Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Cough’

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MALI Teaching Artist Leader: Joe Cough

March 5, 2019

Teaching Artist – Musician

This is one of six blog posts in 2019 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 8 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 96 Teacher Leaders and 11 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 Kerry for sharing your story!

Joseph Cough is a Music educator with a specialty in Voice, Guitar, Composition, Theory, Piano, Trumpet. He joined MALI this year as a teaching artist and teaches all ages at the Midcoast Music Academy.

I didn’t know right away that I wanted to teach people music.

In fact, for a long time, I was discouraged from pursuing a career in music and performing arts, either directly or indirectly. It wasn’t until I attended the College of the Atlantic where I actually thought that I was able to make anything from a music profession. I was greatly inspired by John Cooper, the professor of music there. His ear for music and ability to abstractly write out pitches that he heard (and sang back) was like watching an artist paint a canvas. I wanted to be able to do that too, if only for myself.

It was because of him that I needed to understand music inside and out. How does it work? Why does it work like that? Why is this pleasing to me aurally and this not? I wanted to know every detail about a piece of music, no matter who composed it. What scales were used? What modes? What chord progressions can be heard?

In large part, I’ve accomplished that.

Not to say that I understand EVERYTHING about music, but I’m now in a place where I have reached one goal. One goal, of many more. There are many things about music that I have yet to think about and discover. The list of what more I want to do is endless. I’ll never reach the end goal of complete musical proficiency and knowledge.

And that’s ok.

I don’t have those kinds of expectations of myself. In fact, I don’t have any expectations of myself. Well, I do expect myself to put all of my effort into what I’m doing, and to keep a positive and open-minded attitude, but I don’t have a master plan, or an end goal that, if not reached, means I’ve failed. I don’t fail.

Even when when I’ve cracked a note on stage, mistook a perfect 5th for a perfect 4th, muted a string incorrectly, or have played the same passage on the piano at a tortoise speed 28 times, I’ve learned from every one of those experiences. Learning what works, what doesn’t, what is challenging, what isn’t, these are all victories. Gaining this knowledge, despite its positive or negative effect is always and opportunity for growth. This is why I don’t fail.

This is why no one fails.

This is the most important message that I have for anyone who wants to listen.

This is more important than knowing your major scales from memory.

This is more important than having perfect singing posture.

This is more important than ‘good’ pedagogical practice.

There is no ‘good’ or ‘perfect’ or ‘best’ in music.

There is no ‘bad’ or ‘imperfect’ or ‘worst’ in music.

Music, to me, is an experiment. The great thing about this experiment is that when something goes awry, laboratories don’t explode, or things don’t catch on fire. Yet, many students that I’ve worked with over the years are so cautious around music as if one of these things might happen. The good news is, I’ve never seen anyone maimed because they squeaked when they sang, or melted because their dynamics were not interpreted correctly. This is how we learn. This is how we discover what we are. This is how we see what we’re capable of. A lot.

We have preconceived notions of what music should be, and what it shouldn’t be.   

If Schubert didn’t do this, it shouldn’t be done.

If Hendrix did this, it’s the right thing to do.

This is nonsense.

When I teach, I don’t show students what they should do to be a musician. We’re all musicians. We’re born that way. I strive to show them what they’re already capable of doing. Take risks, experiment, make ‘mistakes’ (if there is such a thing).

I’m not advocating that we shouldn’t or needn’t learn from the musicians of the past, and learn music in an academic way.

Schubert was a ‘master’ of German lieder, this is what he did and how he did it.

Hendrix transcended the guitar. This is what he practiced and how.

It’s important to learn all 12 major scales backwards and forwards.

It’s important to train your ear to hear all possible intervals on our tempered scale.

It’s vital to practice the physicality of your instrument.

There are many things someone studying music ought to know.

This is how we communicate with other musicians. This is a way to work with and collaborate with other music artists. If we all speak the same language, we can create stories together and understand them. Does this mean if someone isn’t ‘100% fluent’ in music that they won’t be able to speak and be understood?

No.

But the more we learn, the more we explore, the more curious we are, the more we can teach others our language, and they can teach us theirs. We can share our stories.

It has taken me a long time to truly understand this. Nothing about my musical experience came quickly, or easily. But instant gratification to me is cheap, and contains no substance. I’ve enjoyed every moment that I’ve picked up the guitar, sat at the piano, sang a self-created vocal exercise. I’m thankful that I can do it as often as I do. I wasn’t born with innate knowledge of music and ‘how it works’. We all have the ability to be musicians, but do we all have the time to invest in the craft? I’ve been told many times that I’m ‘talented’ or ‘gifted’ because I do what I do.

I’m not talented. No one is. Talent implies some divine deity bestowed a gift to me that I didn’t have to work at. I wasn’t born an experienced musician, but the hours that I’ve put into the craft give me that experience. This is the other message I have for any learners: our mindset dicates how far you can take your musical journey. Your thoughts tell you your story.

I hear this often in lessons. “This is too hard”, or “I’m just not good enough”, or “if only I started when I was 6 taking lessons, then I’d be good now”. These few word sentences are stories, and we often tell ourselves these stories over and over and over again. They become our story, our reality. The story ends, but is played on a loop. Again, and again, and again.

But what if we changed our stories to “this is challenging, but with more time, I’ll get it”, or “I’m not where I want to be yet musically, but I’ll continue to strive toward what I want to be”, or “this is what I’m capable of now, and I take stock of my accomplishments and will continue to add to them”. These stories don’t end. They are ever evolving. They have substance. They don’t just stop.

So, in a roundabout way, this is where I am now. Even for teaching, I continue to write and edit my story of what I want to be as an educator. In anything really. I literally can do whatever I want to artistically, professionally, etc. It just depends on how much time one has/wants to invest in it. I cannot create professional singers, or guitarists, or composers. But with time, anyone can create the artist within themselves. Any student can write the story in their own mind. Once in the mind, it can manifest itself in any way imaginable.

This is but a small sample of my story. A chapter. I don’t have all the answers. I’m not even sure I could give sound advice to a new incoming Teaching Artist. My style is different than everyone else’s. Maybe the only advice I could give would be to be kind to yourself. Teaching is, an art. Like anything, it needs to be practiced, tried, retried, reworked, adjusted. No one is born a ‘gifted’ educator. But I’ve learned and received some gifts along the way from my colleagues and mentors and teachers. This is why I’m happy to be a part of the Maine Art Leadership Initiative as a Teaching Artist Leader. I can learn from other’s experiences, and they can learn from mine.

What I learn from my colleagues and students in the coming years will all be included in the next chapter of my story.

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