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Reflections ...

I am 80 years old. Time magazine has the same number of years with Times Square, only twenty more. I am reminded of my mother's protestations on aging with her frequent paraphrase from Shakespeare's King Lear, "I don't require assistance in walking and rising, my hands don't tremble as if from palsy, and my mouth is not fretfully muttering to invisible companions."

Before all of the above begin to overwhelm me, I feel compelled to forward some shattering thoughts of teaching based upon my career: shattering because they are seldom connected to piano pedagogical practice.

Routing students to perfection seems to be the provenance for all lessons from the first to the most advanced. This is not how we learn to be artists. Rather, it is through passage from hesitation, vagueness and crudeness to psychological certainty and cognitive clarity that compels us toward excellence, a far more agreeable goal than perfection. In all of my years, I have neither heard nor seen anything that is perfect. I think that is a good thing! Is it not through its imperfections sound and stuff become beautiful?

I have, however, been thrilled by artistic behavior every day of my teaching life at all levels of learning with smudging and mucking sounds and activities, which create hives of a vibrating, creative buzz as students tweak, stretch, rearrange, magnify, cut, peel, carve with comments like, "Let's try it this way. No, maybe that way"; to "Make up your mind. No, not yet." Such behavior presages an artistic outcome because itself is artistic. When this mise en scene of self-discovery stabilizes the lesson, it reproduces itself throughout a musical life.

I am most sanguine about this environment. I have created it. I do it. When I don't, I am dyspeptic, and my students mirror my indigestion. It is the lemon problem: you can taste it, savor it, recall it, but really have no words for it. In the same way, notes can never express the feeling of sound. Phrases do. Physical experience does. Now the taste of sound begins. Ultimately, we must debate with ourselves if we can possibly learn to teach the most simple of musical phrase in much the same way as Michelangelo could see a face in a cloud, visualize a landscape in stains on the walls.

At the very least, a teacher is one who is at ease with shades of grey, one who pursues unrest marching toward excellence and one who is more alive than most. Certainly, not one who pursues the neurotic need of perfection. Jane Mayhall, the poet (her latest work Sleeping Late on Judgment Day) was remembered in this week's [March 22, 2004] New Yorker, when she recalled being present as Albert Einstein was interviewed at Black Mountain Experimental Arts College in North Carolina. Einstein was asked by his interviewer, "Which is the most important, art or science?" Einstein said, "No doubt in my mind, it's art. Art must come first, art and feeling." But our profession has not kept art and feeling at the forefront of its philosophy. The lack of curricula in the public schools attests to that.

Upon pulverizing perfection with smudgings, vagueness, unrest, aliveness, excellence, shades of grey, artistic behavior, I turn to what really matters. The people who know, the things we have learned from them and those things that influenced us most deeply and make us who we are.

First among them are my students; or was I the student, you the teachers? How would one know? Thank you. I love you.

Second, are my deans: Paul Oberg, University of Minnesota; George Howerton, Northwestern University; and Warner Imig, University of Colorado. With their vision of education and unfailing support, trust and freedom that each provided me, my courage was emboldened to create programs that were far in advance of the acceptance level of most of the professional mainstream and with some yet to be dreamed. Mary Ann Fleming Bryan reminded me last night that she conceptualized some of these innovations to those "wacky Duckworth things."

Third, are the Board of Directors of the Music Teachers National Association with their full membership. Fourth, are my guests Britt and David; Jeannie from Tranquillity, whose presence rounds the circle of my teaching career beginning in 1953 at Tranquillity Union High School. (Yes, Virginia, people live in Tranquillity.); and then Chuck. We have lifetime bonds with each other. I am grateful. Thank you. I love you.

Fifth, and finally, is Maria Farra, my wife of fifty-five years, international beauty and artist, whose talent and love have been my inspiration. In these late days, each of us can feel reduced to a speck, orbiting a speck in the middle of specklessness. But never, with Maria by my side, do I feel that way. Our mutual love continues to be a "lifetime achievement."

