This used to be a blog dedicated to one of my interests, dream interpretation. I have decided to expand it to include thoughts about pretty much Everything.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Valuing music

As a former music teacher, I have seen many articles like this one from the NYT make the rounds. They describe how so many successful people were musicians, how learning music helps you be smarter, how music makes you a better creative thinker or team player.  Or articles like this one, about how being involved in music improves brain function. How music major undergrads are more likely to get into medical school than biology major undergrads.  There are lots of these kinds of articles flowing around; there are lots of research studies on the value of music.

These are all well and good.  The science is in.  Music is great and good for you. No arguments on that one.

(That's supposed to be music notes mashed up with two brains for noteheads. You know... because music makes you smart... and stuff... Hey, there wasn't a lot of choice on openclipart.org)

The problem, though, is that music teachers have to post these things around desperately, as an effort to prop up their profession. To convince people that their work is valid, because if they didn't, the music program would get cut. To convince parents and "core curriculum" teachers that music class is about education, too, and not just an entertaining little activity that students do so their homeroom teachers can get a break.

How many times did I get emails from parents, irate that I would actually give their students a less-than-A grade based on the work they did in the class, because "my child isn't going to have a career in music" (and... the unspoken but very real question behind the question was: "...therefore, why do you have standards?")

Without getting too much into the politics and practicalities of school funding, I want to address the larger issue here.  Our culture does not value music, and this is getting worse and worse.  Notice, I didn't say we don't "love" music--everyone "loves" music.  The problem is that we don't VALUE music, and by that, I do intentionally bring up that evil word--money.

There's this idea that music should be free.  I mean, heck, we go to the mall, and there's music playing over the speakers, without us even paying anything, so that proves it, right?  (Sarcasm intended.) Music just seems to magically appear around us everywhere we go, so it feels ubiquitous, pervasive, effortless... therefore, it FEELS, de facto, low in value.

I did the math once, trying to figure out what it would take for me to make a middle-class level income as a private piano and voice teacher.  I'd have to charge the highest rate of all the teachers in town (it's a small town, and cost of living is low), and I'd have to find 80 students. Eighty students! --do you know how hard it is to build your studio up to a healthy 20-30 students?  Eighty would be nigh impossible. But that's what it would take, to earn a basic, lower-middle-class income as a full-time private music teacher.

The problem is that a music teacher can't charge what an electrician, a landscaper, a doctor, or a marketing consultant can.  People won't pay it.  Even though the amount of education and experience needed to be a good music teacher is decades longer than any of these professions.  To be a good music teacher, you must, of course, be a good musician yourself.  And to work yourself up from beginner status on an instrument to late intermediate level takes at least several years, for most people.  To get yourself to the point where you can actually teach music, though, is quite a long time, a lot of money invested in lessons and musical equipment, a lot of long hours spent practicing.  All so you can charge $40 per hour as a private teacher, when the tech-college graduate, who spent 2 years (at most) studying air conditioning systems gets to charge $60-80 per hour.

I'm not complaining about the air conditioning guy charging that much per hour.  People should, absolutely, be paid a living wage for what they do.  I'm complaining that our culture sees music as a throwaway commodity, something cheap and easy, and only there for our amusement or entertainment.  And that attitude is reflected in how we compensate our musicians.

We pay $15 for a basic meal that we spend an hour enjoying at a restaurant, and $1.29 for a downloaded song that could potentially give us many hours of enjoyment listening to the rest of our lives.

Take, for another example, the few times that I've been asked to play piano at a wedding.  I tend to be expected to charge $50-100 for my services.  (That's a little better than what I can charge per-hour for private lessons, yes, but wedding gigs are sporadic.) The absolute minimum amount of time I would spend in the service is one hour, in which case, if I make $50-100 for an hour, I'm doing pretty well.  But usually I spend a lot more time than that.  There's the several hours of practicing the music they want for their wedding.  And there are the many many years of practicing, period, to be able to do this at all. When you add up the hours, $50-100 is ridiculously low.  The bride will pay more than that for her bouquet.

