Wednesday, February 9, 2011

mozart in the jungle: sex, drugs and classical music

Article: mozart in the jungle: sex, drugs and classical music (Blair Tindall)


An article that describes the “dark side” of musical training to many young students, Blair Tindall addresses many issues that students may encounter throughout the course of taking private musical lessons – in which these issues may not be exposed nearly as much to the world, nor are many people in society even aware of the consequences.

Behind closed doors to a music studio, students have suffered consequences of being asked or told to do tasks they may feel uncomfortable in, or possibly what is regarded as harassment. Because teaching music involves physical contact, the thin line draws between whether or not the teacher is still teaching the pupil, or he/she may be possessing thoughts of action that can bring harm to the pupil’s personal space and rights.

Spatial awareness becomes a very important key concept as young pupils are thrown into competitive situations in school, orchestra and amongst their own age group. Playing for the first time in a large orchestral situation not only can be nerve-racking but stimulate a sense of fear and worry. In these situations, the look and attitude of an authoritative figure becomes a key turning point. One smile can bring more relaxation to the pupil’s fingers and emotion, one frown can also steer the course in a total different direction. As the authoritative figure – conductor, teacher, colleague, etc – has the power to assist or fail the student, what choice should he/she make when these students are put up for the task of playing a solo or demonstrating what everyone considers to be virtuosic?

Blair describes her first orchestral playing experience, in which she was expected to play a solo passage in front of the orchestra. Naturally, stage freight kicked in as her heart pounded faster and louder. Harsanyi’s, her conductor at the time, choice of attitude to approach her first “stage appearance” most certainly did not help at all, including rough comments, frowns, as well as direct criticism in front of the entire orchestra. Verbal abuse tore Blair apart as she finished her passage trembling with fear. Without doubt, her level of confidence was immediately smashed, and would most certainly require large periods of time to overcome.

As a freshmen entering a music program, Blair fell into the traps of sex, drugs and alcohol. After her first failed rehearsal, comforting words and caring faces welcomed her into a totally different world, in which she felt a sense of home, a fallback, people she could turn to. Jose, a senior violinist who introduced her to all these “wonderful” aspects of college. It didn’t last long before Blair realized what she experienced was all short term. Nevertheless, her “social” life at school effected her love towards music deeply, as she began to doubt her own skills, question her future and re-think whether or not she would even want to continue a musical path?

Blair’s musical journey continued to be a roller coaster as she fell even further down into the affects of drugs, sex and alcohol. She soon resorted to “Phil” (a woodwinds teacher) after Jose dumped her, in which Phil was able to provide her with all of what Jose had, with the addition of money. Her story stretched from the United States all the way to Europe as she had the opportunity to tour with the student orchestra – naturally Phil was by her side.

As if the roller coaster ride came to an end, Blair returned to her “regular” dorm life, attempting to finish her senior year, turning to drugs for comfort when needed. An opportunity to visit New York city allowed her to fantasize what it would be like to be a musician in a big city? Mingling with other artists in fields of drama and dance, Blair heard similar stories from students that experienced what she went through. Dancers struggled especially when they (re)considered their sexual identity as well as their physical appearance. What does this all mean for musicians of the future? Blair questioned and re-questioned. As commencement approached, and she had successfully completed her music program, Blair could not bring herself to feeling proud. What lies ahead for her now? Is this what she really wants or has experienced? She did not have an answer.


The ‘ugly truth’ of music education was showcased through Blair’s story, revealing the dark side to music making and learning. Though her story was American based, numerous “Blair’s” can be found across the world, for it is almost a “human” trait to behave in certain ways. I was always aware of Blair’s stories, however never knowing that it would be this extreme. Naturally, different demographics in the world may have different variations of Blair’s story, yet the fundamentals that cause these stories will most likely be the same.

Music in my mind shouldn’t be this ‘hard’ to learn, nor should it become a weapon for human interaction to become such a harmful experience. The positive notes and lessons taught to teachers in teacher training programs are only there for good measures, what lies beneath the table and behind closed doors should be a bigger issue for parents, students and teachers to be aware of. If all musicians experienced Blair’s story, what does this say about our future generation? How is music being portrayed?

Music has always been recognized as a method to be expressive, and allow humans to indulge in their own emotions while sharing (or not) it with the world. I think educators need to constantly think about this concept, and possibly re-think their philosophies to teaching, allowing them to “stay on track” even after years of teaching music. A pupil is like a young tree, in which it is up to the grower to nurture it, water it, and shape it. Many teachers neglect the fact that the “shaping” process is often the most difficult and most easiest to drive off-course. Blair’s story was a great example of her initial contact with her teacher(s) turning out to be a negative start, causing her to go downhill from there and on. Using her story as a reminder, I think teachers need to remember and look upon the consequences before they begin “shaping” a student in the wrong direction.

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