life as a music teacher educator to be a very special form of sacred practice.
For individuals who have never taught, preparing young people to take on the multiple roles and responsibilities required in music teaching appears to be a straight forward process. All that appears necessary is to provide future educators with basic musical knowledge, classroom management techniques, and a few practice teaching experiences. However, this is never enough. In many ways, future teachers are spiritual seekers. For many of my students music teaching is a calling rather than an avocation and they hold a deep belief that their work will make a real difference in the lives of their own future students. I treat the teacher preparation process as a sacred practice that has no single pathway. I must act as a caring guru who guides rather than forces, who builds deep connections among students so that they will have a professional community for support upon entering the profession, and who regards every aspiring candidate as a special person who will have a unique role to fill in the lives of their own future students. My role must be to provoke thought, rather than instill dogma.
Writing my chapter, Music Education as Sacred Practice: A Philosophical Exploration, increased my own awareness of how grateful I am for being able to work in the field of music education and how much my students have given me. The new graduates who are young and still very excited about teaching, as well as the many who are no longer so young, are doing interesting things in many different areas of music. A few perform in professional orchestras, some play in the Hollywood recording studios and others work in music publishing. Of course, most teach. I am always amazed at how much I have learned and continue to learn from my students. The challenges they present require adjusting my thinking, actions and very ways of being so that they might fully evolve into creative musician-teachers. Time in the mountains and the opportunity to write provide me with the sacred time I need to feel grateful for what I have. This helps me understand that my teaching is a sacred practice which allows me and my students to learn from and nurture each other.
--- Professor Frank Heuser, Music Education, Department of music, University of California, Los Angeles, USA