Recently, a popular youtube music educator has gotten a lot of heat. I'd like to talk about why, and how he could have avoided this kind of backlash from an educator's standpoint.
This particular youtuber has some seriously great content, and generally has a great vibe to what he does, but also comes off as a bit harsh when dealing with actual people, and I do think this is where he could take a few lessons himself. Perhaps the dissociation from actual human beings is partly to blame, but any serious educator should take that into consideration before stepping from out behind his/her keyboard.
A few weeks ago, said youtuber was invited to a college campus to give a week long series of lectures about various aspects of music theory. One of these lectures was a masterclass on composition, in which students were invited to share their various compositions.
One particular piece came into question, and I got the full story from the student involved via a group we all belong to. (Sort of a like minded musicians hangout place.)
This piece was an arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't" (a classic jazz tune, right out of The Real Book), and contained two measures of a musical phrase commonly referred to as "The Licc". If you are not familiar with The Licc, here is a link to a lot of musicians using it in various ways throughout jazz history:
So. Here's the problem with presenting The Licc in a college setting: one can't "just do the licc" anymore. Everyone is in on the joke, so just playing it, or writing it plainly as part of a composition is kind of lazy. The student involved admitted that when he initially wrote the arrangement, it was included "to troll his professor at the time of the assignment". The professor and the youtuber are NOT the same person, and apparently the student had forgotten that he had done that when presenting this arrangement to the YouTube lecturer. He did NOT mean to troll the lecturer in any form.
Here's where things took a nasty turn. Like an angry bulldog, the guest youtube lecturer latched onto this 2 measures of joke music and railed on it for somewhere between 10-15 minutes, ignoring the entire rest of the arrangement. He then told that student he was wasting his tuition money and should reconsider his life before moving on to the next student.
Obviously this happened in public and most of the community have reached out to let the student involved know to keep at it. Even the famous Adam Neely chimed in with some kind advice and a quick jab for trolling his professors.
When confronted about it, the YouTube educator said he was sorry if he hurt someone's feelings but that he felt use of the licc was demeaning to the art form of jazz.
Many have argued that use and further development of The Licc pays homage to the inventors of that music since we have all noticed those musicians playing that sequence. So using it cleverly to quote our heroes could actually be a very fitting tribute with that in mind.
In my opinion, I think it all comes down to the intent of the artist. If your intent as an artist is to further develop that tradition, this is quite a wholesome use of historically thematic material. But, if your intent is to troll your teacher, maybe your work will not come off in the best light if we're not all in on the joke.
Is the heat deserved?
Personally I think yes, it absolutely is. Was he wrong to jab at that student a bit? No, not at all. I personally would have made a little fun myself, but I would have then proceeded to help enrich the arrangement and that particular use of The Licc. Maybe you harmonize it, or juxtapose it in some kind of interesting way? Perhaps you prolong it? My old teacher back in the day taught me this technique he called SYGMA and thinking about that now, I literally could give an entire lecture on just how to SYGMA The Licc! That would be super fun actually!
So, to shame that student and tell them to quit music instead of providing a constructive criticism of any sort is where I find this behavior to be inappropriate and absolutely uncalled for. As an educator, you have to keep your own biases out of the content, and I guess as a Youtuber you really don't need to do that. So I see where and why things went the way they did, but it is a real shame that this individual did not do their homework beforehand.
I would recommend for them to go out and talk to some real college music students before their presentations so they can get used to people skills again. Or do something because that youtube personality mentality is not applicable to this situation, and there is an obvious need for anyone in any field to practice their craft. This person had a chance to face a point of frustration and turn it into a positive conversation and learning experience. Not doing so was a big failure on his part and shows evidence that he was not properly prepared to deal with this audience.
I'm personally not a great teacher because I am good at music. I am great at teaching because I've been doing that for 20 years, honing my methods and techniques, doing the very thing I tell every music student to do: PRACTICE.
Being good at music definitely helps me to lead by example, but overall I am only effective because I know how to effectively show and describe the skills needed to play, not because I am particularly good at those skills. Any great teacher I've ever known understands that role quite well.
So that's what I think! What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know!!