Amid now 186 pages and just shy of 45,000 words I take a minute to revisit one of my favorite hashtags on Twitter – #grindneverstops – and apply that to a lifestyle in music education. Notice the difference – I said lifestyle, not a job. The one thing I have tried to impress upon assistant directors with whom I have worked and student teachers that I have mentored is that our vocation is a lifestyle. We keep odd hours. We go back into work after work is done. We put the product of our teaching on display in events that celebrate learning and can enrich the culture and appreciation for artistic endeavors within our communities. That all being said, and as noble as it sounds – it is part of the grind.
Any profession has those responsibilities which can seem monotonous, purposeless, and even torturous to the most optimistic. Ours in music education is no different – call it our shared humanity I guess. I view them as necessary evils, and not the responsibility may be inherently evil at all. They require our time and attention. In some way, shape, or fashion, those duties which we must carry out (though not wanting to) do matter to someone along the way. Nothing puts more pressure on us in our daily grind than time, and having enough time to accomplish what we really want to do can seriously alter our perceptions of those things we deem not important (the “evils” if you will).
I have maintained that the hardest part of being successful in music is that you must keep on being successful. Nobody that I have ever met in the field of music has accomplished something monumental then decided “You know what? I’m going to lower the bar back down a few notches”. I heard Marcia Neel say something very profound at a presentation a while back that has stuck with me even further. I’m perhaps paraphrasing a bit, so bear with me: “Successful people don’t know how to be anything but successful.” Robert Foster Jr. once told me that you do two things in music – get better or worse. If you stay the same, you’re getting worse because somebody else is getting better. And that sentimentality too adds to “The Grind”.
Many of us hold positions as a department chair and are tasked with trying to meet the requests of other colleagues while staying within the financial and philosophical boundaries of our superiors. Others hold our staff meetings with a cup of drive-thru coffee on our way to work as we provide education and leadership to students across multiple grades in the classroom and in the rehearsal hall. Some face community expectations for continual excellence that is only answered by trophies and awards at festivals, while others are largely ignored in their community until the pep band doesn’t show up to every game or the band doesn’t play the fight song after a touchdown…for the 8th time in the game. This too becomes part of our “Grind”.
We plan, we budget, we predict, we recruit. We are thinking about next year’s schedule while trying to get this year’s uniforms returned. We look for opportunities to enrich the experience for our own students while trying not to spread our own efforts and attention to thin. We provide leadership to our colleagues through professional organizations, and look for opportunities to be enriched ourselves through attending conferences and clinics. Again, noble thoughts and aims that add to our “Grind”.
We are held to higher standards because we ourselves demand them in the classroom and rehearsal hall. We are expected to go beyond the boundaries of our duties because we expect greatness and excellence as our way – not a destination. We all our burdened with this “grind” because we believe anything is possible through the efforts of our labors. Our ability to accept the “grind” of our profession will largely determine the length and quality of our stay in this profession. We are all working as part of a shared human experience that is enriching, satisfying, and fulfilling. Don’t think that you for a minute are alone in your struggles, your fears, and your worries. We are all experiencing a grind in various stages of various sorts. We have the good fortune of connecting with our colleagues and friends across social media to support and share with each other. And if that fails, might I suggest downloading an App to your camera or social media manager that allows you to place telephone calls to friends? ;^) Embrace the grind, it never stops.