Jazz vs. Classical

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My colleagues are probably tired of my tired metaphors. I try very hard not to speak in cliche, but often simple one-liners say exactly what I want to say. For example, I love to employ the phrase marco vs. micro to describe one step in problem solving as so often dilemmas have a macro solution as well as micro one. And as a Principal, I often refer to part of my job as that of visionary/planner/strategist while a expanding component is taken up in keeping the trains running on time. These days, I find myself using the phrase jazz or classical to fit my description of many adults that I work with.

One of my avocations is performing music. Perhaps my favorite jazz piece on guitar that I  play with a musician buddy of mine is Minor Swing, a jazz score written and performed by the great Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. Like many jazz tunes, it begins and ends with a fairly simple and catchy melody and chord progression. But in the middle the player has a chance to improvise around the fretboard, paying attention to the rhythm and chords structure but tempting fate with every measure, hoping that one’s fingers don’t fail them.
Conversely, I find myself playing  a classical piece such as Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, or Pachelbel’s Canon at the occasional wedding ceremony. In this case, there is little or no improv, and sticking to the script is crucial.
I find that adults fit along this both musical metaphor spectrum. We all know colleagues of ours who prefer to know the script to life and yet others who would rather chart their own course and not be told too many rules. Jamie McKenzie in the Summer 2008 edition of The Educational Technology Journal quotes Paul Berliner’s book Thinking in Jazz (1994):
“Ironically, the thinker must usually acquire a solid foundation in the thinking of the sages, the theories of the experts and the beliefs of the academy in order to build something new and worthwhile…In the world of jazz, young performers must master a repertoire of chord progressions and harmonies so that they can count on them as structures around which and through which they might weave more magical variations.”
I do appreciate the jazz educator and those that work hard to increase their ability to improvise. There is great comfort in a classical approach but educators who can extemporize are invaluable in moving a school forward. To some degree, school leaders simply have to accept their colleagues for who they are and modify their  practice accordingly. While everyone would benefit from understanding their own “musical genre” and perhaps stretch a bit, the reality is that every institution benefits from a diversified faculty.
I will continue to lean toward a jazz approach. But I will always want some Bachs and Beethovens to balance out the staff.

This post originally appeared on my blog “Principal Reflections”. I will be blogging there and on Connected Principals from the 2011 ASCD Annual Conference in San Francisco, March 25-28.

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