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What does music education have to offer children, especially in times of the pandemic? How can parents integrate music education into their children's everyday life? How can music improve the lives of music students?
I sat down with musician and music educator Anne Weiss to answer these questions in this week's episode of Why Does Music Education Matter? In an interview, Anne talks about her connection to music, her philosophy as a music teacher and why music education is more important than ever.
Who is Anne Weiss?
Anneis a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with more than five albums to her credit. She has recorded and toured with legendary musicians such as Dar Williams, Taj Mahal and Ani Difranco.
I was fortunate to study with Anne as a student in her Singing for the Vocally Challenged class at Artichoke Music for almost two years. It was one of the most transformative experiences of my musical career because it opened my ears.
After two yearsvocal trainingWith Anne I was able to hear harmonies better, improvise more confidently and sing in tune, which before my lessons with Anne seemed impossible.
Why Music Education Matters Full interview with Anne Weiss
Brian Parham 0:03
Hello, my name is Brian Parham and I am the founder of the rock dojo. And I'm so excited to sit down with my good friend and Weiss. And thank you and welcome to Why is music education important? it's so nice to see you
Anne Weiss 0:19
it's so nice to see you
Brian Parham 0:22
So I first met at Artichoke Music's Singing for the Vocally Challenged probably two years ago and I was blown away by your teaching and I cared so much about learning from you. So I really wanted to take you further. So that we can conduct this interview. So my first question to you is: How did you get into music?
Anne White 0:45
Oh wow, that's actually one of my favorite questions because I had a grandmother who managed to get her classical piano degree despite growing up very poor and being a phenomenal classical pianist. And also was like a person you just wanted to be with, whoever you were. She was elegant and hilarious and loving life and prone to fits of giggles at all times and was just smart and kind and loving and patient and funny and everything you could ever want around you. And her name was Elizabeth Weiss. My middle name is Elizabeth. So my name is Elizabeth Weiss. Very proud of this connection. And she was the daughter of Jewish Russian immigrants. And, and was poor all her life, but always retained this incredible joie de vivre and friendliness, which was remarkable. And I, you know, of course, wanted to do whatever she did, so by five I was ready for piano lessons. And you know, five is you have to be really, really patient to try to teach your five year old an instrument, in most cases, and I was, you know, a bubbly five year old, like most. But then she got me going. And one of the things that was really amazing to me, all along, but even more so in retrospect, apart from the fact that she gave me chocolates after the end of each lesson. She always had chocolate. No, he had chocolate in her purse. Not once in all the time she's been teaching me, that was yours, right? Has she ever been impatient? Has she ever said anything unkind? Did she ever say anything? Has she ever been outwardly frustrated? Or I wouldn't even bet it was that real. I don't think she was frustrated inside. Like she's a real teacher who enjoys helping someone else learn, right? I mean, she really loved music and she loved me. And she loved teaching it, and it was everything I needed to know as an adult teacher, right? You need the skills and you need the patience and you need the diligence. The other thing you need is to pay attention to how a student learns best I think. And she had all those things. One missing piece of information growing up was that no one knew I was visually impaired, including me. And because I wanted to please her so much, because she was so loving and kind, she put music in front of me. And she would point out all the difficult parts. And she was Circle Things, and she would write things. She would then of course want me to learn the play and I wanted to learn the play. And I really want to learn the piece to please her. So I would say would you play it again? And would you play it again? And would you play it again and I'd stare at the music and think I'd learn something by looking at the sheet. But actually I learned the sounds by heart. And that's how I learned to play.
Brian Parham 4:15
Great. That's actually something I remember teaching with you, it was like you listen to everything, every vocal line, everything and then you just plan it out in real time as the singer sings it, you play the next note perfectly in the pitch on the piano, which always blew me away. I mean, you raise so many excellent points, and you touch on some of the things that I wanted to talk to you about, actually your philosophy as a teacher, but we'll come back to that. One thing that you mentioned that I think is so important, you mentioned your grandmother Elizabeth Weiss and how she started playing the piano and how she grew up poor and as you know, music although throughout the music was not rich. in itself is a form of wealth. And I can tell you from my own childhood that I grew up poor and didn't have access to music education. It wasn't until I was. Well I tried playing guitar when I was, I don't know, about 18, I think I found out I was in college, broken up with my longtime girlfriend and played Pink Floyd's "The Wall" everything changed for me and I just listened to every Pink Floyd album. And I just fell in love. Even today I realized: oh my god, the sound I'm chasing after in my head is David Gilmore, the guitarist for Pink Floyd. And that's what I'm still striving for. But whatever music brings to children, especially disadvantaged children, I can't even imagine what my life would be like today without music. The skills, and that's my big thing, are the skills that music teaches, you know, the success skills that music teaches, but not even the success skills, it's the quality of life. And I hear you say that about your grandmother?
