Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sense of Entitlement

When I worked with emotionally disturbed children and adolescents in the public schools in San Antonio, there was a basic agreement with each student. Their participation in music was completely voluntary on their part. If they chose to participate (which 100% did), my job was to find a way for them to successfully join the music making and their job was to behave with a modicum of good manners, i.e. respect for everyone else in the group. Additionally, though it wasn't a requirement, they helped me set up and break down equipment and get it to and from my car (I worked in various classrooms at various schools over the course of a day). 

In community band there are lots of folks who feel entitled to behave less well than those students in San Antonio. All the directors have asked we not talk during rehearsals, and usually someone is muttering to their neighbor in less than a minute. We use the high school band room and have been asked to leave it as we found it, but lots of people just get up and leave without putting their stand and chair back as it was. For concerts, all the equipment needs to be moved to and from the stage, but there are some members who consistently time their arrival to be after the heavy lifting and who leave before everything is back in place. There are even members who can stand around watching while the band director (always a volunteer) does heavy lifting.

I find this behavior, and the fact it seems to be accepted by all, astonishing. Apparently, by not having participated in high school band I missed some crucial acculturation. The other thing is that as a therapist I'm much more attuned to behaviors than most, but still. I mentioned the talking thing to a cousin who grew up here in the county with me and she was shocked people would act that way.


  1. Talking is a problem. The thing is that an amateur band or orchestra is regarded by many people as a social occasion as well a musical experience, and when the conductor is rehearsing another section, some people have a great temptation to chat quietly with their neighbours. The individual chats are relatively quiet, but they add up to a considerable hum. Some groups are noisier than others.

    There are no really easy solutions. But the following might help.

    1. For the coffee break to be made 5 minutes longer to give people more time to catch up on gossip.

    2. For it to be clearly announced that talking is really unfair not only to the conductor but is also discourteous to the other players. But there is no objection at all to people reading books or magazines to read during long rests. Bring a book!

    3. If the conductor can be persuaded to treat the players more like adults, by being more encouraging and explaining why he wants a particular effect, then he may get more respect from the players. You probably won't be able to achieve this by yourself. Speak to the committee members and get the matter brought up there, so that this isn't just regarded as complaint from the nut at the back playing the horn.

    As for putting everything away at the end, it probably simply hasn't occurred to the majority of the players that they can help in this way. An announcement at the end of rehearsal "Please put your seat and stand away before you leave", repeated as necessary over several weeks so people get into the habit will eventually do the trick.

  2. Jonathan - You got me dead to rights with, " the nut at the back playing the horn"! That's captures it nicely.

    Except for the reading, most of what you've said has been tried. Because of spending time around psychoanalysts back in the 70's, I tend to frame things that way sometimes. Here, I just think the weird bi-directional psychodynamic of the players wanting a tough father figure to "make" them play better, and the directors being comfortable with that and sometimes treating them like willful children in return, trumps any kind of reasoned approach.

    And again I must stress that I'm the only one who seems really bothered by the situation. These things are noted by others, but only in passing as just what one should expect. Like Lady Aretha sang, "Ain't no way" I'm going to try to change things when everyone else is happy with the way things are. I'm blogging/thinking about all of this only to help me better understand what I'm up to as a therapist.

    The fact that you, coming from such a rigorous background knew exactly what I'm talking about indicates it just the way things are over in the music education sector.

    Much more to say about all of this. Maybe another post sometime, but my next rant will be on the band repertoire.

  3. Lyle,
    To a certain extent, we are different. You as a result of your music therapy training and the associated psychological insights, and I for the various reasons I described on my blog "Why I decided not to be a professional musician".

    As a result, we both see these interactions between people as a system in a way that many simply don't recognise. And seeing it as a system we recognise that the system can in principle be changes, and that it might be a good idea to do so.

    Most people just accept it as "the way things are" and don't realise that they could change it.

    The skill of a psychiatrist (and for that matter, a music therapist) is not so much in recognising such systems - they are fairly easy to spot once you are conscious of them - but in getting others to spot them and work out how to change them.

  4. Jonathan - You're absolutely right, and with time I may go to the board with some suggestions. For me, though, the crux is to come up with a better way overall, not to just suggest changes around the edges. What's going on, in this group at least, seems to me to stem from deep motivational and unconscious mindsets that won't be touched by simply suggesting better behavior. A whole new modality is going to be needed to naturally draw out better behavior.

    I hope these past few posts are just the beginning of a series where I think out loud about all of this and come up with a different way of doing things, not to replace this situation, but to offer an alternative to be added to the mix. Seems to me there needs to be some different sheet music to work from and an expansion of the motivation behind the group's existence.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to offer these comments. Even when you don't comment, I know you're a regular reader, and that gets me to be a bit more rigorous in writing these posts. And when you do comment, it really helps me understand how I'm coming across. When I started the blog, had no idea just how helpful to me it was going to be.