In my early years as a lecturer, I was teaching a class on music analysis one day, when a student asked, ‘And why are we learning this?’ It’s the kind of question that can come over as quite confrontational, especially when you are feeling new to the game. But it’s also a good question to ask every so often. So I talked for a short while about why I thought the method we were looking at was useful to musicians (I suspect it was Schenker, but can’t actually remember for sure). The student accepted my answer, and we went on with the class, all of us feeling some relief that we weren’t wasting our time together.
This incident came back to me as I read Doug Lemov’s principle of teaching Without Apology. If we implicitly (or indeed explicitly) apologise for the content we deliver or the people we deliver to it, we lower expectations about both the achievements that are possible or the rewards that come from achieving it. If we don’t believe in what and who we teach/conduct, who will?
So that’s a principle that’s easy to agree with in the abstract, but let’s look at some of the ways it can play out in a choral context.