Anne Weiss 6:01
Oh wonderful. I think if you want to think about music as a commodity, that's not the word I'm looking for. Because I'm not, I'm not trying to monetize it. I try to prioritize it. But off as a form of connection, right? If you think of wealth as a form of wealth, music is one of the things that gives you the greatest connection. I mean, when I was in Ethiopia adopting my daughter, I reconnected with a friend from college who is one of Ethiopia's most famous musicians. Right? Oh, I didn't know he was going to be one of Ethiopia's most famous musicians, right. But he and I used to be, you know, we were connected through college music. And then we bonded through our love of nature in college and this music, and then nature, and then friendship. And then I was in Ethiopia with literally like that when he entered the restaurant everyone got quiet and started bowing inwardly as you could see everyone was looking at him and they were going like that. They looked at me and thought how do you know this amazing man. And not only is he one of them, but his name is Squishy Demissie. Not only is he one of Ethiopia's most celebrated musicians, but now he's reestablished all of those connections. He took his love of nature with him. And he said what can I do to help Ethiopia and Ethiopia's environment because there had been so many changes in between when he left Ethiopia when he came back the city had grown up you know sorry that is very loud, sorry. In the town where he grew up, all the trees were used for firewood etc. So the streets were dirty, he started with a broom, you know, singing and a broom. And then all these kids wanted to come and help him because he was singing and he had a broom. And that has led to the fact that all of Africa pays attention to its environmental program with children. And he is named after the most famous, is the other name. He is named after the most famous character in one of his songs, an elderly man who loved the earth.
Brian Parham 8:28
Wow. Yes. Such an incredible story.
Anne White 8:33
Well, I know, like that. So here I am. I have arrived in Ethiopia. And suddenly I'm connected to the entire music scene in Ethiopia from that one friend, right. And suddenly other people say: Oh, you make music? Do you want, you know, do you want to perform in Ethiopia? Can we introduce you to the game? It was right. I mean it's amazing how far reaching music and music sharing can be. And so many musicians are connecting using music as a connection. I think the idea is some sort of snooty musician revolving around them. This is the sad musician. This is the musician with no self-esteem trying to be on top. I think that's a lot less common than people who just love music and they want to get to know other people in the piece and share and connect, you know,
Brian Parham 9:23
Wow what an incredible story and what an incredible value. I hadn't thought of that before. And that's one of the reasons I feel so spoiled, because I can do these, these interviews, and I can think about things and see things in new ways. And I never thought of music as a form of wealth. Suppose you think of wealth as a form of connection. This is such an amazing realization. And I'll chew on it and think about it, but that's a thing that I've found in my own life, and if I go back to my childhood, my brother is actually, again, I grew up destitute. I didn't make music, but my brother was 10 years younger than me. And I started playing guitar when I was 18. And then I stopped right away because I was totally discouraged. I had no teachers or support, but my brother stuck with it. And he actually was an international competition when he was 12 or 13 with his Motionless in White and he actually had to go out and get a record deal and tour with Ozzfest, like the Ozzfest tour. And that just opened every door you can imagine. And here you know, a kid from a low-income family who now has every opportunity to tour around the world has been doing it for about 20 years. And the same thing with me, before I got serious about guitar again, I was, you know, I did a job that I didn't love, that I wasn't passionate about. Once you reconnected with the music it opened all the doors and I never thought of that as a form of connection. So this is amazing. And thank you very much. And I come straight to question number two: What instruments do you play? And how has making music shaped your life? And I think you've talked a lot about it.
