Mrs. Caldwell was my elementary school music teacher. She had the quintessential look of a spinster school marm. Long black wool skirt, white blouse, black cardigan sweater, long braided hair coiled on top of her head, pinned in place with a sharp pointy thing.
Reading glasses perched at the end of her nose, held by a chain around her neck, Mrs. Caldwell had a stern look and an air of prim authority. She was intimidating.
Despite all that, I liked her. She was a great music teacher.
Though I come from a family of musicians and teachers, it was Mrs. Caldwell that taught me to read music. She patiently and clearly explained music theory, how to subdivide measures, to read key signatures, and to play scales. I use what she taught me to this day and I’m a darn good sight-reader because of her.
Sure, I was embarrassed the day she pulled a nail clipper out of her purse and forcibly trimmed my fingernails in front of my classmates. But she was right, my nails were interfering with my violin playing.
So when she told us things I listened. She urged us to work on our tone. To make a pleasing sound with our instruments was the whole point of music.
She often told us this – “Play loudly so I can hear your mistakes. If I can’t hear them, I can’t help you correct them.”
I took her advice, graduated to trumpet, worked on my tone and developed a good sound. Over time I got pretty good, good enough to win a spot in a college jazz ensemble, then be recruited away to another school.
I arrived a week before their spring concert. I learned the charts and was ready for my debut. Halfway through that first program it happened. My test of Mrs. Caldwell’s theory on mistakes. Continue reading Why It’s Better to Fail Outloud