Alumni Interview with Jeffrey Leonard
What are the major achievements of your career?
The major achievements can be looked at two ways: Those which bring glory, either real or perceived, on the students, community and one's self, or: those which provide a great amount of personal satisfaction.
As for personal gratification: I would have to admit that working in Lexington is one. It is a community that values and supports the arts and has given me pretty much free reign to develop the curriculum following a deeply held philosophy about what music education should be; particularly as it relates to the relatively new field of jazz education. The growth of the program and curriculum over the past 20 years is very satisfying, as we are able to provide a greater, more in depth musical experience for the students. Another area of personal satisfaction is the number of students who continue to be involved in music after high school; not as music majors, but just because they have chosen to have music and music making as an important part of their lives.
In the public glory area, in no particular order: Having groups twice making the finals of the Jazz at Lincoln Center's Essentially Ellington Competition, winning the Berklee High School Jazz Festival in both the Large Ensemble and Small ensemble categories several times, having groups selected to perform and the International Association of Jazz Educator's international convention twice and groups invited to perform in the Montreux Jazz Festival. Other achievements include being asked to conduct New Hampshire and Massachusetts All-State Jazz ensembles, district concert bands and Jazz ensembles and Jr. High district concert and jazz festival. I have also been invited to do clinics at local colleges or teachers in-service conferences, traveling with jazz groups to China on a cultural exchange, groups performing at All-State and All-Eastern music education conventions, a long list of honors at the state concert band festival and being able to perform at Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood and Symphony Hall in Boston. I was also the 1994 recipient of the Teacher of the Year award for Exemplary Teaching for the Lexington Public Schools, and the 2000 recipient of the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductor's Paul Smith Hall of Fame Award.
What made you decide to pursue music education as a career?
Originally, when I was at Berklee, Music Education for me was a major to give me some sort of fall back in the music world: a safe and secure job in the uncertain field of music. Boy did I learn quickly.
I graduated from Berklee the year Mass. Proposition 2 1/2 was passed. This was a law that limited property taxation in the state (a major source of funding for education). Over the next five years about 1,200 music teachers lost their jobs in the state. So pursuing Music Education as a major was a safety net. Pursuing music education as a career was a pursuit of passion.
I was fortunate to student teach with 5 incredible music educators in Lexington. Carol Messina at the Elementary schools (since retired), Bob Lague at the Middle School (Currently Director of Fine Arts in Stoneham), and Sandi Peaslee, Joe DiDomenico and Don Gillespie at the high school. It was during my student teaching that I realized that there was nothing more important for me to do with my life than passing on my love of music to the next generation. Next to that, especially with the amazing role models I had worked with, everything else seemed mundane. Their professionalism, passion and great level of musical skill put to rest completely the stigma of "those who can't do, teach", and replaced it with "those who do at the highest, most passionate level, teach"!
What is a normal day like in your line of work (assuming there is such a thing as a normal day)?
I arrive at school at about 7:00 AM. I set up chairs and stands for the Wind Symphony rehearsal, often with student help. I'll teach four (4) classes during the six (6) or seven (7) period day and maybe have one non-teaching duty (study hall or lunch duty). During my preparation periods I'll study scores, correct tests or papers, return phone calls and e-mails, go through the mail and answer what needs to be taken care of, work one on one with students, perhaps do end of quarter evaluation auditions, meet with other faculty members, take care of the administrative end of the program (finances, paperwork, program coordination, planning building use, etc.), and/or work with students. School ends at 2:25 and three days a week I'll have after school rehearsals: jazz ensemble sectionals or rehearsals, chamber music groups, in the fall everyday after school I'm involved in musical rehearsals. These usually run until 6:00 pm. Monday's are either building or department faculty meetings. Then I'm at school 1-2 evenings per week for other things: Community band rehearsals, rehearsals for special groups at school or other things. I also continue to be an active performer and conductor in local and regional theater groups and some jazz groups. It's wonderful that I am able to make my entire living in the music profession.
What is your favorite part of the job?
The kids - no question. They are bright, inspiring, excited about learning and growing, and incredibly challenging. Also, we music educators get to know these kids for two (2) to nine (9) years, depending on the scope of our jobs. We can build very important relationships with them. They look to us to help with life decisions, not just musical ones. It is an incredibly important job, which deals with nothing less than the future of our civilization. We shape the leaders of tomorrow - culturally, intellectually and morally. It's an enormous responsibility.
What are some of the personal rewards that have come with your job or career?
