So this evening I was watching Frontline on PBS. (yes I was watching public television, I do despite my last blog, maybe I am a hypocrite but we do need to consider fixing that problem, but that’s another rant that I don’t wish to re-hash at this time) The episode featured a classic documentary about how an educator named Jane Elliot did an experiment where she divided her class based on eye color in an effort to teach a lesson on racism. My mother had recommended it to me a while back during a discussion we had had about class or something, I don’t recall it now. I had only seen a little clip of it a while ago but tonight I actually watched the whole thing.
Now, before I continue I just want to say that I don’t mean to make light of what the message of the documentary, it is about racism. However, in watching it I feel I can see some other results of such an experiment and in typical Tom fashion I see some musical implications. For some reason I always tend to see things through the lens of music, my experiences, and my students. What I did see (aside from the racial implications) was that people who are singled out and told that they are of no value or their shortcomings are paid extra attention to tend to perform poorly. The teacher noticed that on the day that the students were in the singled out group, they under performed, yet on the day that they were the dominant group they excelled. Later the documentary showed a group of adults had gone through a similar experiment. The adults that were in the “oppressed” group became defiant and were almost unwilling to learn or participate. I don’t mean to give a book report on the documentary but I did want to give a little background.
So as most things do, I was thinking about how this related to music. As I was thinking I couldn’t help but think about myself. I went to UMASS Lowell and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I feel a little inferior around some friends that went to schools like Berklee or New England Conservatory. I sometimes feel I need to justify my education, talk it up a little bit, which is silly if you think about it. I’m a pretty good player and composer, where I went to school doesn’t matter, what matters is what I do now. Yet the fact that I got my education from a state school (musically the second or third school in the state system according to some) seems to make me feel like less of a player sometimes. This is especially stupid considering I have met some players from the “awesome” schools that aren’t that great, but that mark is hard to erase some times. I know some people that I went to school with (I’m not naming names) that I feel are downright embarrassed about the fact that they did not go to some ridiculously good school. One such person adds this onto his issue of feeling bad about the fact that he doesn’t come from an affluent family and wasn’t able to afford to go to such a school. I couldn’t either. That person seems to go through life trying to be part of the “cool kids” if you will, obviously feeling inferior to better musicians, especially ones that went to one of these schools. It’s really interesting because just like the people in the documentary my friend is held back by his self inflicted inferiority. As a player he just doesn’t seem to ever get over that hump, nor does he have the ability to truly create from an inspired, boundary free place. There may be many other factors that work against him but I see this as one big issue that he deals with. I am a little different, I have never been one of the chosen or the cool kids, I’m me and quite frankly I just don’t give a crap. Although, sometimes I still feel a little “less” than others (very rarely, but I do). I’ve also been doing this long before I even thought about college so I just focus on what I always have, making good music.
My original thought in all of this was; if kids choose to play guitar, bass, drums, are they subject to being excluded from education in such a way that inflicts that felling of inferiority? I think so. Think about how the guitar player in the school jazz band is the “joke” of the group. What’s that old band teacher joke? “How do you get a guitarist to stop playing? Put a sheet of music in front of him.” The guy that made up that joke is a fucking asshole and I hope he was fired from his band director job when he told it to the other band teachers. Let’s face it the rock guitar kids are thought of as a lost cause by band teachers. Why? Well probably because the teachers didn’t grow up playing rock, nor guitar. How would expect them to understand such kids. When it comes to including these kids in school music, well…”No Rockers Need Apply” Poor kids. The door to music education is closed to them. I couldn’t help but think that this inferiority complex would affect their development. I see that the need to improve musicianship lacks in some students and/or their friends. I ask is it because of this inferiority issue? Again, I think so.