Mar
29

Here is another in Matt Hinsley’s great series about inspiring educators who dedicate themselves to teaching the guitar to young people:

Dr. Michael Quantz and the Brownsville Guitar Ensemble Festival

When I was teaching high school here in Brownsville, I had a parent approach me after one of our spring concerts.  Her son had been in the guitar group for three years and was about to graduate. She had hardly spoken to me until this moment. That night she was in tears and could hardly speak.  As she composed herself she told me how wonderful it was that her son, who was in the special education program, was able to participate so fully in anything at school as he had done in his guitar classes. She had never before seen him be so committed, improve so much, or be such a welcomed member of a group that did cool stuff.

- Dr. Michael Quantz

Dr. Michael Quantz is the most tireless, passionate advocate for secondary school guitar I know.  For decades he has been one of our instrument’s strongest proponents in the secondary education sphere, and his years of service include many achievements and countless positively-changed lives.

Each spring he hosts one of US most important, longest-running guitar ensemble festivals.  This year’s UT Brownsville Guitar Ensemble Festival was headlined by the LA Guitar Quartet!

With the festival approaching, I asked Dr. Quantz about his plans for this year’s event, and his perspective of the current state of guitar education.

Matthew Hinsley: Dr. Quantz, why is high-quality guitar education in schools a good thing?

Michael Quantz: That’s a huge question! The “high quality” part of this is critical.  There are literally thousands of guitar programs in the US that are taught as a slight diversion or “taste” of something that students might pursue on their own later. That is unfortunate since that does nothing to prepare the children for meaningful fulfillment through the activity, certainly not as a skilled musician or music teachers.

Quality education in any field provides avenues of personal and professional success for students. Focus, problem solving skills, discipline, personal expression, working in groups, and a myriad of other life-learning elements are involved in music programs of high standards no matter if the student eventually becomes a professional in the field or is gratified by playing music as an avocation. There is also mounting evidence that strongly suggests that playing music enhances academic performance.  There is a high correlation between the academic performance in Texas schools and all arts classes:  the more fine arts classes, the better the performance of the students and the school itself (published in TMEA’s “Southwestern Musician”, May 2011). By the way, the converse is true: schools with few or no fine arts programs generally have poorer overall academic performance.

The guitar is an instrument that children hear every day as a part of the music that speaks to their feelings, concerns, and growing awareness. No other instrument in the world crosses so many cultures, contexts, and styles. Giving children the opportunity to be actively engaged in that provides maybe the only part of their day in school that makes them feel accomplished at something they want.  They also feel like they have a stake in the process of reaching very tangible goals as solo and ensemble performers with their classmates.  There is a very strong and positive identity component in that.

The students that really gravitate to a guitar class are not the same ones who like band, choir, or orchestra. This is an entirely new population of students, lots of them, who can be rewarded by the commitment and success that well structured music classes impart.

MH: Can you think of a story or two of young people whose lives have been changed by guitar?

MQ: I know many, many young people who have benefitted enormously from their study of music on the guitar and it’s not always the self-motivated university student who’s had a guitar in hand since the age of seven.  That person already sees and feels the intrinsic value of the pursuit. The stories that floor me are the ones in which the person’s entire life was suddenly given a balance or direction by getting involved in music through the guitar.

When I was teaching high school here in Brownsville, I had a parent approach me after one of our spring concerts.  Her son had been in the guitar group for three years and was about to graduate. She had hardly spoken to me until this moment. That night she was in tears and could hardly speak.  As she composed herself she told me how wonderful it was that her son, who was in the special education program, was able to participate so fully in anything at school as he had done in his guitar classes. She had never before seen him be so committed, improve so much, or be such a welcomed member of a group that did cool stuff.

Nearly all of the students I teach come from very humble backgrounds. Often their academic performance is teetering on the brink unless they find something that engages them.  I have seen numerous instances where a young person’s entire attitude and success in all their classes has been turned around as soon as they got serious about playing guitar. One student from my area who began in the Guitar I class at UTB won prizes in a couple regional solo competitions by the time he graduated.  He was the first in his family to graduate from college.  Now he has a Masters degree and has begun his doctorate at a major university. He had never been outside the Rio Grande Valley. Guitar playing has taken him to all of the largest metropolitan areas in the state and has changed his life.

