This week we were asked to choose a historical figure and pose the first three questions we’d ask.
The first part of this assignment required a lot of thought. There are so many historical figures that I first had to choose an era, a place, and a situation. I finally decided to narrow my selection to the people in my field of study, music. Even then, the sheer number of heroes is massive. Would I talk to a classical composer, or an accomplished performer?
I finally decided to narrow my focus even more. Since I’ve spent most my life as a music teacher, I decided to look into people noted for that. And while many, many performers are excellent teachers, I wanted to find someone most remembered as a teacher. So I decided to direct my questions to the first known music teacher in America, a man named Lowell Mason. If you’re not familiar with his name, you might recognize some of his church music. He composed the melodies for many traditional hymns such as Nearer, My God, To Thee, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, and the most commonly used arrangement of Joy to the World. The National Association for Music Education, known as NAfMe, inducts a handful of teachers each year into a select group known as the Lowell Mason Fellows.
Now that you know a bit about this man, here are the questions I’d ask him:
- Your first career was as a bank clerk, but you studied music composition in your free time. Within ten years, you became a church choirmaster and published a book of hymns. Yet, you still considered music a hobby and resisted giving up your banking career. If you had so much passion and talent for music, why did you resist claiming it as a profession? Was it reluctance to give up a steady, respectable job? Was it family pressure? (I feel a story coming on!)
- Most musicians of note devote time teaching students who already show a high level of skill. But you taught in the Boston Public Schools. What inspired you to share your talent with all children? Was it your goal to inspire, or did you wish for all people to understand and appreciate music?
- After retiring, you traveled extensively in Europe. How did music education there compare with what you established here in America?
To whom would you direct your questions?