Anne White 11:05
I've talked about it a lot. But um, well, I'm a singer. And I play piano and guitar and ukulele. And then other things, I wouldn't call it playing; I would call it fumbling. As if I can get away with sounding really good for a song or two. And that's the range of what I do. So I don't think the other things count. But the really nice thing about playing several different instruments is that I feel confident that if I wanted to learn another one I could, I could say, ok, I'll apply what I know and take a few lessons and look online . And, and now, you know, I'm interested in playing the trumpet someday. So eventually, when I have some time, hopefully when the pandemic is over, and I have some time, I'll be happy to take some trumpet lessons and practice a little bit and see where it goes.
Brian Parham 11:54
That is amazing. And, and, well, you mentioned earlier that that's one of the first things you talked about. And that brings me to question number three: Can you tell us something about your philosophy as a music teacher?
Anne Weiss 12:06
Yes I can. So my philosophy is that if the student isn't learning, it's because the teacher hasn't figured out how the student learns best. So if the student is, and I tell my students, if the student is failing or not making progress, it's not the student's fault. The teacher is to blame. That's part of my philosophy. And one of the reasons I say that to people is because I want to take their heat away. Because people often feel insecure about the level they are at when learning. They feel like they should be better off. They are ashamed when they make mistakes. We're not growing up in a very learner-friendly culture. From some of us I think my daughter who is in online kindergarten, I can't believe how wonderful her teacher is and how kind and non judgmental, it's a very different environment. Right. And yet my daughter worries about being ridiculed even though she doesn't have it here at home and she doesn't have it at school. It's just, I think part of it is culture. And, of course, part of that is not wanting to attract attention, right? Or think to yourself: Oh, I'm not good enough. So. So I don't have a student who doesn't give me a disclaimer before class. I mean, even if they've been practicing every day, there's still a way that of course they're not going to be very good at, because you know. And so I tell people, anyway, I think that's going to put them at ease the most, because I think people learn best when they're most comfortable. And if they judge themselves, least of all. I've even dealt with students who put themselves down all the time because I know their brain is working against their ability to learn, where I have them set out a jar with money within reach and an empty jar. And every time they lie down internally or externally they must take some coins from one jar and put them in the other jar. And then you have to give me the money. And sometimes trying to study in a few weeks for people who have that self-critical voice heals them. And then of course I don't tell them that, but of course I give them their money back. But anyway, that's my philosophy, and at times it's led me down some exciting paths. I worked with a young woman who suffered from severe epilepsy all her life. And so she was disabled and it was really, really hard for her to retain any information at all. So I'd try to see what what what what's even stuck and what we could do to reinforce that every week and fix it, that we reinforce the same thing week after week after week after week, for perhaps it would take her three months to learn what a person would learn in a day or an hour. But the point was, she wanted to learn. So who was I to judge how fast he would stay? It was not me. I wouldn't let that frustrate me; I was just in awe that she would come to class with this disability, she would come with a big smile on her face, come with her notebook and say ready to learn? And I thought, what else do you need? Besides that? this is so great you know So I feel that it is up to the teacher to find out how the student learns best. Yes.
Brian Parham 15:37
Thank you very much. That's a fantastic answer. And I agree with you, you know, as an educator, I think about some of the students that I have. And I, you know, I've interviewed a lot of different educators. And it's so fascinating to see the different approaches, and I've experienced that as a student, and I know, as a vocal student of yours, like singing, there's something inherited, there's something different about singing, I think even more so than the guitar , you know, so person, like the guitar, like, obviously, like, you know, and it could be just me, so I'm just a person, but as a guitar I don't, you don't have anything like that, but if When you open your voice, I remember being your student and, you know, I was so scared of not getting on the court. You can hear when the pitches don't match. So it's like, ah, it's so shocking. So man, and I love your philosophy. Thank you for sharing this. And what question number four? What does music have to offer children, especially in times of the pandemic? wow
Anne White 16:44
Um, I think the question would be more like: is there anything that music wouldn't offer children? I mean, you know, musical skills are so phenomenally transferrable. They, they give you another way to connect with other people. So besides the music part of the music, which is so wonderful, so satisfying and so joyful, and it's right for most people. And how exciting it is to learn and sing songs you love. There's so much science behind it, how many parts of the brain light up at once when you're playing and singing, and how great it's just for developing -- those skills come naturally. Are, are worth it. And then you know, especially when you have a good teacher who's nice to you, who's understanding, and who's happy with the form, right? That, as we say, can lead you right down that path where you know it, even if you're not a professional musician. Maybe you go to jam sessions after work, you develop a friendship because you make music with people, you know. So, and then as kids, you know, maybe you get into kids bands, maybe you go to rock school, maybe you go you to the rock dojo, maybe you go to you, you know, just to your boyfriend, you like startups, you know, a maybe you, maybe you get into a doo-wop group, maybe music leads you to dance because you love rhythm so much. And then the rhythm makes you want to learn the drums, and the drums guide us. I mean it's like the great portal to everything for me.
