Frank Battisti: Teach Music And You Won't Have To Sell It

This short four minute video is so powerful I'm still reeling. So concise, so profound, and so passionate is the message that I hope you will share it with every music educator you know. It's from a panel discussion at the WASBE conference in 2009. No one is held blameless here...we all have some mirror-checking to do.

Frank, thank you for speaking the truth at a time we need it most. Let's take all the energy we are spending on bucket lists, competition, and empire building and put it into becoming better music teachers and making sure every student receives music education.




First of all, [in] most school systems, the person who has something to do with music is charged with teaching music....isn't charged with organizing band, isn't charged with organizing [a] contest, or winning trophies...those are activities.

The band program has got to be a music education program. We have got to grow music lovers. Kids who love music! Not band, not activity, music. And it starts with the teacher loving music! You are what you eat. You order fruitcakes know...buses...that's not what musicians do. That's what people do who want activities. 

We have got to say that music is essential to the development of every child. Not just the ones in my band, so if I get the budget I want, and the space I want, I'm perfectly happy...I'm NOT happy. I'm not happy till every child has quality music education, because for the full development of that child that's essential. Now, it's not essential that they have activities, they've got plenty of them!

So, we have got to make band programs... music education programs.

Because what happens, is we have band programs...I mean there are millions and millions and millions of kids who've sat for how many years in band programs...who graduate from high school, and they're not... they don't love music. They might love a spectrum of music, but they would have loved that without the band program. The idea of education is taking what a kid loves and [can] do, and expanding it, not taking away anything, but expanding it to a larger world, so that they can appreciate more, they can love more, they can experience more.

So we have to grow music lovers. Then we don't have to sell music.

If we don't, we have to sell it. So if you walk in any lobby of the professional orchestra today, they're selling tee shirts, mugs, everything else to stay afloat. We don't have music lovers...we gotta sell it like Madison Avenue does.

We gotta get serious people, about making band programs, music programs. That means the focus is on helping every single child grow to understand, appreciate, and love music. Now that's a big, big job. And it's easier to dangle prizes in front of kids, so we can say "we're better than everyone else" because we won the trophy.

The issue in art is not being better than anybody else, it's about finding who you are, and being creative. There's no trophies for that, but there's great enrichment and great fulfillment from it.

~Frank Battisti


More thoughts on teaching music.

