John Zorn
John Cage
J-S Bach


The Role of the Teacher

[1] Intermezzo. The name of one of my 'compositions'. Better, the name of a piece between composition and improvisation. Inter-mezzo. Even the composed parts, eight short motifs, are contaminated by improvisation: which musician plays which motif at which time is not established in advance. (On the page entitled Intermezzo I enter at length into this piece of music.) This means that the finished art object barely exists: Intermezzo is an activity, a process in which at no stage it can be considered a completed work of art. The musicians take the listeners (and themselves) on a journey of exploration. The audience negotiates every twist and turn with them, every precipice and danger (one can never exclude the possibility of failure). Intermezzo is a constant exploration of a musical space that stresses the process of creation more than the finished art object. The piece is successful if the musicians playing it are delighted in the features of the new terrains that they discovered for themselves, i.e., when they open themselves to insecurity instead of mastery, adventure instead of worn paths. (In Freedom and Sacrifice, Jan Patocka writes: 'Man is meant to let grow in him what provokes anxiety, what is unreconciled, what is enigmatic, what ordinary life turns away from' (cf. Of Hospitality, p.38).)

[2] What does it mean to teach Intermezzo? What does it mean to use a piece like Intermezzo as teaching material in a music school for students who want to learn to play jazz music? More specifically, what does this mean for the role of the teacher (cf. Of Jazz Education) ? On one hand, (s)he is probably still the initiator, the inspiration. The teacher might be the one suggesting something that deviates from more traditional jazz material such as most of the standards in The Real Book. (Most students - at least in my classes - are still looking for security and safety, even in improvisations. This is revealed, for example, in trying to repeat conventional 'licks' and phrases and in laying down arrangements as soon as possible.) That means, (s)he still has some control, mastery, and authority. On the other hand, however, by using teaching material such as Intermezzo, the teacher can no longer rely on certainties. When teaching Intermezzo, the teacher does not know what will happen or how it will happen; (s)he cannot know the outcome. Thus, the selfsame teacher and her or his knowledge are at stake. The teacher can only react to what the students present, achieve, accomplish; (s)he can hardly anticipate. (S)he should not anticipate; that could destroy the process of exploration, of discovery, of play.
The teacher meets here with the particular, the singular. (S)he can no longer be a simple intermediary, a simple transmitter of ready-made knowledge, reproducing and representing subject matters that are predetermined. As Shoshana Felman writes in Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight, the kind of knowledge necessary to teach material such as Intermezzo 'cannot be acquired (or possessed) once and for all: each case, each text, has its own specific, singular symbolic functioning and requires a different interpretation ... [This] knowledge cannot be exchanged, it has to be used - and used in each case differently according to the singularity of the case, according to the specificity of the text ... Analysis thus has no use for ready-made interpretations, for knowledge given in advance (Felman, p.81). Without authorative mastery, the teacher still leads, but now humbly. (S)he directs the students' attention to no original source or teleological endpoint, but through the inconclusive open text of the lesson. The students go beyond fixed goals, beyond mainstream jazz material, and beyond any stable authority of the teacher. This teacher is impassioned, but 'knows nothing'. In the margins of Derrida's Of Hospitality, Anne Dufourmantelle quotes Derrida from one of his lectures: 'One could dream about what would be the lesson of someone who didn't have the keys to his own knowledge, who didn't arrogate it to himself. He would give place to the place, leaving the keys with the other to unlock the words form their enclosure' (Of Hospitality, p.14).

[3] The above decentralizes (deconstructs) the traditional relationship between teacher and student and asks for a reorientation of the role of the teacher. In conventional approaches, the teacher is considered an expert, a professional with a trained ear, the one who (even in music) has access to scientific, objective knowledge, knowledge consisting of fixed notions. 'This involves an attempt to arrest play and bring thought (and one's 'self') under control. Looking for a center, if not an origin, a trunk from which branches can spread, it promotes structure and planning in education, with all their reinforcements of performativity. It totalizes its conception of the learner in sets of needs or outcomes, or composite pictures of the educated man' (Blake et al., p.43).
Various authors from various disciplines have tried to sketch the outlines of a new pedagogy in which the role of the teacher has changed (cf. Small, 1980; Felman, 1987; Neel, 1988; Usher and Edwards, 1994, Blake et al., 1998). Basically, their ideas - although from different sources and illustrated and articulated in very different ways - originate from a similar thought: the role of the teacher should become much more of a co-ordinator of learning resources than that of a source of knowledge and preferences; (s)he should become the facilitator of knowledge, helping to engender the knowledge and preferences that her or his students gain (cf. Usher and Edwards, p.198). Thus, teaching is not the transmission of ready-made knowledge. Rather, it is the creation of a new condition of knowledge, the creation of an original learning disposition. One of the most important skills the teacher will have to develop is that of knowing when to intervene and when to stay out of the way (cf. Small, p.225). This different view on teaching opposes planning and control with a lack of spontaneity, intellectual expertise as skills, pedagogy as encyclopaedic knowledge. Illusions of mastery and perfectability are dispelled. Centers of authority withdraw or disappear (cf. Blake et al., p.172).

