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The headwinds of entropy.

The "ad lib" in the previous issue described how being an insistent quality control gatekeeper for student recitals can help participants perform better due to positive peer modeling ("Keep The Line Movin'"). But even though occasionally saying, "No--sorry," to a student may be necessary, it's never easy.

A week before my studio recital last spring, I was surprised when an 11-year-old student had difficulty just getting through his intended performance pieces. The week before, his music had been in respectable shape, and I had envisioned how expressively and confidently he would perform after another week's improvement. That would be special because this student's work had been subpar for three years. Then last January, he made an abrupt turnaround in his home practice and did well for several months. Recently, he voluntarily shared some personal struggles about his self-image, so I also knew his trust in me had deepened.

Seeing him unexpectedly not prepared for the upcoming recital presented a quandary because I couldn't discern the reason (despite asking), so I wasn't sure whether to audition him again in a few days. After he left, his mother informed me he was going to be out of town for three days on a Cub Scout camping trip, but she didn't think that would be a problem because "he'll be back home at least an hour before the recital."

That cinched my decision--I couldn't allow him to perform on the recital because he would likely play poorly. That would be counterproductive toward building a better self-image and could also have a deleterious effect on other students playing after him (see the last issue). I explained all this to his mother, plus what students need to do on the day of a performance to be focused and centered. She seemed to understand but that evening, the student's father phoned and also asked for an explanation. Despite doing my best to sensitively clarify the reasons for my decision, he gradually became angry and accusatory, and intimated they would look for a different teacher next semester.

I felt terrible for days afterward. Sleeping on it confirmed my decision was the right one because it was in the best interest of that particular student and also the others at the event. But in the wake of that decision were casualties: a disappointed student--he didn't yet know why I made the decision, hearing only his parents' perspective; at least one parent with disparaging views on my professional intentions and judgment; and myself feeling sad and frustrated that doing my job fittingly might mean the termination of a relationship with a family I've known for a long time.

Unfortunately, that frustration inappropriately leaked out in my dealings with a different family later that week. I apologized but subsequently felt embarrassed about the boundary violation I had inadvertently committed.

Time has passed, and both families did re-register for the summer and fall semesters, but the tone of my relationship with the parents has modulated into an uncertain key.

People in positions of leadership--we teachers--know this dilemma too well. To do what is right, to look out for the welfare of our students while maintaining high musical and educational standards, can at times be very, very difficult. Not just because of having endured the emotional aftermath of past similar situations, but because there always seem to be forces in us and well-meaning people around us unwittingly tempting us to take the easy way out, to make decisions that might cause less angst or ruffle fewer feathers. The headwinds of entropy always surround us, psychologically and physically.

This seems to also be true in institutions lacking committed leadership. Throughout such organizations, fewer "hard" decisions tend to be made when the going gets rough--when a price must be paid. Task forces spawn rousing plans with great enthusiasm and earnestness, grand plans which then fizzle away into eddies of timid decision-making after the inevitable drag of implementation occurs.

More often than we wish were true, the best decisions may be unpopular and may kindle a host of powerful emotions in our students and parents, colleagues, superiors and ourselves. Yet, the goals remain--the pursuit of excellence in our students and wisdom in our teaching, despite the unceasing presence of other paths of less resistance.

Bruce Bert is an independent piano and pedagogy teacher in Glenview, Illinois, where he works with children, as weft as other piano teachers. He is a former university professor and is known nationally as a clinician, educational composer and author. He is also associate editor of Clavier Companion magazine. Please visit
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Title Annotation:ad lib
Author:Bert, Bruce
Publication:American Music Teacher
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2013
Previous Article:Leadership.
Next Article:In the spirit of collaboration.

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