12 responses
It's all about educating the whole child - and music as a unique human intelligence. Howard Gardner has it right and so does Frank Battisti! This is a wonderful clip that should be seen by every pre-service band teachers.
Exactly how I feel... glad someone is saying it!
I couldn't have said it better myself. Somehow it sound more authoritative when it comes Frank Battisti though.
And I will tell you what is quite sad. I have sent numerous proposals for putting music back into music education, a presentation which discusses how we got so stuck in mechanics and ways to transcend the notes, and music educator conventions don't want these topics. It's always presentations like: how to get your brasses to sound better, or flute technique, making your flute section soar! I have devoted 30 years to the cause of pedagogy and my private students have make significant achievements. But the truth is that people who are more interested in activities are themselves unaware of the problem. Thank you for this article.
Musical education is NOT essential to every child.There are children that are talented in painting, others in dancing or writing or sports or something else but have absolutly no talent for music-and thats ok! They will find musical education boring- as much as i was bored from painting lessons in school.Simply because i was very bad in it.
M Schmidt, would you tell those with no "talent" for reading or math to give it up? Truth is, all people can do SOME music, and it is their birthright as a human to have age-appropriate experiences. It takes a well-trained music teacher to understand this and plan for high-quality music experiences. Tone-deafness is a myth; all can learn through experience. Even if a child doesn't love to sing, they sure do love a singing game where they get to chase a friend. And they learn to hear and do music in a way that interests them and is joyful. Zoltán Kodály said "Music belongs to everyone", and thank God there are music educators believing in this philosophy and giving all their students joyful experiences in music. Your view has earned us a world where many people believe music is a gift only for a talented minority's, and this is a myth! Music is learned through experiences, just like language. It is, in fact, a language. The only people who cannot actually sing are those with a physical anomaly. With experience, everyone can hear and do music. The optimal amount of elementary music instruction is daily for 30 minutes, but as little as 2 times per week is very effective at the elementary level. Less than that is certainly better than no music education at all, but we are cheating our children when that is the case. I wish for you and for all that you could have the experience of being in a music ensemble that regularly gives you goose bumps and sends shivers up your neck. Music involves the mind, body and spirit like nothing else. You don't have to be a professional or even amateur musician for life, but I want all children to have that joy while they are in school.
M Schmidt - respectfully, I say that your comment reflects a criticism, not of so-called 'talentless' children, but is more of a statement of the current state of affairs in music education today. What if it is the way that we are teaching music that turns kids off to music? What if a focus upon 'activities' is a reflection and a by-product of a glitch in the system? I have taken disinterested and below average kids and six years later, they are going to top ten music schools like Indiana - and this repeatedly. What is troubling in music education today is that we are training children to approach music from a mechanistic viewpoint, such that they are never able to transcend the parts to encounter the whole. In other words, divorced from the primary mode of musical experiences, they similarly approach performance in the same way. Technique is great, but it must be harmonized with musical awareness. I do not blame the kids for being talentless, the problem being one of thinking itself. Until we as musicians and researchers come to better explore and understand our domain from a consciousness perspective, just as in physics, we will forever be kicking the can down the road, one more failed attempt after another, one more child lost due to the system.
Another thought... what about music as a healing profession? I have a teacher in Chicago who will not teach children unless they take two one hour piano lessons a week and diligently practice several hours daily. For me however, if the child is lacking in motivation, I don't discard them, I treat this as a life opportunity to discover what is shielding their sense of discovery. In other words, I work with what I have without disparaging the individual. As the child learns how to problem-solve in music, they gain life skills. A by-product of these skills is success in music. So we must look at music as being much more than sounds, but as reflecting the whole of life experiences, and as a vehicle of human development. One cannot develop this attitude of teaching approach and frame of reference without truly studying music from the vantage of what it invites of us in its study, and avoiding the trap of studying music from the vantage of daily conventional concerns. Someday, I hope that there will be a greater audience for this development.
Mr. Ruback's responses are valid. I think that we must keep The Main Thing as the main thing - meaning that the love of music (as Battisti said) is the umbrella over all activities. This must be verbally and demonstrably shared by a music educator who loves great music and shares this passion and philosophy. If the activity is an evaluation, that the rating is not The Main Thing. If the activity is a competition, that the ranking is not The Main Thing. If personal musicianship is the daily practice activity, that technical prowess is not The Main Thing. Rather, students recognize the value of their ensemble mates in creating this amazing sound called music, and value the efforts of all who produce it. The personal commitment, the cooperation, the sensitivity, the creativity, etc. are The Main Thing. And to continue seeking great music for the benefit of self and others throughout life. Not to have a wall full of plaques, a shelf full of trophies, or a chest full of medals.
I think that goals are great to have. Yet, when the student trains to evaluate themselves persistently and self-consciously 'self against others' (subject/object), then in the performance they may maintain the self-conscious split between self and music too, whereas in true music-making we become the music, we don't play the music, we 'are' the music. Any experiments as to who or whom is playing the music when we create music is going to soon realize that there is no 'I' opposed to the music, simply just there being the music. So in my thinking, proper training must learn who to properly develop in students that undivided mode of perception, or as the philosopher Buber called it: the 'I thou.' When music education comes to formally recognition this unreckoned element of unitive perception, of the singularity of mind and body in musical experience, and integrating it into musical training, then we will be on the road back to creating music and a more balanced music education. Excuse me friends, but I so rarely have the opportunity to share pedagogy with like minds, so enjoy sharing here :)
Sorry for the typos!
Any chance you can re upload the Frank Battisti video?