Brian Parham 18:28
And you know, and the thing is, as a student of yours, I remember how good singing feels. You're leaving, and that's something I haven't addressed. It's like doing yoga in the morning after a good stretch in yoga, you feel so loose and so alive while the singing does the same. Your soul expands.
Anne White 18:50
I agree with you. Yes. You know, there's actually something about the physical vibration of singing that I haven't read in any of the studies. But there are also studies like this about how reassuring that is. There's a reason people sing to kids and babies make a lot of noise and a lot of noise and start singing and humming and all those things. It without that study stuff behind it. I can tell you; it's good for your soul. That's whether you're on the right track or not. That's why people sing in the shower. That's why people say when they're happy, you know, that's why people sing at all events, right at funerals, at weddings. It's an extraordinary thing people do. Right and that physical vibration in your body. It really is an amazing thing.
Brian Parham 19:37
Wow. So next question: How can parents integrate music education into the everyday life of their children?
Anne White 19:47
God this is it. That's it, especially with a pandemic I think it's extra difficult. I am very grateful to schools with school programs, school programs like Rock Dojo and Rock Dojo at Artichoke Music, like Rock Dojo. All kinds of programs ran up until the pandemic and are still going their own way. When music is built into schools, I think that's so important. As you know my six year old has half an hour of music online a week. And of course she gets music all day because I teach here at home and she listens to me. She arrived with her own natural gifts around music. But you know, as a result of being with all of this, right, she's got her pitches, excellent, she can already sing harmony. She, you know, she can play the piano, she can write, she's studied, she has a great sense of humor. By the time she was six, she was mostly playing The Addams Family. Like everything funny she can remember, she goes off and tries to pick it up. Anyway, I think it helps kids learn more types of music and more types of skills when they are around. So if parents manage to get into a program, you know, a group program if they don't have a lot of money, a school program that's free, kind of like other programs around town that offer low-cost classroom instruction. And the thing is, try to find something that your kid likes to go back to, like maybe the first few times, and you're not sure. But you want to find something that excites your child. Usually kids will like it when adults are shy and maybe a little unaware, maybe a little awkward, maybe frustrated if it's not at the right level for them. They want it to be something they really have a lot of success with. To keep them going, they are happy to see their teacher, they are like their teacher, they are comfortable with their teacher or teachers. They like the songs and they like the music. They want the kids to be so busy, I can't believe my, my students, my young students, their schedules are like they're there. I am amazed that they are showing up to classes online. I think wow, good for you. And they have a hard time finding time to practice. So I say, look, five minutes a day, let's go five minutes a day. Your people will tell you, dinner is in 10 minutes, why don't you practice, right, the setup to make a little schedule, often five minutes becomes 10 minutes. And that becomes 20 minutes in 30 minutes, right? Leave your ukulele outside on your bed, leave your guitar hanging on your wall, don't put it in the case, right? Find ways to grab it and play little music in between. It will make your day better. And following that usually results in them getting better and better at playing, having better skills and more fun. and
Brian Parham 23:00
Absolutely, I couldn't agree more. For any student of any age beginning, the first thing they can do to be successful in music is to develop the habit. Building a habit, just like you said, connects it to another habit that you do every day as soon as you can. And when you get those five, we all know that five minutes becomes 10 minutes, even 10 minutes every day for a year, it produces profound results.