Yes, there are incredibly hard-working private music teachers out there who have managed to defeat the odds and create a decent life for themselves as private music teachers. They are rare. They are fighting against a culture that tries to devalue them.

(And let's not even start on trying to make it as a performing musician.)

The only safe way a music teacher can earn a middle class salary is by working in the school system. And even there, her safety is rather tenuous. She faces a constant barrage of attacks on her profession.  The science teacher approaches her and says "We're going to do a chapter on insects this week. Would you do some fun songs about insects during music class to support us?" (I.e., "would you change your plans to suit me, since you're just decoration anyway?")  The sports coach schedules a last-minute game the same night as the concert, and half the students don't show up on stage. Class times get shorter and shorter, the district decides one teacher can serve 5 different schools, and sometimes the music program is cut altogether.

So music teachers try to defend themselves by passing out articles about how music will help students be successful.  But they aren't really listened to, because these articles aren't about how musicians became successful musicians. They are about how musicians got smart enough to get out of music and choose careers where they would be valued, rather than treated like slaves.

What's wrong with a society that doesn't value (compensate) music?  The inevitable result is that fewer and fewer people will choose to pursue music long-term, and the overall quality of music in our society will decline.  It's already been happening.  Today's hit music is largely vapid, from a musical standpoint.  You know those kids you see croaking on YouTube? Someday people will actually think that's the epitome of good musicianship.  Because they don't know better. Because society didn't value music enough to ensure that good musicians, who could provide a higher standard for musical expression, were compensated with a living wage.

OK, that's the end of the rant for today.  What's the answer to this problem?  I'm not sure I know.  I have a few ideas.  I know that my little voice isn't going to make a difference.  But the next post will include a few ideas, nonetheless. Stay tuned...
Valuing Music, Part 2

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Being successful

Two nights ago, I dreamed that I was talking to the Biofeedback counselor I saw last summer, asking her to help my mom with Biofeedback.  She (the counselor) was busy for the evening, but directed me somewhere to find the instructions written down that my mom could follow.  The only way to get to whatever place she was talking about was by boat. It was a rowboat-like vessel on a smooth, beautiful lake.  I wasn't rowing; I'm not really sure how the boat was propelled and steered, but it kind of just did.  So I floated along to the destination, which was a tiny inlet, around which was a group of about 4-5 people having a Bar-be-que by the lake.  Aaron* (the crush whose rejection has caused me so much pain the past 9 months) was in the middle of the group, standing at the apex of the little inlet.  I chatted with him and some others in the group.  Somehow, I'm not sure how, I got the Biofeedback information to pass along to my mom.  I wasn't sure it would work the same way, since I didn't really know what I was doing, and I wasn't sure if the instructions would be adequate.  I felt for some reason that whoever administered the Biofeedback needed to be knowledgeable and have a strong, positive energy, able to move the client's energy the right way, and I didn't think I could do that.  But I thought, "maybe it will work anyway, just because, well, it's something that objectively works. A little will be better than nothing."
Then it was time to float on, so I waved and called out, "Good bye Aaron!"
I got to a dock, and there were alligators in the water that were emerging from the water onto the dock. They were fairly small, only about 2 feet long, but I didn't know if it would be safe to get out of the boat!  I was nervous about them.  Then I wondered if they were really alligators or crocodiles.  I finally decided on alligators because of the shape of their mouths.
* (not his real name)

The strongest point in the dream was waving and calling out good bye to Aaron.  I woke up profoundly touched by that, and hopeful. 
Good bye!  Maybe I will finally be able to move on.  Maybe the dream is telling me that my unconscious mind is finally done processing this.

Oddly enough, though, I felt sadder about him yesterday than I have in awhile.  I cried a lot.  But I tried to let it be, let it flow how it needed to, trying my best (not always succeeding, but doing better) not to judge myself or my feelings.
Today, I woke up with a strong thought in my head all day.  It feels like (another!) deep revelation into why he had such a hold on me.  "If I don't have him, it will be impossible to make my life a success."  Actually, the "thought" wasn't really worded that clearly.  It's more like I became aware of a string of associations that I have somehow managed to build up in myself.

