watch the video above or read the text below.
Tough and Balanced Love:
The Balance of Nurturing & Accountability
This is a very deep message, as it is near and dear to my heart. And the reason it’s near and dear to my heart is that I’ve lost several mentors over the past few years for a variety of reasons. Some of them I’ve lost due to COVID-19. Some of them I’ve lost just because they’ve advanced in age, a multiplicity of reasons. But it has prompted me to think about some of the wonderful things that they’ve shared with me over the years. And those things are not necessarily the easiest for me to stomach, at times. Some of them were delivered with a little bit of a sting, and that’s prompted me to talk about nurturing and accountability during this time.
For the past year, many educators and students have had a very difficult time coping with the pandemic – what to do? Some of them are overwhelmed. Some of them are underwhelmed, and it’s really up to the professors, the teachers, the mentors, etc., etc., to gauge each relationship through an individual basis.
And before I move on with that, I must say that I do miss my mentors, Ralph Peterson, who just passed away recently. I do miss the great Stanley Cowell, who was one of my professors at Rutgers University. I do miss the great Tony Leonardi, a firebrand educator from Youngstown State University, and one of the great bassists in jazz. And of course I can’t forget Bill Fielder my trumpet professor at Rutgers. Each one of those individuals found a way to celebrate my successes over the years, and also scold me when I needed scolding.
For an entire year my relationship with Professor William Fielder was very contentious. I wasn’t allowed to play the trumpet at all for an entire year. I literally could only play the mouthpiece. With Professor Stanley Cowell, he would talk about my compositions all the time. He would tell me that I’m writing too far over people’s heads. And of course the great Tony Leonardi, during jazz ensemble, he was not afraid to tell us if we were sounding sad.
That leads me to discuss this thought around how much do we have to hold our students accountable during this time? How much do we need to reprimand them? How much do we need to remind them that although we are in difficult times, they still have to deliver? And also those folks that are having a difficult time delivering at all, how do we nurture them through this time period? And I think the answer, in fact, I know the answer – honesty.
The music does not lie. The music will tell us exactly what’s going on. If we’re making the changes, if we’re making the sounds that are supposed to happen. We’ll know it. And it’s our job to be accountable in this time regarding the sounds that we’re creating and projecting out into the universe. And for those of us that are having a difficult time making sounds at all, we want to uplift those folks.
And so, some of the things I would like to say to our students, specifically. You ultimately know – you know – when you can do more. You know. Your teachers know as well, if they’re paying attention and they care. So sometimes when we’re telling you that this isn’t cutting it or this isn’t good enough, and there’s more in you – take heed. Take heed to that because we see something deeper inside of you that perhaps you may not see yourself. We see that next level of excellence with you. We see that extra mile that we know you can get through. And so it’s our job to push you.
And I want to also remind you that there is no perfect scenario regarding schooling. Some programs have this, some programs have that. And ultimately when you make excuses about your specific predicament and specific school that you’re in, then you’re making excuses for yourself and how you are basically deciding that your inability – which is a choice – your choice in the moment is to not rise to the occasion. You’re passing the book onto your circumstances, and we want to encourage you to not do that. Dig deeper. Fight. Go the extra mile. In college, it is not the college’s responsibility to deliver a career to you. It is our responsibility to help curate the path for you to get there. So if you can dive deeper, dive deeper.
And for all of those wonderful educators that are out there that are struggling during this time, knowing that there are some of your students that are just literally taking the advantage to not do a whole lot, or there are students that are struggling – follow your heart. You’re the professional. You ultimately know. Dive deeper into your students’ lives. See what’s going on. Perhaps it’s just one little thing. Perhaps they just need to hear from you. Perhaps they do need a little tough love. And it’s up to us, during this time, to find the balance between nurturing and reprimanding. We all need both right now.
And I bring you this message because I’m ultimately concerned with where we all are during this time. It’s very difficult. We’re struggling, but ultimately we will come out of this and we will come out of it better. To our students: the world needs you to be great. It needs you to be great. It needs you to push through this time because it’s going to be you that curates the sound for the next generations. And for our educators who are struggling with finding that balance: again, follow your heart.