Some of those are listed above under the achievements category. But the most rewarding thing is the relationships you establish with the people you touch and who touch you. Being asked twice to be the teacher speaker at graduation was an incredible honor. Also, seeing former students or their parents at different places (from Lexington to London!) and hearing about what they're doing and rekindling fond memories. Being important in people's lives is a wonderful feeling. And I always come away feeling as if I have gotten more than I have given. You'll never be Bill Gates wealthy, but you can be incredibly satisfied and happy. And you can earn a very comfortable living.
What do you think are the requisites for someone entering this field?
Be an excellent musician. Be a life-long learner, not just in music, but also in everything. Continually work on communication skills. Be organized (not to be confused with "be neat!"). Believe deeply in the power of music. Trust kids - they want to learn and are dying to have someone passionate teach them. Tenacity - you often need to work long and hard to get what you believe in, but it's worth it.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job and/or career?
Keeping current with the new trends, especially in technology, pedagogy and making the time to prepare adequately for every rehearsal. Things change and grow so quickly, and we must keep on top of them so that we can send our students out with the best possible preparation to make music a part of their lives forever. One should never enter a rehearsal or class without a plan. That doesn't mean you have to write out a formal lesson plan for every class (this is a good idea for less experienced teacher as you get used to the process of becoming mentally organized). As your students get better and better, you must stay ahead of them and keep them challenged. Even the most amazing high school musicians need to be challenged by the program and it's up to you to figure out how to do that.
What are the skills that you are called upon to use daily in your work?
A lot of the basic skills taught in the first year at Berklee. Ear training - if you can't hear you can't analyze or correct performance and intonation problems. I use theory and harmony everyday in teaching jazz and analyzing concert band scores. If one doesn't know the harmony involved in the piece, one can't teach it effectively. I play my instrument every day in almost every class period for kids. I can speak about a musical style for ten minutes or I can simply model a passage. The path to understanding is much shorter in music if they can hear it. In a rehearsal, the ability to hear what is wrong, identify the source of the problem, define it and offer solutions, all within a few short seconds is a skill that I never stop working on. And it is basic to good rehearsal technique. Aside from the musical skills, lots of basic interpersonal skills, communication, morale building: people skills.
How did your education at Berklee prepare you for what you are doing today?
I was a double major: Music Education and Jazz Composition & Arranging . The musical education I received at Berklee is invaluable to what I do. The double major was the best thing I could have done because in addition to the Music Education department (which I will address in a moment) I got to work closely with Herb Pomeroy, Ken Pullig, Ted Pease, Greg Hopkins, Paul Schmelling, and so many other amazing musicians and teachers that I risk offending someone important by omission here. Berklee offers the highest level of music education anywhere in the world - but you have to GET it. There are too many students for the faculty and the counselors to be responsible for your education; you must take charge of that yourself. And do it tirelessly. Get what you want and what you need - it's your money. You may, however, have to work at it - hard. But, it was well worth it.
The music education curriculum is busy, comprehensive and demanding. It is taught by a talented faculty that demands your best effort. This was the best preparation I could have received, because the kids do the same every day, in every class. Remember that there are so many different types of music teaching jobs. Each of them requires a different skill set. There isn't time in 4 or 5 years to prepare you for all of them. But the Berklee program does a good job of preparing YOU to prepare for these jobs. It won't give you all the answers, but if you get everything you can out of every class you take, it will prepare you to find the answers as you need them. This is what education should do, give you the tools to discover and teach yourself. We are all students; it's just that some of us have more experience than others (paraphrasing Berklee faculty member Bruce Gertz!). I feel I took the best possible advantage of all the various situations I was introduced to. They are all there for you at Berklee - how you use them is up to you.
What are the current trends in the field of music education that will most likely shape your future and the future of this industry?
Technology. Become very computer literate, learn some of the software in depth, and be familiar with as much of it as you can. It will be a very powerful tool in the right hands and the right classrooms. It can be used to enhance traditional performing groups or to start new curriculum initiatives. It is, however, still just a tool, albeit a very powerful one. It can't replace a great teacher.
Retirement. The current public school faculties are aging and there will be lots of jobs available. Prepare well and you can land the best ones in the most supportive communities. Keep in mind that any community can be a supportive one: no matter what the fiscal demographics are. They just need to be given a reason to be supportive. That's where you come in. Make it impossible for them to not support your program - the kids are worth it.
Jazz. The ivory tower is finally realizing and understanding that jazz is America's only indigenous art music form and a window into the cultural history of our country. Jazz is being studied as a core part of the music curriculum at most universities and that trend is starting to manifest itself in the public school. Improvisation is the key, not just big band stylings. Every student in every type of ensemble should learn something about improvisation, or so the national curriculum standards tell us. The serious study of jazz can take the lead in that regard. No longer is jazz just an activity, but a serious, important music to be studied. Berklee has the edge on this market and it's future teachers can be at the front of the market.