Headmaster Blog for September 12, 2013: The Wonder of Music-Making

The Wonder of Music-Making
(not just listening)

Please indulge me in a bit of vision-casting. . .

We are a Classical School, and in the vocabulary of the contemporary Classical academic culture that means that the Trivium frames our philosophy of education. In truth however, the Trivium was only ever intended by the ancients as a primer for the Quadrivium; the Trivium provided the tools to tackle the meat and substance of the larger curriculum. The Quadrivium is: 1. Arithmetic, 2. Geometry, 3. Astronomy and, last-but-by-no-means-least, 4. Music.

In our master curriculum we [begin to] address the first three elements of the Quadrivium and, in addition, teach some music appreciation. However, that is not the heart of why or what the ancients considered as music instruction. Listening to and knowing about music is fine-and-good (and easy in our wired culture), but throughout the ages music has been primarily a verb and not a noun; music was-and-is something that you do.

In his captivating book, This is Your Brain on Music, neuroscientist [and musician] Daniel Levitin presents a fascinating mosaic of how deeply one’s brain is engaged when playing–not listening to–music. There are parts of our brain that are virtually untapped except when playing music. Data shows that, in all the mapping that has been done of brain function, the brain is never more fully engaged than when playing music. As Christian educators I believe we have an inherent responsibility to provide a venue for our students to plumb these depths.

Why teach music performance in a Classical School? There are some obvious reasons: 1. Music is a science (acoustics, frequencies, intensities, volume variation, melody, harmony, etc.); 2. Music is mathematical (rhythms are the subdivisions of time into fractions); 3. Music is a foreign language (almost all music notation is in Latin); 4. Music is history (the composition of music almost always reflects, in some way, the time in which it was written); 5. Music is physical education (the performance of music in its different venues requires fantastic coordination of fingers, hands, arms, lip, cheek and facial muscles, etc.); 6. Finally, music is fine art.

I am deeply convicted that Summit should be a place where the fine arts flourish (especially graphic art, multi-dimensional art, theater and music performance). Leland Ryken says we are living in a culture that is “losing touch with any concept of beauty”. In Ephesians 2:10 the Apostle Paul says “. . . we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. That word “workmanship” translates the Greek, poema, from which we get our word “poem”. Poema means, “A work of art, that which is beautiful.” Paul’s point is that we are God’s works-of-art, and the “good works” that we are intended to do are defined by, and should reflect that beauty. This fundamental mandate should infect everything that we do, not the least of which the way we educate our children.

Where am I going with this? I recently had the privilege of meeting Winnie Dungey. Winnie grew up in a missionary home in both Taiwan and Guam and went to Wheaton College where she met her husband, Philip (band director at Eastside Catholic). Both were music performance majors (Phil trumpet and Winnie violin). Winnie has a Masters from the prestigious Cleveland Institute of Music. As my conversation with Winnie unfolded I discovered that she played for years with the Seattle Symphony under Gerard Schwarz, has played with the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Seattle Opera, and is currently playing with the Fifth Ave. Theater in Seattle. In addition, Winnie is the Premier Piano Accompanist for the Washington State Solo and Ensemble Competition and is affiliated with the Seattle Youth Symphony; we are talking about a world-class violinist and pianist. Winnie has also given extensive instruction in stringed instruments (her hourly rate is $70.00).

The violin is a remarkable work-of-art in its own right–and an ensemble of violins provides a remarkable forum for teaching melody, harmony, “singing” in parts, the physical aspects and intricacies of creating music, etc. The violin is a great threshold-instrument and foundation for physical music-making from which students can easily transition to other instruments. In the course of our conversation Winnie shared with me that she has felt burdened to be in a more intentional education-setting with her music–and has been praying to that end (I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation with an esteemed violinist of a major orchestra). I shared the vision with her that I have just described in this Newsletter and asked how she might be involved at Summit (and was she willing to do so?).

We talked about introducing the Fifth and Sixth grade to the violin to the end that a Summit string ensemble be formed. This would involve Winnie being on campus three days a week, one hour per day. Students would receive violin and music performance instruction at the rate of $10.00 per student per hour. Considering the source of instruction, it is my opinion that this is an opportunity that presents itself to any of us very rarely.

I think it important to present you with this opportunity. Shinichi Suzuki, the founder of the acclaimed music teaching method that bears his name, said: “Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.” Suzuki’s words are true. I have no idea what Suzuki’s spiritual inclination was, but I do know that all truth is God’s truth.

Thank you all for your patience in reading this [lengthy] Newsletter.  I encourage you to think, discuss, pray about the opportunities shared in this note and then give me and the board your feedback. I look forward to hearing your thoughts ASAP.

Summit Bulletin Board

  • ALERT!!!!!! From this point on you will pick up your student from their classrooms, NOT from the sanctuary. The Scottish poet, Robert Burns, famously said, “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.” We thought the sanctuary would work for pickup—we were wrong. Thank you for your understanding and patience.
  • Summit classes need room mothers. Please contact Tammy McCabe to discuss this and other opportunities with the Summit PVO!
  • Be on the lookout for information about the Summit Back-to-School BBQ on the 13th. Again, contact Tammy M. if you are interested in helping with this event.
  • If you have car-pooling, or other needs/opportunities, they can be placed on this bulletin board.
Headmaster Blog for September 12, 2013: The Wonder of Music-Making