Clavier Companion - May/June 2017 - 9
Letters to the Editor
Richard Zimdars, Editor
Diversity in the teaching studio
There was a pianist
a third index finger
not to play the piano with
though it sometimes did intervene
in tricky passages
but to point things out
when both hands were busy
by Rachel Kramer and Bennyce Hamilton
usic is the universal language.
Once in a while
the finger shot from his nose
to expose an obstinate cougher in the hall
or emerged from beneath his tailcoat
beckoning a lady in the third row
In complicated fugues
you saw it rise to its full height
from under his shirt collar
indicating the theme in retrograde
when the harmony got muddled
it even turned against its owner
repeatedly knocking its knuckle
on his cranium
Whatever it wished to complain about
remained a mystery
for clearly the pianist was doing his best
and the audience
at such moments
held its breath
the finger disappeared
into the pianist's left upper pocket
one could sense
in the hall
a certain relief
The man with the videocamera
who had managed to record the scene
and the critic
eager to retain the exact wording
wrote down the title of his piece
One finger too many
My wife is a retired piano
Walk a mile in your neighbor's
teacher and has been a
shoes: Diversity in the
long-time subscriber to
your magazine and its
precursors. As a music
lover, I like to read it too
and appreciate it very
much. But I must object
to your foray into identity
politics ("Walk a mile in
your neighbor's shoes,"
From a practical point of view, what is a piano
teacher supposed to do? Advertise for minority
students? More importantly, from an ethical and
philosophical standpoint, mandated diversity is just
as reprehensible as mandated segregation. Forced
diversity helps neither the students nor the teacher.
-Walter Gerhold, Osprey, FL
- Alfred Brendel
From Playing the Human Game: Collected Poems of Alfred
Brendel (Phaidon Press, 2011), courtesy of Alfred Brendel.
Alfred Brendel, pianist and author, began writing poems
later in life. At age 86, he continues to lecture and write.
understanding helps people recognize different points
of view and see what it feels like to walk in another's
shoes. Dr. Hamilton's dissertation presents the idea of
becoming a reflexive, culturally-relevant practitioner.
Based on her research and current work we will lay the
groundwork for all of us to become more intentionally
inclusive in our studios.
This phrase has been in my vocabulary
since I was young enough to understand
what it meant. As I have become a
performing musician, music educator, and community
arts participant, I continue to believe the statement is
true. However, as I look at the faces in my studio and
consider the studios of my colleagues, I wonder just
how "universal" we really are.
Who exactly has a seat in our studio? Are there
more seats for students of a certain background?
For most of us we set a table of convenience, with
seats for those in our immediate community who are
interested, educated, and able to pay. While it is not
our intention to exclude anyone or refuse students, to
diversify means that we must do so with intention.
Take a moment to consider the faces that populate
your studio. What percentages are white, Christian,
educated, heterosexual, and middle class? Whether
you know the number or have not thought about it-
the time for an honest, reflective conversation is long
overdue. We need to address diversity deliberately
and intentionally within our everyday lives and within
Maya Angelou may be right when she said, "We are
more alike than unalike, my friends." Our understanding
and appreciation of diversity remains a crucial step
in building and maintaining community. How do we
find common ground? How are we being mindful of
the differences that exist? How can we change our
mindsets to be more inclusive? Our own educational
background is heaped in the traditions of Western
music. Does this limit our vision or the population of
Beginning the work of inclusion and diversity means
that we acknowledge that there are students who
are from all faiths/beliefs, races, and socioeconomic
levels. This could mean that we need to change our
registration forms to say "Guardians," instead of Mom
and Dad. This could mean that we need to change or
add to our recital themes or holiday breaks.
We must be intentional and purposeful. It is not
enough to think or say that you want your business
to reflect a diverse population. We must actively seek
out those who are not represented. Thinking about
our current students: Do they all come from the same
neighborhoods and schools? Are they all white? Are
they all Christian? Can they all afford music lessons?
Do they all have a Mom and Dad?
It is only after we have addressed these kinds of
questions that we can begin to operate differently.
Intention means that we go above and beyond our
usual way of conducting business. Intention means that
we are deliberate in how we find students, the materials
and methods we use, and how we retain students.
We must acknowledge that we do not have all of the
answers and that we can ask for help.
Let change begin
Culturally relevant pedagogy
Change begins with awareness of ourselves and
of our communities. Initiating conversations about
diversity may be the first actions we take. Dr. Bennyce
Hamilton is the Regional Director of Diversity for Miami
University of Ohio. Her work in leading workshops,
providing training, and developing "common ground"
Culturally relevant or responsive teaching is a
pedagogy grounded in teachers displaying cultural
competence: skill at teaching in a cross-cultural
or multicultural setting. This teaching enables
each student to relate course content to his or her
Where to begin
Unfortunately, Pete Jutras's excellent article regarding the defining characteristics of humility (Nov/Dec
2016) will most probably have very little impact, if
any, on limited narrow-minded traditionalists (no criticism intended), as the open-minded very naturally adhere to the concepts described without hesitation or
even counsel: preaching to the choir.
As it is probable that a few or more may mostly
remain in an almost intractable mold, this is very
reminiscent of my many years teaching in public
schools: innovative clinicians would be invited to the
schools at times to share innovative pedagogical ideas
to the staff. As almost all in attendance would gleefully
nod their heads in approval during the sessions, almost
all, upon observation, would seem to revert back to
their natural teaching styles once back in their own
On the other hand, for those capable of being influenced and those who can acknowledge non-traditional
tastes and approaches-"truth has many faces"-it
also seems crucial to highly value one's own natural
inclinations, subject of course to continued growth
and development, delivered with conviction and confidence. And yes, humility.
Bottom line: We are mostly at our best contributing
when being true to ourselves.
-Fred Barnett, Lake Grove, NY
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