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MALI Teaching Artist Leader Story: Tom Luther

April 10, 2018

Teaching Artist – musician

This is the one of several blog posts in 2018 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 7 Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders. This series includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about each leader. CLICK HERE  for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE  for more information on the 93 Teacher Leaders and 8 Teaching Artist Leaders. CLICK HERE  for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE  for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories. Thank you Tom for sharing your story!

Tom Luther teaches piano, digital/computer music, composition, and improvisation. He’s been at it for 6 years and has no real favorite ages or levels. Teaching is very much a shared pursuit with Tom’s students, meaning he considers himself as much a student as they are. He can, and has, studied the same material/concept as his students, and they can share what they’ve learned about it. Tom tells his students: “I’m not any better at this than you are, I just have a bit more experience practicing”. He thinks this notion is essential for learners, especially new learners, to take ownership of their study.

What do you like best about being a teaching artist?

Being able to revisit concepts through my student’s eyes, and re-experiencing the study in new and unexpected ways.

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

  1. Ownership of the art, and having the permission to create.
  2. Objective observation/reflection
  3. Active participation as both audience and performer. This is especially true of the audience piece. Experiencing work outside your own is essential for greater learning and particularly inspiration.

Have you found assessment to be helpful in your classes, workshops and residencies, and if so, how?

I have two main methods of assessment; recordings/listening sessions and master class style formats. Each allows the opportunity to practice objective listening, and speaking objectively about music. Having students listen to their own performances is especially helpful, as is will often point to a) how much progress they have made, and b) help them to hear how much better they sound than they initially felt. It’s also tremendously helpful as in terms of “practice performance” and dealing with the accompanying anxiety .

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative?

The opportunities for learning are tremendous, and very motivating and inspiring. This is coupled with an amazing network of teachers who are a fabulous resource for feedback. I think that we all benefit from the collective intelligence and imagination of the group.

What are you most proud of as an artist and/or a teaching artist?

I take great pride in helping my students believe. For too long, the arts have been viewed as “for them, not us” because of a misguided idea about talent and ability. I am proud to be helping my students believe in themselves, and strive toward their goals.

What gets in the way of doing a better job as a teaching artist?

The current culture’s emphasis on “end product” versus “process”; the lack of belief in the intrinsic value of the arts( and the accompanying over-reliance on utilitarian value); general “anti-reflective” attitudes. I would also cite the rampant commodification of music as a fairly significant hurdle.

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

I raised $4400 in a crowdfunding campaign a few years back. Those things always look easy until you run one.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming a teaching artist or is just starting out?

This is one of the most important and fulfilling things one could ever do. This is an opportunity to guide an inexperienced mind into the world of the arts. This is an opportunity to sculpt learning, both for the student and yourself. This is an opportunity to help make lives better, more rich, and more well rounded. Don’t do this if you think it will be easier than getting a “day job”. Don’t do this if you think its “easy money”. Don’t do this to gratify your own ego. Becoming a teaching artist is to become a mentor, and take responsibility for starting (or continuing) a student on a magnificent life’s adventure.

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

Honestly, pay off my mortgage. While this may at first sound a bit selfish (and it may be), but the reality for all teachers is that financial issues are always a source of stress and distraction, and can potentially drive an individual out of the profession, simply because they can’t take care of the everyday basics. That said, I would take the remainder and consult with my finance whiz brother-in-law to grow a fund to support arts education programs in under-served areas. Arts education should not be contingent on income level.

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

Probably. I maintain pretty high, and probably unrealistic, standards for myself and it is extremely likely that there will be at least one thing I haven’t done yet. Then again, I have a bad habit of assuming things and ideas that won’t necessarily transpire, so who knows. I can say that I am going to try my best to avoid regrets.

Tom spends some of his time teaching in Rockland at the Midcoast Music Academy

In the fall of 2017 Tom had two strokes back to back. As part of his ‘come back’ he created a weekly video to share his learning, his pathway to recovery, and to inspire his students (and others) to use a growth mindset. The amazing video series is called Practicing My Way Back and can be accessed at Spheremusik, Tom’s YouTube channel. 

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