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Music Education: What is your Definition?

It is 6.45pm on a Monday evening and I just ended a class with my student. Suddenly, my phone buzzed: It is a Whatsapp message from a parent.

A’s Mum: "Hi Teacher Marilyn. The result of the piano competition is coming out. I forwarded the email to you."

Excitedly, I quickly opened my e-mail inbox and read the forwarded email. In it, the organizers informed me (or rather my student) that he was not selected for the piano competition’s Regional Finals. A lot of thoughts went through my mind, but the first thing that came up was this:

"I need to call my student and check on his psychological well-being. "

And so, I called.

The mummy and I had a quick chat over the phone.

Honestly, I was slightly disappointed that he did not get through again - the first time he entered a competition of this pedigree was last year. The amount of effort and time we have put in for this competition was immense.

Yet, in the conversation, A's mum touched my heart by saying:

"'A' has been with you for close to 2 years. In these years, I have seen such a huge progress in him. From the first time he was struggling to now, playing one of Mozart's Sonata pieces in second movement. If he continues to keep his interest, all else doesn’t matter anymore. Competition or not, this is just a phase of his life, and we are just very happy that he has gotten this far...

“Thank you, Teacher Marilyn, for everything. For instilling a lifelong passion and interest for music in my son.”

This statement automatically struck a chord and brought me back to the first day when I started out as a music teacher – greenhorn and extremely raw in my teaching. Back then, the 18-year-old me had started asking,

“What is music education to me?

Are chasing after grades and papers part of music education?

Or learning all the pieces that composers wrote?

Or perhaps music education is the joy of music making?”

16 years on and still standing strong, I “carry” these questions with me. Whether in teaching preschoolers as an early childhood music teacher or having a “friendly debate” with like-minded friends and prominent figures in the music field, all of us will have different definitions about music education. Yet our purpose stays true till this day:

“For instilling a lifelong passion and interest in Music for all walks of life.”

I think that is a huge, responsible statement - sometimes, I am not even sure of myself! If it is ever possible that we can hold true to this statement for ourselves, as teachers for our learners.

We could sometimes be so caught up with a lot of requests, needs and wants from our stakeholders (which is the children and the parents) that we may unknowingly lose sight of our purpose and objectives as music teachers.

As for me, my objective is simple and clear (and I am still hoping that I do not lose sight of it):

Music Education is and should be for everyone, young and old. It should not be restricted to certain types of economic status or for people who wants to do paper and grades chasing but rather, to spread the love and awareness that making and understanding music in general can bring joy and happiness to every one of us.

How about you? What is your definition of “Music Education”?

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