By: Adrian Gordon & Emily Williams Burch
Let’s talk about transitions. They happen all the time. Of course, there are the obvious ones, such as the transition into a new job, a new location, or anything “new.” But what about the transitions that are just part of life. Think about the transition into a new concert season, with new music and new goals. Or, what about transitioning into a new semester (or quarter) with new singers and new personalities? Transitions are tough – fun – but tough! How can we approach them and utilize the experience to further advocate for our art and potentially create meaningful, collaborative opportunities?
This month, I sat down and interviewed an orchestra teacher, Adrian Gordon, who recently wrote a book all about navigating transitions. Transparent moment – it wasn’t originally intended that this interview to be an A&C curated episode – but throughout the discussion, I kept flashing to memories, or stories, I’ve heard from colleagues and realized this is something we could all use, whether you’re in a formal or informal transition.
Point blank – life is about the transition. Just like in music – it’s that transition right before the beat drops – that transition in Sonata Allegro form – that tricky modulation that eventually, and usually surprisingly, gets you back to tonic – you get the point. But, transitions are hard! Navigating those new keys and accidentals; counting the rests; continuing to show up every day in a version that will most benefit your singers and propel your ensemble to where it needs to go. How? How can we make the most of transitions?
So, I reached back out to Mr. Gordon and he agreed to help co-author this blog. Meet Adrain Gordon, composer, orchestra teacher, and now author! His new book, “Note to Self: A Music Director’s Guide to Transitioning to a New School and Building a Thriving Music Program,” offers us a variety of useful tools we can apply no matter where we are in our educational journey. Through using these tips, you’ll have some new tools in your belt to keep showing up gracefully and even accumulate some stories and inspiration to enhance your advocacy and collaborations along the way.
Transitions require physical, emotional, and mental help: We’ve all heard the importance of sleep, but why is that often the first thing to go when we get overwhelmed or busy? Not only is a good night of sleep essential to your physical health, but it is essential for you to be able to do your job effectively. Transitions often throw new kinks into the chain, sometimes causing more work. Prioritize sleep and keep yourself fueled so you are ready to take on the unknowns that come every day (and remember them – because if you’re not sleeping, memory is one of the first things to go). Don’t give up your sleep to a wandering mind. Write things down. If ideas or issues are swirling around in your head, write them down and leave them on the list. Your sleep is sacred!
Transitions should be expected, create a checklist now: Do you have in mind the “at the least, we will” versus the “best possible scenario?” If we learned anything in the last few years, it is how to be flexible. Figure out which battles you want to fight, and which ones really matter, and make sure they get done. Also, be open to trying new things that may be a better fit than the way you are used to doing things. Everything else can then be the icing on the cake, per se.
Transitions can happen without knowing it, lean into your community: You don’t have to do anything alone. Ask for help! You may consider Inviting parents to help volunteer and chaperone at any events you hold. Their investment may translate into attachment. Sometimes that may be listening to a podcast on your commute to get ideas or spark energy. Maybe that is calling a colleague to see if they are going through the same things? Perhaps it is collaborating with another teacher in your building to build community and support. Sometimes, an outside look into a situation can help clarify – but make sure you’re leaning into someone who is, as Brene Brown says, also in the arena showing up.
Transitions involve your entire community, build in support for you and your singers: Your singers go through life transitions too. Create space and time to build support for them as well. Music is so often their support system in times of uncertainty. Don’t fear being vulnerable – singing in and of itself is a vulnerable activity. Here are a few tips to help develop meaningful relationships with your students:
- Share parts of your life that are important to you when possible. This humanizes you.
- Ask them how they’re doing and see how you can support them.
- Ask your students questions about their interests.
- Tell your students music jokes to get them laughing.
- Tell your students that you care for them.
Especially in transition, self-care and balance aren’t an option: “Music may be the food of life,” but before you “sing on,” make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Yes, sleep and fueling were mentioned in point one, but we are known for being workaholics without balance. Stand up, stretch, breathe, walk around, and get some fresh air. Your body needs this!
Don’t forget to eat well! As busy as we get tying up loose ends, our food choices sometimes get pushed down to the bottom of our priority list. Don’t let this happen! Make time to make smart, healthy choices about how you fuel your body. Plan ahead and pack some healthy snacks. You’d put gas in your car if the fuel light came on—well, healthy food is the fuel that keeps your body running. Make sure you take care of your body.
Don’t be afraid to take a step back and evaluate your priorities. One of my favorite quotes is from Dr. Derrick Fox, when he was talking about balance in an interview. Paraphrasing, but he said after we are all done with our careers, who will be there by our side? Our families and friends. So, we must invest in them now before we make it to the end of our careers. You have a unique role in your family that can only be filled by you. Whether it’s your smile, your jokes, your stories, your affection, your singing, your dancing, your laughing, your playing, your attention, your hugs, your encouragement, or whatever it is that makes you special to your family, let your family members get the best parts of you. No matter what your family looks like, remember that you need your family, and your family needs you!
Take the personal day. Hire the sub for one rehearsal. Trust a student to lead the warm-ups so you can drink your water and eat a quick snack. You deserve to be a complete, full, and cared-for human.
What’s the point of this A&C blog? Yes, transitions are tough, but these tips can help. Our career is innate and full of transitions. Yes, everyone goes through different kinds of transitions all the time, but that’s totally normal, it’s a part of life. Yes, there can be incredible stories and moments within transitions, especially if you’re braced, equipped, and ready for them.
Let’s enjoy the journey, friends! Can’t wait to hear your stories!
Watch this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/cWTVcxBioek (or episode 144 on the “Music (ed) Matters” Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts).
Mr. Adrian Gordon Adrian Gordon is an active performer, composer, and music educator living in Charlotte, NC. His colorful compositions are captivating for musicians of all ages from very easy to advanced levels. Adrian takes pride in creating music that is fun and pedagogically sound at all levels. Mr. Gordon currently serves as the orchestra director at Providence Day School in Charlotte, NC. He received his B.A. in music from the University of Miami, and his Masters degree in Music Education at Florida International University. Find out more at https://www.adriangordonmusic.com/
Dr. Emily Williams Burch chairs ACDA’s Advocacy & Collaboration Committee. Dr. Burch has served in various positions for ACDA at the state, regional, national level in a variety of roles, including co-programming chair and honor choir coordinator for the Southern Region ACDA conferences since 2014. You can subscribe to her podcast for music educators wherever you get your podcasts, or at EmilyBurch.org/podcast.