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Teacher and Musician?

Sometimes you have to prove it…

On Tuesday, 30th April 2013, I had an interview for the Director of Music position at Wimbledon College and I’m delighted to say that my application was successful. To say that it was just an interview, however, would be an understatement. I doubt that any teacher would be surprised to hear that I had to teach a lesson before the interview but the other elements of the day may surprise a few people. I should start by clarifying that Wimbledon College is an all boys, comprehensive (state) school. The reason that I feel compelled to blog about the experience is that it really did give me the opportunity to show that I am a musician as much as a teacher.

When I received the invitation to interview I was surprised to see that I was asked to conduct the school choir singing ‘O quam gloriosum’ by Victoria, which they had “not sung recently”. I’m perfectly happy to conduct a choir but it was the first time I had ever been asked to do so for an interview. It was, effectively, an opportunity to show the following musical and teaching skills:

  • a variety of conducting techniques (changing technique to suit the passage)
  • musical analysis (explaining to pupils the relationship between their parts and the composer’s intentions)
  • ‘note bashing’ and diagnostic teaching (helping pupils to learn their parts but varying my teaching strategy in reaction to the quality of their musical response)
  • developing professional relationships (allowing all of our personalities to be exposed by the musical processes at hand)
  • creating a structured rehearsal (delivering warm ups, note bashing, diagnostic rehearsing and a run through takes a lot of structure in a twenty minute session!)

Although I’ve never experienced this before in an interview process, it’s certainly something that I’d consider introducing next time the opportunity to interview for a new teacher comes along. There are certain elements of teaching that are hard to spot in a classroom observation with unfamiliar pupils that are more clearly evident when engaging in such a musical activity.

The other part of the day that I wasn’t expecting came in the form of an audition. I was asked to perform a piece on an instrument of my choice (electric guitar) for an audience of two. Considering that I’ve never taken a graded exam on an instrument and that I can’t remember doing an examination recital since I was in sixth form, this gave me an opportunity to be reminded of what we often ask the pupils to do (and why I’m so keen on qualifications that replicate ‘real world’ performing experiences). Again, however, it gave me an opportunity to demonstrate skills that are hard to get across in a ‘one off’ lesson with an unfamiliar class:

  • choosing appropriate repertoire (playing a technically demanding piece that is within my comfort zone but can be performed without accompaniment)
  • ability to engage with an adult audience when introducing a piece (introducing myself, the piece and some musical/historical/social context)
  • the ability to think on the spot (I was asked to perform another piece and if I could improvise)
  • my understanding of the role of my instrument in lessons (explaining how I approach the teaching of electric guitar in lessons)
  • how I see myself as a musician (the extent to which I musically engaged with the piece and how I explained my musical decisions)

This blog was started on the basis that I believe classroom musicians should be both ‘teacher and musician’ but I had never considered auditioning a candidate before. Of course, I would have loved the opportunity to show my composing, sound engineering and music business skills but, since performing is such an integral part of what we expect from our pupils, I see a genuine value in hearing this side of a musician’s identity.

Would I recommend this process for the appointment of all classroom music teachers? No, each school needs to ask what they need from their selection process. Do I think that this experience gave me a chance to show myself at my best? Absolutely. For anyone who sees musicianship as a central part of what happens in the music classroom, I strongly encourage you not to be frightened of any interview where you get the opportunity to show your musicianship. It’s a chance to show yourself for the teacher and musician that you truly are.