- by Ray Bryant
According to my mom, one of the first words I spoke was guitar. Guess I was born to play J. I have a clear memory of my childhood with a drum set and a guitar at my grandparent’s house. I always loved to get behind the kit and have fun. My grandparents always encouraged music. My entire family was music lovers. I remember the variety television shows on TV and they were always filled with great music. My grandparents made me watch my fair share of the Lawrence Welk show.
By the time I was 7 I had an intimate knowledge of Sgt. Peppers, Beatles, Commodores, Kool & the Gang, the Beach Boys and Billy Joel. Burt Bacharach, Tom Jones, Neil Diamond and Tony Bennett were all household names. Frank Sinatra was not just a singer, but a collective family wide hero and icon. Stevie Wonder and Al Green accompanied parties on the stereo. These are my earliest childhood memories. Dancing, singing, clapping hands, whistling melodies. Music was alive in every one of us.
As early as elementary school my name would be synonymous with music and the kid who could be used for special things for the schools music program. Around age 10 I performed Stairway to Heaven at one performance and then doing upright bass for Stand by Me at another. By the time I was in high school my studies consisted of hours and hours a day practicing and performing music. I woke up and played for 30 minutes, took the bus to school, then had guitar, piano and vocal lessons. After school I came home directly and picked the guitar up until dinnertime. After dinner it was right back at it. Dad would come in and tell me it was lights out and tomorrow we would do it again. I came from a pretty athletic family all in all but I somehow missed that gene and was handed a good ear instead of a good eye. My parents were very very supportive.
In my sophomore year of high school I learned that my dad had a terminal disease. He fought cancer and lived for a few years more years. Before he passed I learned so much from him. His final words in a written letter were to follow my bliss, study philosophy, and follow my passion and heart always. He wanted me to laugh more, love more and learn.
Ok, I’ll admit, I wasn’t the best-behaved kid in school after that. When I was in school I started to act out. After a while the Principal couldn't take it any longer and was looking for options to kick me out of school. My music teacher went above the call of duty and spoke to the Principal asking him if he could take responsibility for me and he would work things out. He had me 4 periods a day and I would even eat lunch with him. He guided me towards more constructive activities and kept me in line like no other. I respected him as a person, as a teacher and as a friend. He was and still is a huge part of my heart and reason for success. He also made it clear that music was not just for the elite but music was for everybody. I went on my way after school and stayed in touch with him. To this day I am in communication with him and his family.
Fast forward through lots of errors and my first wife and I having a baby boy. He liked music and I used to play all the time. Eventually I started to go to libraries and play music for him and other children. Years later I went to school for a second degree in music education and while there I had a similar experience as the previous one and learned so much. Above all I learned that music was a way to level the playing field for all different people from all walks of life. It is the one discipline I have found more cultural awareness, acceptance and love of diversity. This is when and where I started to dream of a program that would bring music to children. I also realized that adults would benefit from the same experiences.
When I finished school I designed a way to provide independent music education for home-schooled children. At the same time I met Jason and we had this conversation that led us to partnering and licensing the Music for Aardvarks series. Our early success led us from theory and ideas to rubber meeting the road.
Ken Trapp, Dr. Gordon, and all the Michaels have inspired my philosophy of teaching. I have picked up tricks and knick-knacks along the way worth bringing along. Music education has often been about competing and being the best. It is too often forgotten that music is the place to be ok with whom you are. Our program is about being a great role model and allowing kids to find music. Originally I thought this was going to be best served with elementary school children. After thinking back on my experience I initially thought that was the earliest it could happen. I was clearly wrong and started our music program to encourage love for music with toddlers and even when babies are still in the womb.
High expectations for our students are not something we strive for. In fact the only people we expect anything from are our team and ourselves. Each student will learn slightly differently so it is our job to adjust and go with his or her flow. Each parent has his or her own needs. When a student is doing it one way and we would like them to try a new way I will model something another way.
Some critical thinking for me in our teaching experience is to offer exposure to new music, and new ideas. We as educators have the ability to give students context and introduce them to music.
Be humble. We ought not assume that we have the only correct way of doing something. No one has a patent on all of the good ideas in the world.
Get down with the music! Right away get down to music, if you want to teach kids how to love and appreciate music get them involved with singing, dancing and playing musical games. Keep them active.
Make learning music about joy! Make learning anything fun and you will see results. Teach children that it is fantastic to be creative and try new things but learn from the past.
This leads me to the here and now. I have found a partner and a method that accomplishes all of my dreams and goals. I have a way to deliver music to everybody! Many thanks to all of my mentors and teachers through all of the years!
I look forward to this exciting, fun, musical journey!