A Parable

Terry Koch

And it came to pass that there was a youth who was given the gift to make music. He did make music day and night, unto his mother and his father, and unto the youths with which he did attend the temple school.

There came a teacher unto that school who peradventure did notice the youth who made music all the day. And he did carefully instruct the youth in the ways of melody, harmony, rhythm and form. The youth grew in the wisdom and knowledge of music.

It came to pass that the time came for which all the youths did yearn; when their days of learning at the temple school would be accomplished. Each one said unto himself, "Lo! I must go and enroll at the seat of higher learning, that my wisdom may greatly increase, and that I may prepare for that work which my Father in heaven hath chosen for me." So the youth did travel to a far country and did enroll at the great school of learning.

When the day which was set aside for each youth to choose his studies did come, the youth said unto himself, "I shall go in unto the learned teachers and verily they shall be able to tell me which path of learning to follow that I might know what to study and to show myself approved." The youth went and the learned professors did administer examinations. And lo! They found that the youth made music greatly. So they said unto him, "Knowest thou not that thou hast been given a great talent in music? Apply thyself to its study and thou shalt be blessed!"


So the youth did study music day unto day, and night unto night. And lo, he did question in his heart,

"Wherewith shall I go and use this talent? Shall I sing unto the Lord, or play upon an instrument of strings, or blow the horn or beat the timbrel? Or shouldest I become a teacher of music to help other young people?"

But the voice of a companion didst strive with the youth.

"Thou hast a great talent! Dost thou not know that thou canst sing and play before the people and they will give thee great riches and treasures and they will praise you and will call you great and wonderful and will ask you to write your name upon pieces of parchment that they may keep forever? Why dost thou want to waste thy talent on children when thy fame canst be spread across the land?"

The youth was puzzled within his breast and did not know what to do. So he did go to speak unto his teacher and tell unto him his problem. And of a truth the teacher did say,

"My son, I cannot tell thee which pathway to take. Only thou canst decide that. But thou shouldst remember how thou wast taught when thou wert but a young child. Verily, I say unto thee that many students who have come to this great place of learning do not wish to become teachers of music to the young. But the temple schools have need of dedicated teachers of music. If thou art so inclined, I wouldst suggest that thou shouldst think carefully and ask thy Father in heaven to lead thee in the way thou shalt go."

So the youth went unto his room, and shut himself within his closet. And he did petition the Lord day and night.

"O Lord, Thou knowest my coming and going. Hast Thou a place for me in Thy kingdom where I may work for Thee? Cause me to understand Thy will, 0 Lord. Amen."

And the Lord did answer him;

"Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt go unto the place where there are small children. Thou shalt teach them and lead them in the ways of music. Thou shalt instruct them to make melody with their voices, instruments and hearts as thou wast taught when thou wast young."

The youth did rejoice and put on bright apparel, and did look across the length and breadth of the land to find a place wherein he might lead the children in music. But lo! He did find that the leaders of the schools did want a teacher who couldst do many things. Not only music, but history, or physical education or reading or even watching over the youths as they did study. And he was sorrowful in his heart and did cry out,

"Why have I studied diligently in music only to find that there is no place where I may teach only that for which I am prepared?"

And a doctor of learning at one of the schools didst answer:

"Shekels, my young friend. Today we must account ourselves greatly to the amount of shekels we need to give unto each teacher what they deserve. If thou hadst also given study to other subjects along with music, thou wouldest be more valuable to us."

And the youth was sore distressed.


Some Questions


What can be done? Few school boards and administrators are able to financially justify a full-time music teacher. Often the musicians are asked or expected to teach other subject areas in which they may not be qualified, but feel they need to do it so that they can have a job. Or they might teach at two or more schools!

How can we direct the few music education majors in our colleges? How can we encourage more students to go into elementary music education? Are the financial realities of today's elementary schools such that it would be wise for them to be qualified in teaching areas in addition to music? Would this possibly increase their length of stay in the college?

What should music graduates who feel comfortable in only one or two areas do when job hunting? Should they as students specialize in one area of music (such as band, for example) and look for a situation where they might be able to teach that one area at several schools, or should they be encouraged to spend as much time as it takes to become as proficient as possible in all areas of music instruction (classroom music, band, choir, strings, handbells)?

Should administrators be looking for, and depending more on Elementary education majors who are also qualified to teach music? Does there, therefore, need to be more in depth and excellent classes offered in Elementary School Music Methods? Should this class be more than the usual one quarter/semester in length in order to adequately prepare these future teachers to do a worthwhile job of teaching music in addition to their other classroom subjects?

And what of those music specialists who teach at large schools but have the whole music program including before, after and during school teaching? Stress and burnout are very real factors when finances don't allow extra teaching help.

Growing concerns in the elementary school over mounting tuition, operational and salary expenses and other financial realities are placing the future of music in jeopardy. Indeed, elementary music education is at a crossroads.

Terry Koch has taught music since 1968, teaching in Massachusetts, Maryland, Hawaii, and Washington. He has been at Clara E. Rogers School in College Place, Washington since 1986.


This article was published in the 1991 issue of the IAMA Journal