Sunday, October 23, 2011


(First posted in 2008):
Yesterday, I was listening to a Schubert quintet in the early morning before class, and I began focusing on the wonderful harmony in the music. One definition of harmony is “a pleasing combination of elements in a whole”, and I certainly heard that in this piece of music. I especially noticed the contrast between the deep-sounding, unhurried cello and the sprightly, fast-paced violin. There were moments of soft, slow sounds interspersed with periods of almost skittish sounds – times of near silence balanced with periods of practically riotous sounds. This was true harmony – a pleasing combination of the most varied and opposite elements. It started me thinking about my teaching. I have an infinite variety of students – quiet, loud, shy, noisy, diffident, self-assured, and so on – and my job as their teacher is to, like Schubert, blend them together in a “pleasing combination”. I’m sometimes tempted to over-emphasize the work of the confident, voluble students – to gauge the success of a class by how well the “smart”, talkative kids take charge -- but to do that would ignore the natural harmony of the class. Who wants to listen to a piece of music in which only fast-paced, high-pitched violins are heard? A conductor needs the voices of the languid cellos and basses every bit as much as those of the elevated and lively violins and clarinets, and a teacher needs the silent, pensive students as much as the vociferous ones. Diversity, not uniformity, is the necessary ingredient for harmony -- in music as well as in teaching.

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