I've been slow on the blog updates here, but in 2015 I aim to rectify that. Over the coming months I'll be adding regular entries here, discussing a range of topics that arise in different areas of my life as a musician and teacher.
My teaching life resumes next week after the summer break. As any sessional music teacher will understand (except perhaps guitar teachers!), this is the time of trepidation, not knowing whether or not you will have enough students to pay the mortgage and the bills. I've been fortunate enough to have worked in a number of excellent music departments over the years, but that doesn't necessarily lead to wage security. We rely on many different factors in order to build a good student list that can be sustained.
Firstly, our own skill as a teacher, which helps in getting current students to continue. Poor teaching loses students quicker than anything else.
We are also reliant on the strength of the department as a whole. Having an enthusiastic and energised Head is vital, but having a whole team of quality instrumental staff is important too, especially where those staff are also directing the school's ensembles. Having an ensemble program that ties in with individual music lessons is one of the best ways to build consistent success in a music department. All of the best programs that I have worked in have done this incredibly well. They built a culture of excellence that was shared by all the staff and students. That is not to say that these departments produced the highest level of musicians, or the competition winning bands. Rather, these departments found ways to engage the most students, and they engaged them for more than just year 7. Band numbers were healthy at all levels, and there were good student numbers on a really wide range of instruments. I've seen it in many schools where there have been dozens and dozens of guitarists, but no bassists. Or 30 violins and one cello.
That in itself is a major problem, and I think that the societal expectation of what schools should offer has forced many music departments to "cave" to the whimsy of both student and parents. So if this is the new reality, school music programs must find a way of making a diverse program work. In my experience, programs dominated by one or two instruments simply don't survive.
I don't have the perfect solution to this problem, but it is worth considering the broader implications of unbalanced music programs.
And young guitarists who might be thinking about it, you should seriously look at bass. Get good and you'll always have a gig!