Interdependent Music Teachers -- Umbrellas, Parasols, and Parachutes

April 30, 1998

Umbrellas protect us from the rain, parasols guard us from the sun, and parachutes allow us to float safely to solid ground. All of these protective tools help us deal more effectively with our environments. Long before CMS began selling dark blue umbrellas at the national Convention in Cleveland, The College Music Society had gained a reputation as an "umbrella organization." Although umbrellas can isolate people and remove them from the reality of falling raindrops, umbrellas also can enable people to help each other confront the reality of important issues. CMS functions as the one professional music organization that brings together college teachers of various areas of expertise. Under this CMS umbrella, college musicians confront realities, develop effective responses to rainy days, and make plans for sunnier times.

CMS has accepted the challenge of meeting the needs of college faculty and also the needs of college students. In fact, some would say that the ultimate task of CMS is to impact the musical life of the country's entire population: in concert and recital environments, on and off academic campuses, and inside and outside ivory towers.

But private music teachers also are directly involved with music creators and consumers. They teach mostly one-on-one and are today's equivalent of yesterday's "village musicians" who were responsible for meeting all the musical needs of their communities.

For more than twelve decades, the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) has taken a lead in serving the professional needs of music teachers who work independently, that is, "privately," usually without direct sponsorship or financial support from educational institutions. MTNA helps its members, most of whom are independent music teachers (IMTs) with private studios, to strengthen their effectiveness as musicians, educators, business managers, entrepreneurs, and arts advocates.

In the United States, today's typical IMTs are highly committed musician/teachers who approach the teaching of music as a profession. For them, music teaching is a vocation, not an avocation. Whether these people teach full time or part time, they are fully committed to their work as music educators. Their students span the entire range of ages and stages of life. Some of their pupils will become your music majors in the next century. Their beginners will become creators and consumers of music and will serve on your city councils, school boards, and arts councils. Independent music teachers provide rich opportunities for colleges and universities to impact many aspects of music in the community.

MTNA, with a strong network of regional, state, and local associations, has been responsible for strengthening the quality of music teaching throughout the country. Like CMS, it works to raise professional music teaching standards, provide effective advocacy for arts education , and enhance the level of understanding and respect accorded its members who teach music.

The profession of music teaching shares many of the characteristics of other professions. The common characteristics include a lengthy period of rigorous training, continuing professional education, established standards of quality, codes of ethical behavior, a well-organized professional membership organization that works on behalf of its members, mentoring programs, annual conferences, a network of state and regional organizations, certification procedures, and a peer-reviewed professional publication directed to the needs of its members. Members of such professions often consider their work a calling as well as a career, a joy as well as a job. Their work provides emotional satisfaction as well as financial support. It represents a way of living as well as a way to earn a living. Often it can provide even greater financial stability than positions at academic institutions.

The June/July 1998 special-topic issue of American Music Teacher, the official journal of MTNA, will focus on ways that independent music teachers can strengthen the effectiveness of their interactions with other people in their communities. Although most formal music education does take place in school classrooms and musicians' studios, music learning often occurs outside of those classrooms and studios. Many people actually receive most if not all of their musical education in informal settings, while interacting with people who were never trained to teach music. Furthermore, advocacy for music usually takes place outside music classrooms and teaching studios. The premise of the special issue of American Music Teacher is that the music profession as a whole would be strengthened if independent music teachers (IMTs) knew more about opportunities outside their studios and sought to help each other benefit from these opportunities. The challenge is for independent music teachers to function as interdependent music teachers.

In this special issue of AMT, the following authors will draw attention to the music education activities of people involved in diverse segments of our musical culture:

  • Francesca Blasing: arts organizations, including opera companies, libraries, museums, and television stations
  • Rachel Kramer: music business community, including music merchants, music publishers, and instrument manufacturers
  • William Phemister: religious organizations
  • Robert Wyatt: community schools of the arts

These four writers have been asked to approach their individual topics from two vantage points:

  • What is their group doing in terms of music education as defined in the broadest sense? How can IMTs utilize more effectively their group's strengths and resources? How can their group help IMTs? Or, somewhat crassly: what can IMTs get from those people, i.e., "What's in it for me?"
  • What can IMTs do to enhance the effectiveness of that group? Or, rather bluntly, what can IMTs give to those people, i.e., "What's in it for them?"

The final article, "Independent Music Teachers and Other People Who Are Involved in Music," written by Barbara English Maris, provides an overview of additional categories of people who interact with independent music teachers, including college and university teachers. This issue of AMT also will include a pull-out booklet, "MTNA Resource Booklet for Interdependent Music Teachers." It is designed as a directory of resources for teachers. The premise of the project is that experts do not have to have all the answers, but they do need to be ready to help others obtain answers to their questions.

Just as CMS functions as an umbrella organization for the college music profession, interdependent music teachers throughout the country have an opportunity to serve as conduits linking various musicians and music resources in their own communities.

How can you and your academic colleagues work more effectively with the independent music teachers in your community? How can you help each other strengthen your interdependence as musicians/educators? How can you use your umbrella to bring together all musicians who teach.

For further information about the Music Teachers National Association and the American Music Teacher, contact the MTNA National Headquarters:

The Carew Tower, Suite 505
441 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202-2814
Phone: (513) 421-1420
MTNA's website:

2536 Last modified on May 1, 2013
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