Building a Foundation for Lifelong Music SM

Our Values and Goals

“We teachers bring music out of other people. We help to unleash them.  A friend once asked me – ‘Where is the art in teaching?’  I responded – ‘We teachers build our masterpieces inside of other people’”.                  Kenneth Thompson

Ken 2016Speech Given by Kenneth Thompson,
Executive Director and Founder of
Musical Arts Center of San Antonio, Inc.,

Why did I start teaching?

I began piano at age 13 in order to learn ragtime.  I used to think that classical music was boring.  In fact, I hated it.  But, after I had lessons for a couple of months, I heard some classical piano music again.  Because of the small “hook” of having a little understanding of how difficult it was to play so many notes so fast,  my mind and ears woke up and I was amazed.  Soon I was listening to the music itself more than to its difficulty and I could not listen enough.

I was in awe.

I quickly became obsessed with classical music and after six months of lessons I decided that I wanted to be a concert pianist. I had a lot of catching up to do so I practiced very hard.  Four to six hours of practice a day became normal for me.

I know that my life was changed by music and by the relationship that I had with my piano teachers.  I was lucky to find a good teacher who lived nearby and who moved me on to an advanced teacher when the time was right.  These teachers believed in me and did their best to see that the love that I had for music would grow and grow.

Before I had music in my life I was an underachiever.  Through my piano studies, however, besides learning about music, I learned long term, intermediate term, and short-term goal setting.  I learned self-discipline.  I learned how to delay gratification, how to overcome procrastination, how to face my fear of performing, how to take criticism, and how to creatively solve problems.

As a performer I had a desire to share my love of music with others.  I particularly liked to speak with audiences about the music I would be performing for them.  When they had a little knowledge about the music they would be hearing, I found that the audience would connect to the music on a much deeper level.

After several years of performing I realized that my personality was more suited to teaching.  I also realized that even though I could reach many different people by performing in front of an audience, and hopefully spark a love of music in them, that with teaching I could go much deeper.  I realized that the teacher can think of themselves as a conductor might see their musical contribution to an orchestra.  As a conductor does for the musicians in the orchestra, we teachers bring music out of other people. We help to unleash them.  A friend once asked me – “Where is the art in teaching?”  I responded – “We teachers build our masterpieces inside of other people”.

I believe that anyone who even just likes music is innately musical.  I feel, therefore, that it is my job to remove the barriers from them that are keeping this music from getting out.  I think of how Michelangelo when making a statue, would see the statue already completely formed inside of a piece of raw marble.  He simply had to remove the rock surrounding the statue to let the masterpiece out.

For us teachers the barriers to remove may be students who don’t practice, parents who are annoying or students who are immature.  But I believe that if you keep a student long enough and teach them well enough, so that they can eventually unlock the secrets of music on their own, you will then have a person who will be able to feel and experience the power of music itself.

Our job as beginning to intermediate teachers is to get our students to that point.  Some students will quit before we see them get there, but the optimist in me has to believe that some day the seeds we plant will sink in and grow.  The job of the intermediate to advanced teacher, I feel, is to continue this process.  Once a person is in love with music and they have that fire to learn more and more, it is our job as intermediate to advanced teachers to give them the physical, mental, emotional, and listening techniques necessary to be able to combine their personal musical vision with the musical vision of the composer.  If we are teaching improvisers and composers rather than performers, then we must teach them to balance structure and spontaneity so that they can go where their musical inspiration carries them.

I feel that teaching music is one of best careers you can have.  We teachers invest in people and we bring beauty to the world.

It is an honor to be a music teacher.

Why did I start Musical Arts Center of San Antonio?

I had a very successful studio in my home for about eight years.  I taught seven days a week for six years only taking a day off every three months or so.  I worked with great intensity on my teaching skills but, I was lonely and felt that I was missing something.  I would sometimes not leave the parameters of my house and yard for five days at a time.  At that time I was married to Dr. Carolyn True who is a professor at Trinity University.  I liked the way that the faculty at Trinity interacted.  I liked the way that they supported and challenged each other.  I figured that I was probably not the only private teacher who felt cut off from other teaching colleagues.  I thought that a community music school would provide the kind of support and interaction I was looking for.  Additionally, my home studio was near downtown San Antonio and I had parents driving from all over town to get to my studio.  The parents always seemed stressed from driving their kids all over the city to different teachers.  I knew that locating a school in a more convenient location would be beneficial to the parents and hopefully give them more quality time with their children.

I know that once a parent understands the value of music and the value of having an excellent music instructor that they will go just about anywhere to get their children to this teacher.  Thus I have always seen MACSA as striving to have a faculty that is a collection of teaching stars.  Whether your specialty is very advanced classical students, beginning students, working with special needs students, or working with students who currently have only a casual interest in what you are trying to do for them, what I ask of you, and what I ask of all MACSA teachers, is that you do your best.  That you continue to learn, that you continue to improve, and that you continue to grow.

MACSA seeks to create a win-win-win situation.  The parents have more convenience, the teachers are supported so they can do their jobs to the best of their ability, and the students are given the chance to have their lives touched by the power of music.

Our slogan – “Building a Foundation for Lifelong Music SM” – What does this mean?

Most simply it is that a student who you teach for long enough to be musically literate, should be able, years after quitting lessons, to open a music book and learn a piece of music on their own.  I always think of the student who studies music in high school and then gives it up when they go to college.  When this person settles down after landing their first job, would they be able to successfully learn or make music on their own?   My first pedagogy teacher put this notion another way – “Great teachers teach themselves out of a job”.

There is a lot of truth in this statement.  If I am teaching someone anything at all I would be considered to have successfully taught them if they could do what I am teaching them without me being there to help.  Of course there is a scary side of this too – If we teach ourselves out of a job we would have no job and therefore no income! This is bad.
Fortunately for us, however, we teach music.  We teach a subject that is so vast that no single person will ever learn all of it.  My answer to the scary part of teaching yourself out of a job is to keep learning yourself.  Stay ahead of your students! Or if you specialize in early level music, learn about childhood development, personality styles or anything else to help you do a better job.  In my experience a great teacher of any level in a convenient location has no trouble attracting students.

Thus we as teachers are still in the lifelong music process.  We are still building our own “foundation for lifelong music”.  We need inspiration too!  This is one of the reasons that at MACSA we do teacher enrichment activities such as workshops, or private coachings with other teachers.  When we challenge ourselves to grow we can more effectively lead our students to the bounty that great music naturally provides.