The past two months have been really busy and crazy for me.

  1. I GOT MARRIED TO MY BEST FRIEND. The wedding was so fun and amazing and then we spent a few days in Montreal and then came home to see David Lang’s new opera in Boston.

  2. Cheap City went on tour and it was really fun. Our next show is January 11th at Pink Noise in Somerville (where we’ll be recording our new full length in February)

  3. I applied to PhD and DMA programs. Nothing to say about it except bye bye money and hello waiting game.

  4. The Mazumal duo premiered my piece “Describe Vapor Again” with text by Glynnis Eldridge. And Kelvyn Koning and Alissa Voth premiered my piece “Offertory For My Upstairs Neighbor.” Quorum Boston will be performing “Things At The Apex” twice in December.

Okay so I haven’t written here in a hot minute but I’m planning on CATCHING UP this month and the first thing I want to talk about is teaching music with physical consent.

I’m really lucky to say that I’m in a position where 90% of my time is devoted to music. I have one side job these days but the rest of my time is spent writing, practicing, performing, and teaching and that’s pretty cool. This fall I started teaching group classes. First at the community music school school in Nashua that I teach at, and recently I started teaching a few classes at the local boys and girls club.

Tonight something happened that made me really happy. When parents were picking up their kids one of the moms came up to me and said, “Thank you for not making {daughter’s name} give you high fives.” I said “No problem,” but then it occured to me that I hadn’t actually realized how important that was until she said something. I feel like every once in a while that article will float around on facebook about we shouldn’t force young relatives to give hugs or kisses at holiday gatherings and this is the same thing. So what the mom was referring to was that last week when this girl was leaving I said, “Good job today! Do you want to do a fist bump?” She said, “No.” Then I said, “Do you want a high five?” She said, “No,” and I said, “Okay!” and that was the end of it. As I’m writing this I’m thinking back to being much younger and having to give my grandmother these really uncomfortable hugs that I always dreaded.

So tonight I’ve been thinking more in depth about consent when it relates specifically to teaching music and here are some thoughts.

  1. If possible, be somewhere where you’re not blocking the door to your studio. Your student should feel like they have complete agency to leave the room if they need to. This is kind of harder to do if you’re teaching piano or a large stationary instrument but i think it’s worth it, and it’s a subtle effort that counts for a lot.

  2. I can’t speak for other instruments, but when I teach piano, particularly to younger kids, it’s easier to physically show them how to do something than it is to describe it. So sometimes when my students are just starting out and they don’t understand which finger to use,, I’ll ask them for permission to move their finger for them. I’ll gently push their finger down on the correct key so they know, and that’s the end of it. But the important part is that I always ask if this is okay with them. Sometimes a student will say no, and to be honest it makes the task a little more difficult if they’re already not understanding what’s going on, but giving them the option of expressing their consent to be touched is so important.

I can think of at least five or six instances in my education where I felt like my personal space was being violated by a teacher. And I want to be clear that these were never instances of abuse or explicit misconduct, but rather moments made me feel uncomfortable enough that focusing on my lesson wasn’t really an option. For example, I briefly took lessons in the Taubman piano technique, which I hated. Not just because it was really hard to unlearn over a decade of playing habits, but because my teacher had decided that the only way she could show me how to get from point A to point B was to just aggressively handle my fingers. I was never in pain but it was deeply uncomfortable. I wonder how many people have ended up not continuing music lessons because of something like this (or worse) and then I think about how easy it would be for music teachers across the board to implement simple but more physically respectful teaching styles.

But it’s not just about making sure that kids (and adults!) are comfortable in their music lessons. It’s about teaching people that they have the right to control their own bodies and giving them a space to feel comfortable in.