MH: Tell me about UT Brownsville’s annual guitar ensemble festival?

We have been doing this for eleven years! We are so lucky to be able to offer, here in Brownsville, great artist performances, great teaching, and performance opportunities for guitar ensembles.  The University of Texas at Brownsville, The Brownsville Society for the Performing Arts, and several individuals have come together to help produce the only guitar ensemble competition in the nation. Guitar groups from all over the United States—more than 40 different cities from California to Florida—have participated in the Festival.

The fact that the student groups perform gives guitar programs an all important incentive for their students to achieve high goals. We have five age levels and four categories in each of those that they can enter from elementary ages through university. The groups perform for a panel of experienced judges and vie for first, second, and third place ratings in head-to-head competition.

We have brought in some of the most respected guitar artists in the world for the featured evening concerts.  This year we have the Grammy-winning Los Angeles Guitar Quartet back for a third engagement, and the Texas Guitar Quartet is with us for the first time.  Not only do these very skilled musicians play, they teach as well. We have nine master classes for the students to play in as well as an acoustic jazz guitar clinic and a guitar ensemble conducting clinic. We also offer these events in a first rate music facility with one of the best performance halls in the Southern US.

My favorite part of the festival is the extraordinary warmth and positive energy that the participants have. There is an awful lot of good will amongst the competitors. You can go to www.utb.edu/guitarfestival to find out more about the Festival.

MH: What are two ways we, as a community, can promote quality in the class room?

MQ: …By defining what the standards are for student accomplishment (like reading music!) and by giving teachers the tools to accomplish those goals. These are both long-term and evolving tasks. We, by that I mean classically trained guitarist-teachers, are embarking on these goals from several directions and, for the first time, we have developed the critical basic curricular resource: a community of highly skilled and proven successful teachers.  All new guitar teachers and university education programs should take serious advantage of that resource and invest in its future development.

MH: What do you wish you could tell every beginning class room guitar teacher?

MQ: I have a few thousand ideas, but I normally slim it down to these five:

One: “Embrace the suck”: The obvious directness of the phrase belies its military origin.  It refers to the fact that a given situation is always going to be less than desirable in some overt ways on a daily basis.  You will have considerable frustration daily. You might as well accept it.  Learn to deal with public school paperwork and silly policies driven by special interests lobbies that have no relationship to actual education.

Two: “Plan every teaching day well and then give yourself two years to hit your stride”.: There are thousands of variables directly affecting the classroom instructional process.  Good planning is invaluable in dealing with them.  Due to those complexities, after about two years you will have enough experience to be consistently successful in each class.

Three: “Get your discipline management plans and routines worked out well in advance and apply them religiously.”: Without the ability to control student behavior moment-to-moment in the classroom, there will be no student learning of any consequence. Plan a few simple rules that cover most situations and secure administrative support for your plan ahead of time. Keep the students engaged constantly.

Four: “STANDBY!”: Teach your students not to play while you are instructing them by having them hold the guitar vertically on the right thigh when you give this command. In the hundreds of teacher evaluation hours I’ve done I have consistently seen vain attempts at quieting the guitar class with the phrase: “Stop playing”.  This works for about five seconds, even for seasoned guitar teachers, before at least one student begins playing again and ceases to pay any attention to the teacher.  This spreads instantly to nearly all the other students in the room. Instruction stops.  When the teacher is ready to have them play the command is: “Ready positions”.

Five: “What you do as a good music teacher changes lives for the better. It is, without exaggeration, a vital part of our existence.”: Participating in music is an undeniable human need. These are the moments when we transcend the mundane and frustrating parts of our lives.  We experience elation, sorrow, joy, spirituality, exuberance—we are compelled to actually move together. These are the moments when we feel in the most profound ways and communicate the essence of those emotions to one another. These are the moments when we all become one. There are few aspects of life with greater value than these.

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Dr. Matthew Hinsley is the Executive Director of the Austin Classical Guitar Society.  A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the University of Texas at Austin, Hinsley has published two books: Classical Guitar for Young People, and, Creativity to Community: Arts nonprofit Success One Coffee at a Time.

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One Response to “Matt Hinsley – Reaching Out: Dr. Michael Quantz”

 
  1. Bill Ash says:

    Very inspiring Michael!

 

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