Anne White 23:27
Brian Parham 23:29
But we also know that 10 minutes is more fun because everything you do better. So if you do it 10 minutes a day, you'll get better at it, you'll have more fun, and that will lead to more time. And so I think that's my philosophy as an educator. The most important thing a student needs to do to be successful is build that practice habit and combine it with another habit they do daily. And that's really yes, I can only agree with you, so what skills should each musician focus on? Ah,
Anne White 24:11
You know pitch and rhythm are some of my highest, I think because of the way I teach I tend to teach chords first. I know not everyone does that. But the thing is that a child can be a child or an adult can sit down and sing a song in the second or third period. Right? If they want to do that gratification of how, man, I'm already playing and singing a song. Right? That's really important to the styles of music I teach, especially now if you're going into classical music, if you're looking at jazz properly, then I think things like scales are going to be essential for you. Although in my experience that's often not the most exciting thing to start with. But since that's not my focus, other teachers may have more exciting ways to jump on this train. And then I try to incorporate theory from a plot perspective, like, so you've learned your major chords, you've learned your minor chords, what's the difference between a major chord and a minor chord? Well, to learn that, we might need to learn about a scale. Right? So that could be a few lessons. Oh, we learned a scale. So what are the first, third, and fifth notes of this scale? Right? It builds up, just add a little theory package so it's not intimidating. But for a student to start learning the language and not be held up or intimidated later. If they get together with a group and someone says ok we're going flat seven or, right, or we're in pentatonic, like, you know, since they're taking classes anyway, I want to make them a purchase. So you can move in all directions.
Brian Parham 26:12
I remember that with Artichoke Music. It was one of the first times I understood the major scale so well, but you literally say it and walk through the steps. And it was like I could see pitch for the first time while hearing pitch. And that's like back when I actually had kids, there's also a physical connection that comes with singing with pitch. And so and so when you first hit those pitches and then just see that you're walking with your feet. This way you demonstrated music theory visually and linked it to the song we were learning. And then when you took half the step, it was as if you saw half the step. And then you took a small step to your foot. And it was like, oh, that was the perfect visual.
Anne White 26:59
Brian Parham 26:59
Yes. I will never forget, that was a powerful moment where you can feel, see and hear the major scale. So it was like, you know, getting the information from multiple angles. Yes.
Anne White 27:16
Yes. I try to do that. Because everyone learns differently, right? Some people are visual, some people are, you know, auditory. I am a kinetic learner and an auditory learner. i am not visual Since I have vision problems it will never work for me. But that doesn't mean I can't teach people who are visual learners, right. I can give you the material. I can teach them the skills. Yes,
Brian Parham 27:35
Fantastic. Are there any questions about music education that I haven't asked you that I should have?
Anne White 27:42
I think you've been pretty thorough. I mean, I wake up the day after tomorrow and I'm like someone else, maybe another parenting boost. I'm one of the best multitaskers I know. You take it to another level because you're multitasking and being disciplined at the same time? And you are super nice. The way you are, I don't know, you like it on another level.
Brian Parham 28:16
But I paid you to say that.
Anne White 28:20
He just slipped through the internet, or the internet? Well, yes, it was a $1 bill and he just swiped it around the internet.
Anne White 28:31
What I wanted to say is that I'm really great at multitasking without it being very stressful. And I really think that's because I learned music from a young age. Because when you're learning piano, for example, your fingers, all your fingers, have to move independently of each other. Right, your brain needs to control all of your fingers, right? You have to do rhythm at the same time. This is another part of your brain that needs to function. I sang and tried to read. Most people read something. Okay, your eyes are working, your sense of pitch is working, your writing, your kinetics, your visual, your hearing, like every part of you is working at the same time, sort of learning how to do things in concert. And I think that's amazing when you have a lot of skills for many other areas of your life in the future. Even if you don't end up going after the music, it can help you in all sorts of ways that you don't even know. In other artistic OR or NOT artistic activities.
Brian Parham 29:35
Yes. Maybe that's why I feel so good about the connection. I feel so blessed to be able to sit down here on Zoom right now and have this conversation with you. And it's something that I haven't considered, you know, the multitasking element of music, and I guess we do, we really live in a time where you have to be able, I mean, we had so much coming our way once. And I've never considered that as such, you've touched on so many, you know, things that after that I'm going to sit down and really think about it, you know, he's talking about music as almost a form of wealth in wealth as a connection. You know you talked about the benefits of the brain. And this last part about music has multitasking on a personal level. But you know what I would say about music and if I was asked that question is the ability to sit down I think who is the famous producer that liked Michael Jackson? And oh yes, I know, I know. Our
Anne Weiss 30:41
money for it. So hey, I'm so sorry. let me check Speaking of multitasking, today is Wednesday. I am sorry. Just a little, oh, we're fine. OK great. OK Good.
