Well first of all, as Frank Zappa asked: “Does humour belong in music?”
Good question …and I guess it’s a question of personal taste and opinion.
Speaking for myself, as I am generally considered by those who know me to be someone who is constantly joking and who injects humour into virtually every situation, you might be lead into thinking that I enjoy the same attributes in the music that I listen to. However, the music that I love almost never contains any humoristic elements.
It’s personal taste of course, but I’m just not a big fan of comical music. That may be one of the contributing elements to the fact that, despite having great respect for the work of Frank Zappa as a leader in musical creation, I have never specifically warmed to his work.
When I listen to the music that I personally love, I’m totally immersed in the emotions that it creates, and those emotions in my case are not of a humorous nature. On the contrary, they are often quite contemplative and serious.
However, once the music has stopped, that is the moment that I want to let go and laugh. It’s just the way I work…
A great example of this can be found on the many occasions that I have had to witness live performances from a group such as Genesis in the 80s. Generally speaking, the kind of grand opus that this group regularly produced at the time, both on their albums and in subsequent live performances, can hardly be considered anything other than thoughtful and serious composition work. However, during the breaks in between the songs, Phil Collins was an absolute master at retaining audience attention with plain, simple “silly” humour, in total contradiction to the mood and style of their musical performance.
You can find many examples of artists that do this. They share their art with their audience in the form of great music that they believe in, and at the same time, they punctuate their shows with the sort of down to earth laughter that everyone can warm to, in between songs to deepen the relationship. A great combination to enhance communication between the artist and their art, and the audience and their appreciation.
Can we use this combination in music education (or indeed any education) to improve teacher/student relationships and enhance the learning environment?
Does humour belong in the teaching studio?
Well, in my opinion, quite definitely…
Education is a serious business whatever the subject, and if we want to learn as a student, or transmit the passion as a teacher, we have to be serious about it. But we can indeed be TOO serious, and end up stifling potential openings to the learning process, both as a teacher or as a student.
When I teach, I need the student to leave the lesson feeling that they have had a good time. Humour is the perfect tool for that.
“That’s great”, I hear you say, “but we teachers are not here to entertain students – we are here to teach, right?” Well, yes and I take my subject matter very seriously. But we must also entertain if our teaching is to be at its most effective, and the student will benefit from that entertainment.
Teaching is a performance, and the art is to be found in creating the right balance between delivering your message and entertaining. Students should not leave the lesson feeling that they’ve learned something but that they’ve had no fun. Neither should they leave the lesson feeling that they’ve had a great time, but they didn’t learn anything.
I am, always have been, and always will be, both a music educator and a music performer. I could not see myself as doing only one or the other. Why? Because I’ve always believed that musical performance and musical education come down to the same vocation. At the end of the day, we are sharing our passion. It’s just the landscape that is different.
If that is the case, then just as in a great live show where humour can be used to bring the audience deeper into your musical universe, there is every reason to nurture a place for humour in music lessons.