Over the past several years as I attend conferences around the country and visit the exhibit areas, I've noticed an interesting trend developing. Displays of instruments and sheet music are becoming fewer and are being replaced by tour operators, promoters of festivals at far-flung destination resorts, uniform suppliers, and hawkers of every conceivable fundraising idea. It feels like I've fallen down the rabbit hole into a wonderland where music is a lower priority.
Why are these enterprises becoming so prominent? Obviously, they are proliferating because there is a market, and that disturbs me a bit. A lot of money is being spent on these ancillary activities. Since funding for these pursuits is never from school district budgets, it becomes incumbent on students and/or parents to raise the money. A lot of effort and time will be expended, and all of the money will leave town. The resulting student motivation might be for the wrong reasons. Community identification with and benefit from the musical activities could well be hard to discern. Simply put: is it necessary to raise and spend all this money to teach music effectively?
As music educators, we must instill in our students the importance of their performances being the very best no matter who or where the audience is. I submit we owe more to the parents and school people who make music possible for our kids than we owe to any out-of-town audience.
So much for my rant. I will admit views like mine probably come with "maturity." There was a time when I wanted to show colleagues with big names what a successful teacher I was, and travel seemed like a good opportunity. But I found that although I was a pretty good music teacher--I loved music and kids--I wasn't comfortable (and consequently wasn't successful) with raising money. So I decided to do all I could to help my students become successful players who loved music and each other, hoping that love of music would always be with them. I decided those were noble goals, and I resolved not to lose sight of them.
In the end, each of us has to work within our own comfort zone to create meaningful and memorable experiences for our students. It wouldn't hurt to remember that we owe the most to our communities, and our students should be anxious to serve the cause of music at home first and foremost. Efforts devoted to the cause of music will pay back much more than effort expended on fundraising, glitzy uniforms, competitions and travel. And that's as it should be, since it reflects what we are: music teachers.