This important new book by noted master teaching artist Eric Booth will become an essential reference, “a bible,” to any musician who teaches as part of their career. Booth makes the first of a number of bold statements in the opening pages, claiming that The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible, Becoming a Virtuoso Educator ”…aspires to change the way you define what teaching and art can be to one another, to your life, to music, and to our culture.” On a personal note, after reading the book, I realized that not only was I a teaching artist as he defined in the book, I was impatient to try out the ideas and thinking in the “Bible” with students and audiences in my own professional encounters.
The book is divided into eight parts, with the first, Context, developing a definition of what comprises a teaching artist and what they do. To understand and find this book useful, it is helpful to first understand the definition of a teaching artist, a relatively new term for an emerging profession in the mercurial arts education realm. A teaching artist is what was termed in earlier times a visiting artist, resident artist, or an artist educator and can refer to an artist in any medium: dance, drama, and art. He further defines a teaching artist as “an artist who chooses to include artfully educating others, beyond teaching the technique of the art form.” Further, “Teaching artists are the designated experts in the verbs of art. Their skills can support, guide, educate, and illuminate people’s capacity to individually succeed in creating artistic meaning in our best artistic offerings.” He makes the arguments that developing teaching artist skills will also improve you as a musician and include positive outcomes financially, artistically as well as fostering society’s engagement with the arts.
Part One also contains an essential description of the arts learning ecosystem (arts education realm) that overarches the art forms. The teaching artist has a different role in each of the strands that are defined as follows:
What flows from these six strands are twenty-five guidelines that teaching artists can draw from and from which they can improvise a teaching artist pedagogy. The guidelines include Placing a High Priority on Relevance, Tapping Competence, Never Forgetting Fun, Using Warm-up Activities, and the oft-repeated The Law of 80%. The Law of 80% is the author’s assertion that 80% of what you teach is who you are. Despite all of the planning and group management that one brings to the learner, Booth states, “as an artist, it is a spiritual responsibility to bring the best of ourselves to each opportunity, and not just pretend. Because they can tell.”
Any teaching artist wishing to improve will find much to absorb and appreciate in Part One and may find it difficult to move quickly into the other equally cogent chapters.
Part Two explores the terrain of the “Overlooked Essentials,” including Howard Gardner’s four essential roles of artistic learning and how it applies to educators in music. A chapter on the liminal zone (a transitional place between two places), the “inner place where we make connections that make our experiences of art, where we come to love new music…” is rich in ideas for teaching artists. I found this assertion especially attractive: “…we must become more skillful in slowing down our audiences’ passage through the liminal zone, helping them expand their repertoire of things to do when they don’t know what to do.”
Mr. Booth introduces the concept of an entry point in musical works in Part Three, Learning to be a Teaching Artist. The pith of the phrase is in his words, “the selection of one crucial entry point that lies at the heart of what you care about in the work of art, and invite people in experientially.” What follows are examples of entry points that cover the key elements in musical works in concert situations, chosen by a number of experienced teaching artists. These provide a practical array of sample lessons for the aspiring teaching artist.
Part Four offers among many other topics, such as mentoring and curriculum, a definition of school music programs and a wealth of helpful advice for setting up school residencies and performances. As well, his chapter Art for Art’s Sake or for the School’s Sake is a compelling summary of current thinking of the intrinsic benefits of an arts education and offers sage advice on how to negotiate this often difficult educational realm. Part Five offers a number of essays on current challenges for educators in music. The topics include Arts Integration:The Hot Zone, Reflecting on Reflection, The Do’s and Don’t of Assessment, Assessment and Feedback: Giving It and Getting It Right.
An interesting twist to the book occurs in Part Six, where the author ties the tenets of teaching artistry into planning music performances. Using an actual concert event as a model that used innovative and unconventional concert programming, the author espouses the use of engagement before information, tapping competence and the law of 80% found in an earlier essay, Guidelines for Teaching Artistry in developing a strategy to increase audience engagement, revenues and public interest. The chapter The Very Open Rehearsal (VOR) is a compelling look at a strategy in engaging audiences in music, especially young audiences.
Part Seven and Part Eight of the book develop, among other ideas, the notion, antithetical to traditional conservatory artist training, that the supplementary skills for musicians in such roles as educator, entrepreneur, advocate and communicator are as important as musical skills to create a sustainable and rewarding career. The author makes the argument that project-based learning is needed throughout a musician’s training (post-secondary) and that students should be assigned to concert production and promotion and in the creation of an education concert.
The simply titled essay The Private Music Lesson is brimming with ideas for the experienced and inexperienced music teacher. Such studio teaching attributes as the quality of the teacher’s listening, nurturing motivation and over-emphasizing musicality are provocative and a sobering reminder of the challenges facing private music teachers. The description of “El Sistema,” the world-class Venezuelan youth music network that has resulted in the acclaimed Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, is also compelling.
The final pages of the book detail the international arts education scene with illuminating and stimulating examples of what the Scots are doing in music education, and the encouraging news for gains in the arts realm thanks to the 2006 United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
This is a book that every musician should read. It has practical, useful advice that musicians will find tremendously inspiring and insightful. It will provide a touchstone and guide for years to come in the diverse situations that musicians may encounter.