As I sit on the train preparing to make my final trek of the academic year to SUNY Geneseo, I’m thinking about my students preparing to graduate. I’ve been fortunate in my life to experience a great deal of failure and I’ve found failure to be my most consistent teacher. The role of college teacher demands that I share my failures with my students so I might then also share the solutions. When I began teaching, I was afraid to share those failures for fear that my credibility would be questioned. I was wrong. I share my failures to give my students a rich sense of the consequences and their causes, in addition to an understanding of how to construct a solution on-the-fly. Improvisation isn’t confined to the jazz environment.
Many of these students will not be professional musicians, but I expect that they will all have a special relationship with music that, in some cases, could even dwarf the passions of some of my professional peers. I take great pleasure in knowing that. Through playing jazz music, these students develop skills that will serve them in every facet of their personal and professional lives. They can, as improvisers, dissect the constructs of a narrative and learn how to compose and share their thoughts with their audience in a coherent way. In the ensemble, they can play their parts as an actor plays a character. They can think about the composition, the composer and the era to determine their character’s persona. Through the awareness of inflection and time, they can perform with a confidence that will inspire the trust of their audience. All of these skills will be of great use to them in their personal and professional relationships. They’ll become better communicators. Better communication translates to greater trust and better relationships.
In addition to the practical applications learned through playing jazz, I’m pleased to know that these students will have a place to go, whether literal or figurative, to nurture and employ their passions for the rest of their lives. That’s where the magic resides. That magic is what has inspired me to keep making this trek for more than a decade. It is an extraordinary privilege to share in another’s discovery of it. The garden grows. The fruit is good.