Does this event mean I have been squished into the establishment thing? I asked Becky Shockley that question last Friday at registration. She thought, put her fingers to her lips and mumbled, "That's a big jump."

Whatever! I remain stunned, proud and humbled. Maria and I, deeply grateful to Music Teachers National Association under the very capable direction of Gary Ingle, thank it for the FOUNDATION Fellow and Lifetime Achievement Awards that it has generously bestowed upon me.

On behalf of the MTNA Board of Directors and his more than thirty students present to honor him at the conference this week, I am happy to present the MTNA award for Lifetime Achievement to Guy Duckworth. I studied with Guy at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where, in 1970, he established the M.M. and D.M.A. graduate programs in Process of Group Environments: Piano Performance, Literature and Pedagogy. He had formerly held tenured positions at the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University.

I was in residence at Colorado for only three years, but his influence continues to fuel my life, my performing and teaching.

I invited Guy to perform a recital in 1976 at what is now Texas A&M University in Kingsville, Texas, where I was teaching at the time. The review of his excellent performance had the headline "Pianist Talented. " He was also talented as a teacher, person, colleague and friend.

During his public school education in Southern California, which emphasized John Dewey's progressive philosophy, Guy was apprentice-student musician at Warner Brothers and Metro Golden Mayer Studios under the guidance of pianists G.L. Chatterton and M. Rabinowitzi. He brought the Hollywood movie lot to his life's work producing the award-winning television series A New Dimension in Piano Instruction as well as numerous classroom video programs, which most all of his students "starred" in at sometime during their study The Person First and Together is his legacy of describing the processes involved in group teaching.

I can't begin to describe Guy's teaching and the ramifications of his conceptual approach to group teaching in less than a minute. Let me at least give you a glimpse of his work from my perspective as his student. In my piano lesson each week with three or four other doctoral students, his students would play and discuss problems we had in our music, then we got to work. While one played, group members at the other piano would project melodies, reinforce harmonies, conduct and dance to help one another Guy would facilitate and give encouragement, as well as shout admonishments. One day I was particularly tense in my performance of a Bach French Suite, and he yelled, "Sylvia, take off that fig leaf!"

I'll never forget observing Guy teach Priya, a smart and challenging six-year-old in one of my children's groups at Wichita State. Guy always said if a student goes up the wall, go up the wall with them. When Priya and her rhythm were all over the place, they ended up on the floor on their tummies singing "Happy Birthday" to Priya while moving their feet up and down to its meter.

It is a fitting coincidence that this year's Pedagogy Saturday theme was "Teaching for Independence, " since Guy's work embodies this principle. When Guy talks about his students, he describes with passion those moments of student insight when they get it. Just last week I heard him describe with emotion an incident with Ivan Frazier, who gleefully yelled after a successful experience during an MTNA Convention in Denver, "I improvised, I improvised, I really improvised!" Guy has always cared about his students as unique individuals. His teaching has truly been one of caring for the persons first, while maintaining the high standards of his impeccable musicianship. His inspired vision for music education will be remembered by many generations of piano teachers in the twenty-first century.

I present Dr. Guy Duckworth for the MTNA Achievement Award.

--Sylvia Coats, NCTM

Guy Duckworth, concert pianist, (Columbia Artists, New York City New York, Judson, Manager) began his teaching career at Tranquillity Union High School, California, and was documented in "More Than The Three Rs," Music Educator's Journal, November 1955 and "The New Studio," Etude magazine, March 1957. He is the recipient of the 1958 award for Outstanding Educational Series by the National Education Television network for his twelve-part series A New Dimension in Piano Instruction. He also is the creator of M.M. and D.M.A. degree programs entitled Process of Group Environments: Piano Performance, Literature and Pedagogy, University of Colorado, Boulder, which was documented by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in its 1984 video, Person First and Together. Duckworth is listed in Who's Who in America and Who's Who in Education.
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Author:Duckworth, Guy
Publication:American Music Teacher
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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