Aaron >  career >  success > security > survival vs. death

This is an illogical string of associations, but it's there.  Somehow, I had managed to pin my hopes for developing my career, for being successful (both inter-personally and economically) onto being with him.  It wasn't an intentional mashup.  The entire time I was with him, I was cautioning myself not to get in too deeply, there are red flags, I'm not ready, he's not ready...  But there was just something about him that triggered this wound in me, despite all my efforts.  I already talked about how he triggered the wound of interpersonal relationships before. But there's also the wound of feeling a deep fear of being a financial and personal failure.  Feeling like I'm not capable of supporting myself, no matter how hard I try, life's just against me. Feeling like I'll never be able to use my talents in the way I think they deserve to be used.  Feeling like one of these days I'll drop one of these balls, and the entire juggling act will come crashing hopelessly down around me, and my kids and I will just drown in a sea of poverty-stricken mundanity, rather than live the life of adventure and abundance I want so much.
I'm not wording this right, I can't find the right words (are these alligators or crocodiles I'm dealing with here?? Ha ha), but I know the feeling I'm dealing with.

That old "familiar spirit."  And oh, Aaron triggered it in me.  It wasn't so much that I felt he had the answers, but I felt he struggled with the same feelings.  How great to find someone who feels the same way I do!  How easy a jump it is, then, to the hope that, therefore, this person will be able to help me find the answers! An easy jump my  heart made without consulting my mind.  An easy jump of doom.

Today I realized that my unconscious mind had built a very irrational schema around Aaron.  Of course, I don't really need him to pursue my dreams of being financially stable and developing my talents.  I can do that. Yes, I can.  Not alone, of course, but my support network doesn't have to include him, as nice as that would actually be.  There are plenty of other supportive, loving people out there I can find.

I'm glad I finally recognized this problem.  Now to face those alligators.

One last word... This revelation made me wonder how much of my experience may apply to other people as well.  So my hypothesis is, whenever we find ourselves (or see someone else) overreacting with deep wild emotions to a situation that doesn't seem to warrant it, it is an indicator that if the train of emotions is followed, the issue will end up being about feeling one's very survival is threatened.  Nothing will trigger wild panic, or depressed resignation, more than the prospect that one may die.  Our strongest biological urges are for survival.

In my case, I finally figured out that the Aaron issue really feels like an issue of survival (life or death!!) at its core, (illogical as that is).  If I can't get a career going, I may very well die from starvation or homelessness or whatever.  Money is pretty necessary for everything these days.  Anyway... I wonder how the emotional rabbit trails of other people's issues may lead to the fear of death as well.  Not that it's my business, I'm just curious if that might be the case more often than not.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Talkback: "Do Baby Girls Cause Divorce?"

I listen to a lot of podcasts.  And there are so many times when I wish I could step into the podcast and start asking the speaker all kinds of questions... or presenting my arguments...!  So I decided that this blog will sometimes feature my talkback to my podcasts!

Today's post is a talkback to Freakonomics, one of my absolute favorite podcasts, and a recent episode called "Do Baby Girls Cause Divorce?"
In the episode, the ineffable Stephen Dubner interviewed Dr. Enrico Moretti, an economics professor at Berkely, who did a study recently on how the gender of a baby may affect the marriage of its parents.  According to his findings
  • Couples who conceive a child out of wedlock and find out that it will be a boy are more likely to marry before the birth of their baby.
  • Parents who have first-born girls are significantly more likely to be divorced.
  • Fathers are significantly less likely to be living with their children if they have daughters versus sons.
  • In any given year, roughly 52,000 first-born daughters younger than 12 years (and all their siblings) would have had a resident father if they had been boys.
  • Divorced fathers are much more likely to obtain custody of sons compared to daughters.

This raises so many questions!

