Musical Accountability

What follows is a revision of the speech I delivered to the underclassmen at my school’s band banquet in May of 2012. If this speech is of use to any of you who address your students at a formal gathering over the next year, please feel free to quote as needed as you prepare your program. The purpose of the speech was to challenge the students to add the dimension of accountability to their musical mindset.

What is accountability? Any dictionary acknowledges that it is an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions. Simply put as it might apply to any musical ensemble it is responsibility to someone or for some activity. Musical ensembles tend to be a bit active, so I hope that you can see the value of accountability.

One idea that I have spoken on and written about the past few years about is Reimer’s idea that musical experiences can shape more ethical people. The values of cooperation, competence, courage, respect and trust can be important to the inner workings and development of any musical organization. Accountability is not a new concept by any mean, but I would suggest that it can be – much like what I need before getting corn-rows – an extension of what is already there.

Why do we need accountability? My friend and colleague Dr. Joseph Pisano at Grove City College often remind each other that the toughest thing about being successful is that we have to keep on being successful. There is no auto-pilot for maintaining success. The more success we experience, the more accountability we need to make sure the steps that made us successful before are not ignored or skipped over. Past success does not guarantee future success, and accountability is the watchdog that keeps the proverbial adolescents from acts of foolish abandon on the proverbial site that has not been desecrated. On one level, accountability keeps the neighbor kids off my lawn. But it can also remind the students what they need to have done, when it needs to be done, and why it is important.

How do we account for accountability? The stress and pressure of other things in our own lives and those of the students we teach puts demands on our time. Some pressure is good pressure – need I remind you that no pressure means no diamonds. But sometimes it creates nagging guilt – nagging guilt when individuals realize that they have not the time to fulfill their full obligation to the organization and honor the efforts of others who have fulfilled that obligation. Those people become preoccupied – it creates in them a sense of worry, instead of an act of agency and accountability.

Accountability helps students to understand what they can control. Accountability helps students to understand their responsibilities to others in their organization and the traditions of their program, to make those people and obligations priorities, and gives students the chance to establish advance decisions that help them realize goals. Many of their goals will be realized through the interdependency they develop with one another. Accountability flourishes in situations like these. Iron sharpens iron, and heat forges it into steel. So too the relationship with others that has been built upon trust, respect, and cooperation allows them to sharpen each other. The demands of performances call their competence and courage to the front provides the heat.

Making accountability part of a musical ensemble’s daily diet isn’t going to tune the woodwinds, improve diction in the bass section, or improve the bowing technique of the strings. Accountability will make the people responsible for performing such tasks more receptive to instruction, and more honorable in their fulfilling their obligation to others in their ensemble.

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