Jul 28, 2021, 10:00 AM
National Flute Association
By Davina Miaw
Two years after writing “Dream Big,” an article for The Flutist Quarterly on my time at the 2018 NFA Convention as a Frances Blaisdell Scholarship recipient, I find myself living in my “big dream.” But what does it look like when your big dream comes true and it is not quite what you dreamt? What does it look like to live faithfully in your dream-turned-reality?
I currently teach first through fourth grade general music, middle school choir, and an atypical version of high school band at an international school in China. This was my big dream: to teach music at an international school to give students music opportunities they would not otherwise have. Amidst the effects of COVID-19, it looks much different than what I initially thought. There are masks in the classroom, regular temperature checks, and lots of hand sanitizer. In addition, teaching at a small international school means I not only am the music teacher, but also serve as the tech person, help out with sports, and fill anywhere else there are gaps.
When thinking about an answer to my question (“What does it look like to live faithfully in your dream-turned-reality?”), I realized the lessons learned in my music classes have enabled me to live faithfully in my dream-turned-reality. Though I am not necessarily focused on practicing and performing my flute, I have found in post-college life that the lessons learned from my time fluting are not far from me.
Here are three examples I have seen this past year.
Listen and Understand Others
In our present day of COVID-19, we need connection beyond masks and screens; we need to expose our vulnerability, ask for help, and make mistakes. When we listen to music and each other, we share our hearts, which connects, breaks, and leaves us vulnerable.
Most people will not listen to you unless you have a relationship with them first. I am listening and understanding the culture, history, and students’ stories at my school first before I try to change things. I find myself adapting to learning styles and cultural backgrounds. I constantly remind myself that I must speak less and listen more.
It was the same way in music ensembles. I had to speak less and listen more. The most effective learning for me was active listening: listening to a recording, following along with a score, and marking nuances in the music. After this, I could hear the different parts, respond, and create beautiful music. My ears were attuned and responsive to the sounds around me.
To live faithfully in your dream-turned-reality, you must listen and understand others first. When you do this, you provide openings for meaningful connections and responses.
Learn the Rules, Then Break Them Well
A concept that I find myself constantly emphasizing to my high school students is that we need to know the rules in order to intentionally break them well. At the beginning of each class, we do a “listening log” where I introduce them to famous classical pieces. I do this so they recognize patterns from classical music in modern music. Then when they practice they can identify patterns easier. I also allow space for their own interpretation. I tell them, “Usually it would be played this way, but do you want to do it differently? Why? What is your purpose?” When they break a common rule, there should be intentionality.
In my eight o’ clock music history class in college, I often wondered what the point of listening to music from hundreds of years ago was. In my flute lessons I was asked many times, “Where is your phrase going? What note are you aiming for?” Now I ask my students these same questions because we must have purpose in our music. I extend these questions beyond notes on a page to “What is your purpose in life? What do you show with your music?” My school’s theme is “We Learn. We Love. We Lead.” We learn about music and the rules so that we can better love and appreciate the music, then we lead with innovative ideas.
To live faithfully in your dream-turned-reality, you need to understand the rules, then break them well. Understanding the rules gives you a solid foundation to work from which fuels creativity and expression.
Be Present to the Moment
My mind tends to wander in the hundred measures of rest that can occur as a flutist. However, my music teachers always told me to pay attention during the rests. They said, “Resting is not something we let pass us by, but it is anticipatory.” Sometimes the silence is what makes music impactful.
My dream-turned-reality has lost the luster it once had at times. It can be mundane as I write lesson plans and answer email after email about things that do not relate to music or teaching. As I live in this reality, I find there is motion in the mundane. I am living in my dream. Especially through COVID-19, I have learned to grab hold of the moment and never take it for granted. I have found that I need to be aware and content with where I am now. I find joy writing my lessons knowing that a well thought out plan creates space for fun and creativity when I interact with my students. When they sing so-mi-re-do correctly, there is delight in my soul! I still dream about bigger things, but I am not going to waste the reality I have now.
To live faithfully in your dream-turned-reality, you need to be present to the moment. The best things happen in the mundane if you are only aware.
These are a few lessons learned from my music classes that have impacted my post-college life. I am grateful for my teachers and years in music classes for giving me a greater appreciation for the world. I pray that you who read this may continue to dream big, but also live faithfully with what you have been given today.
All photos courtesy of Davina Miaw.
To read "Dream Big," Davina's piece for the Spring 2019 issue of The Flutist Quarterly, click here and navigate to page 48.