Speech Given by Yours Truly at the 2015 TI:ME National Convention

I had a great time visiting sunny San Antonio last week in the dead of winter (read: 70 degrees).  This year I was fortunate enough not only to give two workshops, but also to speak on behalf of the organization as the recipient of this year’s teacher of the year award.

For those interested, here were my remarks upon receiving the award:

Good Afternoon

I am humbled and honored to receive the Mike Kovins TI:ME Teacher of the Year award.  TI:ME is an organization I respect greatly and I am sincerely grateful for this recognition.  I truly have no words.

And now for some words.

For those who don’t know me very well, here is my story.  It’s a bit unconventional, but I imagine many in this room have taken a path unlike our peers in the music education world.

At one point I aspired to be a great band director.  In fact, my interest in music technology began in part by writing marching band arrangements.  When I actually started teaching, however, I realized this way of life wasn’t for me.  I became disillusioned at the fact that no matter what I did with my band, it had probably been done before.  In that world, you can have success, you can have fun, you can build a program, you can make a living…but I didn’t feel like I could do anything truly new.   I’m not a follower – it’s very difficult for me to do something that has already been done better by someone else.   Realizing this I made plans to leave the teaching profession shortly after I had gotten started.

In 2006, everything changed.  I received a phone call that through some strange turn of events I would be teaching a class that had been fortuitously titled Music Technology at the High School.  When I say titled, instead of planned you should know – that was all the planning – no meetings had taken place, no equipment had been purchased – there was only a class title and a room.  All it took was that title.

What they didn’t know was that since high school I lived and breathed electronic music in my spare time.  I spent years absorbing the music of Aphex Twin, the Prodigy, DJ Shadow, and early Daft Punk.  It wasn’t possible to buy equipment yet, but I devoured all the music I could – teaching a class on the topic of electronic music was like a dream come true.

So on the first day of Music Tech class, what I found surprised me.  I had three classes of seniors who needed my class to graduate – they were the type of people who waited three and a half years to get their fine arts credit.  How do you teach music to kids like this, and make them enjoy it?  So there is the secret to my success – at the very core of all my curriculum decisions is the memory of a room full of eighteen and possibly nineteen year olds staring at a recently transferred elementary teacher wondering what in the world the class could possibly offer to them.  It turned out great because it simply had to be.

I won’t go on with specifics about my classes – I have a session on that Saturday.  Suffice to say this core belief has enabled my program to grow to a full course load that trains over 350 students per year to be creative with music using the latest tools available.

I’ll use this opportunity to address those in the room – TI:ME – people I see as the chief innovators of music education.  Keep using your work to spread the idea that music learning is a personal endeavor.  Never be tempted to compete with each other, or compare to each other – everyone’s method can and should be different.  The freedom to experiment with teaching methods and curriculum is what makes the arts the last bastion of individuality and culture in your school – don’t forget that, and don’t let it go.  Let your instincts and your interests guide what you do, not what someone else says will get you recognition or a high rating.

I’d like to thank Barbara Freedman for her tireless work in nominating me for this award.  She’s been a great mentor and friend over the years, and I’m proud to share this honor with someone as successful and influential as she.

I’d like to thank VJ Manzo, the smartest man alive, for also nominating me but also for approaching me to work on our new book, Interactive Composition.  For a guy like that to take a chance on a slob like me means the world, and I hope you have as great a time working with me as I do with you.

And finally I’d like to thank my children Annelise and Ethan, who told me I wasn’t allowed to go on this trip and who I miss very much right now, and especially my wife Jennifer.  There’s not a thing I’ve done that she hasn’t been there to see me through – I wouldn’t be anywhere at all without her support and her guidance.

I’ll do my best to live up to the expectations that come with receiving this award.  Thank you!

Author: Will Kuhn

I teach music technology to high schoolers. I do some other stuff too. @willkuhn on Twitter.