Brian Parham 30:57
Keep going. You know what, and I think that's actually the perfect place. I wanted to say the butt power, the ability to sit down. No matter how long it takes, that's the most important thing music has taught me from a business standpoint, I'm a very special guy about how I do business and I make music. And those are the two things I do. And there is so much crossover. And the skills I've learned in music are the only things that get me into it. You have no other skills in business, but I have power as well as power. What Quincy Jones is talking about is your ability to sit down and get the job done. Whether you want it or not is irrelevant in business. It's like if you want to make relevance, right. I don't want to do most of the things I have to do. But I know it's the stuff I have to do. So I think music gives us that focus, that ability to dial in. But what's fascinating about what you say is there another element? It's actually the ability to multitask, maybe the ability to juggle, you know. I saw this as a definition of intelligence as it equals your ability to basically enjoy confronting multiple views on an issue at once.
Anne Weiss 32:06
Yes that's right. Yes, that's right. You know, there's one, I have to add one more thing, which is maybe the most important thing, and I don't know how much I've focused on that in this interview, but I think any musician who walks that path is right Has ? It's actually like all of these things that we do ultimately come from that zen moment that you have when you're in music and you're gone. you went to this place This is phenomenal. And, and changing and deep and magical and wonderful. This is often visited as a child, but difficult to reach as an adult if you don't have a trail end, right. And I feel like that connection is part of that for me. But the music itself goes into that place. It's like without that; I would not; It would be like having no food or water but delicious food and great water or friendship right. It's something that makes life phenomenal. And brings joy, and I feel like we're in a world that needs joy and the direction of joy and the motivation of joy so badly. And I have a feeling you know, for me anyway, that business doesn't. But music, right? Yes. Do you need it? Most people right? Music does that. Right? And it and it's the motivation and it's the connector. So I'll end my thoughts on that. I find
Brian Parham 33:47
Yes, beautiful, beautiful. And I can't forget to ask you. So where can people learn more about your work?
Anne Weiss 33:54
OK. So my website is www dot Anne Weiss.com, spelled AnneWeiss.com. And unfortunately you will see that I am not performing like almost everyone else at the moment. But I will do it again, it will happen, but I teach online. And I still teach group classes through artichoke music. And I do some coaching of different kinds for people with different musical activities. And I will return to producing, which I really enjoy doing. Quincy and I are like that. No, I'm just kidding. Of course he influenced everyone. I do. Um, and then I'll, you know, I'll tour and perform again, and we'll see what if she's involved as a backing singer, or she's going to be my drummer, or something's going to happen, I'm sure along with them slides. They're going to be a little mother-mother-daughter team in a way. so boy
Brian Parham 34:58
She will rule the music world in 10 years.
Anne Weiss 35:04
I think so.
Brian Parham 35:07
Danger. Yes. Anyway, I was hoping you could linger a second after I hit the record button to stop the record button, but thanks for your time.
Anne Weiss 35:16
It was a pleasure.
Brian Parham 35:18
So again, this is AnneWeiss.com and I'll make sure to put that at the top of the description so people can learn more about your work. That was absolutely incredible. Thank you for taking the time to do this today.
Anne Weiss 35:34
It's always a pleasure. Always happy to talk to you.
Past interviews on the benefits of music education
If you enjoyed this interview, don't forget to check out some of the past episodes of Why Does Music Education Matter. If you're new to this series, you might want to start my interview withJ. Stuart Fessant, a lifelong jazz musician and public school music teacher.
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Brian Parham is the founder and creator of Rock Dojo, an award-winning children's guitar program. He is also the author of three books on guitar methods for children, Lessons.com's 2018 Teacher of the Year, the Small Business Administration's 2018 Rising Star of Oregon, and an award-winning artist. He is currently pursuing a Guitar Advanced Professional Certificate from Berklee College of Music. When he's not rocking the guitar, Brian enjoys reading comics, watching Cobra Kai, and spending time with his wife.
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