Sunday, March 4, 2012


In comparing the roles of the music educator and the music therapist, the differing views of competition offer a clear cut distinction. It's a key component of education and mostly avoided in therapy. My sense is that the difference has to do with the clientele. Educators work with talented and highly motivated students (the others don't pass the auditions or even try out) and are pursuing well established and standardized goals (standard practice in playing the canon). Therapists are concerned with finding the best path for each individual in learning how to enjoy and to become engaged in making music.

A recent study popping up all over the internet with headlines like "Meetings Make You Stupid" found the following:

Researchers found that most people performed worse when they were ranked against their peers, suggesting the social situation itself affected how well they completed the IQ tests. . .

. . . Lead author Kenneth Kishida, a research scientist at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute said: "Our study highlights the unexpected and dramatic consequences even subtle social signals in group settings may have on individual cognitive functioning.

"And, through neuroimaging, we were able to document the very strong neural responses that those social cues can elicit.

"We don't know how much these effects are present in real-world settings.

"But given the potentially harmful effects of social-status assignments and the correlation with specific neural signals, future research should be devoted to what, exactly, society is selecting for in competitive learning and workplace environments.

"By placing an emphasis on competition, for example, are we missing a large segment of the talent pool? Further brain imaging research may also offer avenues for developing strategies for people who are susceptible to these kinds of social pressures. . .

". . . Furthermore, this suggests that the idea of a division between social and cognitive processing in the brain is really pretty artificial. The two deeply interact with each other."

If these results prove out, there's lots to think about. That phrase "what society is selecting for" is a way of looking at the goals of music educators, the musicians they produce, and how well they're satisfying the new culture of performance Greg Sandow and Bob Shingleton think has to come about to reconnect people to live music.

On a more mundane level, I think it helps explain why going from player to player in a band setting and checking tuning can be a disaster for people like me back when I was learning horn. I've been singing fairly well in tune most of my adult life, but trying to play the horn in tune with the whole room listening back during my first few years was a real trial. There was so much anxiety in my mind, which seemed to double every second of being in the spotlight, clouding the whole procedure there weren't many neurons left to actually listen and tune the pitch.

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