When we think music education, immediately our minds jump to little children playing tiny instruments, middle school bands or high school orchestras and conservatory training. While no one can deny the importance of music education for youngsters, we have forgotten a larger portion of the population: the adults! So many people learn instruments when they are younger and then let the hobby go as the pressing concerns of life come along. We've all been there - my lost craft is speaking Spanish (lo siento, Señora Saunders). Concerning the future of music and the need to reach different audiences, are we neglecting a relatively untapped resource?
The word "amateur" is derived from the French meaning "lover of" which gives quite a different impression than the meaning of "a non-professional" which most of us associate with the word. These "lovers of music" can be found throughout the world and are carrying on a wonderful tradition of keeping music as a centerpiece of the home. One such lover is my Grandpa who started playing flute almost fifty years after he first played the instrument as a boy. He plays in the Shriner band and we often have wonderful conversations about the power and the evils of the metronome. There is something truly beautiful about playing music for the pure sake of love and enjoyment.
So why is it that when it comes to organized training, there seem to be very few options for these amateurs to get involved? Some churches and bigger music organizations have small orchestras or chamber ensembles for people who want to play on a recreational basis, but the pickin's are pretty slim. One of my students is retired and has been dutifully progressing for four years with her love of the cello. She longs to play in a string quartet, but getting connected to other amateurs like her has been really difficult! For a place as musically inclined as Chicago, I found this fairly surprising.
Encouraging the revival of the amateur musician could be one surefire way to reinvigorate concert goers and keep the love of music strong in our communities. Adult students need opportunities to network with other amateurs looking to play. After all, much of the chamber music written before the late 18th century was composed with the amateur ensemble in mind! All music lovers should be given the chance to learn and play.
Upon seeing my cello on the el, at least half of the people who strike up a conversation with me excitedly tell me that they used to play an instrument when they were younger. Why the disconnect between past and present? I have to believe it is more than just hectic schedules and adult problems, but is rooted in the lack of opportunity. Our efforts to keep the value of music strong in the US should be bigger than working to sell concert tickets. Anyone else agree that the mindset of educational outreach needs to change? Is it time to broaden our minds to a different demographic? Leave a comment with your thoughts.
If you are an amateur musician, what does playing music mean to you? I would love to hear your story. Additionally, if you are looking to play with other musicians, leave a message as I am sure you are not alone. I would love to use this post as a meeting place for those looking to jam. Play on and long live the lovers!