Why I Teach Music / by Melanie Ida Chopko

The last class round up of singing skills

The last class round up of singing skills

I'm super excited to be back in the rhythm of writing for this blog, and sharing some reflections I have as I continue down the road of both studying and writing music, and supporting adults to do the same.

I think alot about why our culture tends to classify a select few people as "singers" and musicians, and why learning music is seen as a sort of elite task unlike, say, learning how to drive. When I visited Brasil during Carnaval, for example, this was far from the case! I wonder if partly it has to do with that fact that music is made with our bodies, with vocal chords and fingers and hands. With a common denominator of body parts, it's pretty simple to imagine some fingers and vocal chords are just magically gifted from the heavens, rather than having a skill that is cultivated. And with our culture of ATMS and downloading stuff from the sky in seconds, it would be an understandable mistake.

One of my heroes Danny Gregory wrote a bit about this in his book The Creative License - What if we spoke about driving the same way? "I didn't learn how to drive as a kid, so there's no hope now." Or, "When I was a kid, I didn't show a special interest in cars, so I must not be meant to drive." Sounds crazy, right? 

What has become more interesting to me as a learner and teacher is recentering the word 'singer' around the verb - A singer is simply one who sings. She could be singing on a stage, sure, or for big money, but that verb lives also in a practice room, in a child's bedroom, while walking down the street. The very act of DOING it means I am it. Of course once I'm doing it, I can put time in on learning how to do all sorts of cool stuff - to shape my tone, how to sing harmony or melismas/vocal runs, how to be a storyteller. But it all comes back to the verb.

For a very long time, way longer than I'm proud to calculate, I lived with a sort of metta-fizzle when it came to the music verbs.  "If it takes time, if its hard and unfamiliar, it's not in the cards for me. My body can't do it." (I can still catch myself stuck in that mud, when I'm working on something unfamiliar and new). Seeing the freedom that comes from unbuckling that assumption is pretty much the reason I teach music at all. And, another amazing by product of being a verb is that it stacks up time and experiences that I can look back at, and see, holy moly, I learned stuff. The idea of cultivating a skill, just like growing a plant, just plain works.

I believe making sound, singing, is our birth rite as human beings - a practice intertwined with spoken language, and the very roots of human culture. What would be possible if these verbs were linked with the other verbs formerly so essential to human culture, verbs like growing, cultivating, tending to? What if I saw the harvest as inevitable?