After looking into this issue, I do have some points to make. The first one is the use of the word "significantly."  Actually, the term is referring to "statistical significance," not necessarily the way we usually think of significance ("a huge, general problem!")  The effect is ~2.5% of the population.  Most people wouldn't consider something that is 2.5% to be generally significant, but it is enough for statistical significance.

Overall, I was disturbed by some of the assumptions raised in this podcast:
  • Unaddressed assumption #1: The divorce/refusal to marry in these cases was the dad's idea.  This is not always the case.  About 66% of divorces in this country are initiated by the woman.  That doesn't necessarily mean the divorce is the woman's "fault" (she might be trying to get away from a real jerkface, for example...), but the chances that the gender of the baby affects the woman's choice is unlikely, since she is usually going to get custody of the children anyway.  The causes for divorce are legion; it is impossible to pin any divorce to just one cause, like the sex of the firstborn baby.
  • Unaddressed assumption #2:  Boys are easier to raise than girls. This is a weird idea.  I've usually heard the opposite, actually, but I don't know which opinion is more prevalent in society.  And how would one go about defining "easy to raise"?  From an objective standpoint, males, statistically, have more behavior problems, are more aggressive, take longer to potty train, take longer to learn to talk, have a harder time sharing, and are more likely to develop autism than females.  This isn't to demean males in any way (I am madly in love with my two boys!!), but my point is that if there is an overarching societal attitude that boys are easier to raise than girls, it is not an attitude based on fact.  (Realize, I'm talking about the middle of the bell curve, here.  Of course, many girls are very difficult, and many boys are easy.  In fact, I know one parent who told me that after having such a hard time with her extremely strong-willed daughter, that she vowed never to have another child.  But statistically, she's probably an outlier.)  Whether these gender differences are caused by biology or cultural expectations, or some of both, doesn't affect my point.
  • Unaddressed assumption #2: These differences explain a gender preference among American parents.  Well, actually, the differences found explain an effect that seems to be linked to gender, but this effect is not necessarily related to preference.  It COULD be linked to gender attitudes and stereotypes, such as "boys need dads more than girls do" (and therefore, this divorce is OK, because I have a daughter not a son.) This possibility wasn't raised in the paper.  The authors of the paper came to the conclusion that these data reflect gender preference, when there could be other gender-related explanations as well.  Actually, their third set of data, about how fathers are more likely to get custody of sons than of daughters, supports my hypothesis, that these effects are linked to stereotypes about what boys vs. girls need, more than preferences.
One question I had was "Why is this study focused on marriage?  Many people have children and choose not to get married.  I understand that this would make the data much more difficult to obtain, because there is no legal paper trail in such arrangements. But I wondered.  So I opened the actual paper.  One of their footnotes said that, according to the Census data they were studying, only 4% of children are living in homes with two unmarried heterosexual adults.  I find that interesting; I'd expect the number to be higher.  I wonder what the data is for how many children are living in homes where the mother never married at all, and how do those statistics relate?

But then I saw something that made me really surprised. The data they used for this study comes from U.S. Censuses from 1960-2000


What!?  Anyone with any knowledge of U.S. history whatsoever knows that a LOT has changed in American culture since 1960!  Why didn't the authors of the study focus on more recent Censuses to get an idea of where we are NOW?  They did say:
For completeness, in Table A1, we report the effects of a first-born daughter broken down by Census year, decade of birth, race, and education. These estimates by subgroup are necessarily less precise because they are based on smaller samples and therefore are not the main focus of our analysis. 
Well, I would think that if you are wanting to try to measure whether America HAS a problem with parental gender preference that is big enough to affect something as important as whether parents stay together based on it, you'd want to look at current numbers.  I did go to Table A1, and there are indeed different numbers from decade to decade, but I am not trained as a statistician, so I don't really know how to interpret the numbers very well. So I won't comment further on that point.

The bottom line:  I'm not trying to disparage Freakonomics, nor the authors of this study, but I don't see anything that is solid enough in this study to really base any kind of alarm on.