[4] I return to Intermezzo. Using material such as this forces the teaching of jazz in a way other than how it is commonly taught in many music schools, conservatories or universities - that is, the playing of jazz standards and the building of one's solo on pre-established, pre-existent licks. (I am in no way suggesting here that with Intermezzo, I have invented something very new. First, there is already a great deal of music based on more or less the same principles: some freely usable composed outlines combined with improvisational parts. Second, some people, such as George Lewis who teaches at the University of California, San Diego, seem to work with similar material and probably at a much higher and more professional level (cf. Lewis' contribution in John Zorn's book Arcana, p.78-109). I keep coming back to Intermezzo because I have experience with teaching this 'composition' and because it is teaching material that can be played with ease by amateurs.) Teaching Intermezzo is still about teaching jazz music; it does not, nor is it about rejecting (traditional) jazz. It creates a new context for (traditional) jazz and thus creates a new music. Intermezzo juxtaposes the canon of conventional works used in jazz education with contrasting or supplementary alternatives. In that way, it broaches tradition even as it puts it into crisis, activating the critical potential of discipline. The canon is not rejected, but given pedagogical and cultural vibrancy. But the growth of the musician will be different from the one achieved by predictable controlled teleologies (cf. Blake et al., p.43). My goal is what philosopher Jasper Neel calls 'strong discourse': whereas strong discourse requires heterogeneity that admits other voices and tolerates several discourses, weak discourse tries to silence other voices. And he further states that 'strong discourse will also require a kind of pluralism that makes the teacher-centered classroom difficult, if not impossible' (Neel, p.210). Perhaps a teacher should present her or his speech together with the silences in/of that speech, allowing students a space in which they can speak, in which they can make their music.
Just as teachers who work with teaching material such as Intermezzo do not reject jazz tradition (though they will question the existence of only one tradition), they are not, by definition, against the teaching of scales and historical achievements that concern improvisation. But they avoid allowing students to reduce themselves to one (final) story. Instead of encouraging students to play in a certain way through teaching, the teacher opens a space for them to entertain new ways of playing, to dis-cover other (yet marginal) stories, and to assume responsibility for them. (S)he considers it her or his task to alert students, to make them reflect on goals and purposes, about the processes by which they arrive at ends and values instead of teaching them the unquestioned outcomes of previously structured profiles.
I am not talking about originality here, at least not originality in the conventional sense. The practice of deconstruction interrogates presupposed origins and shows that all starting points are always already marked by the traces of previous others. Each text, each improvisation, always refers back to other texts, other improvisations. Without a beginning, without an end. In this sense there is no original, no original improvisation. On the other hand, however, deconstruction makes us aware of the difference present in each repetition. Every time a mark, a tone, a lick is used or repeated, it is used and repeated in a different context and thus transformed, changed. In this sense every text, every improvisation, is original, unique, singular. The teacher and the student operate between these two horizons. The role of the teacher could be to provide for or open a space where students can make new connections and correlations among already existing texts (improvisations). Be possessed by them and taking possession of them in the same stroke; expressing something new in (from) the silent space opened up by the movement of differentiation and articulation of many different voices. Grafted onto the improvisations of others, with, through, and alongside other musics, but in discovering new combinations, new possibilities, going beyond the others, giving place to something new. The play of différance.

[5] Intermezzo calls for, impels a teacher to assume a different role. Her or his role as queen/king-of-knowledge decreases as her or his role of musical discourse facilitator increases. Instead of operating from an expert posture, (s)he comes from a curious, collaborative posture, which tolerates ambiguity and confusion; (s)he assists people in operating more effectively within the confusion. In this sense, guidance and counselling can be seen as helping students to establish the 'controlled de-control' that pieces like Intermezzo require. 'Someone who philosophizes [teaches] out loud in this way does not unwind a smooth, univocal thread; he shows the tears in it. He leaves room for astonishment, for what breaks reflection in the seizure of fear' (Of Hospitality, p.23-4). Anne Dufourmantelle refers to the university classes of Derrida here; I would like to offer this view as a proposal to every (music) teacher. Astonishment. To teach astonishment. To teach astonishment about music. The lesson does not 'teach' music: it teaches the condition that makes it possible to learn (about/from) music.
One more thing to say. One step further. Working with Intermezzo, the teacher cannot control or master the outcomes. (S)he cannot foresee the results. Thus, (s)he cannot rely on what (s)he already knows. The mastery that other forms of teaching and learning might incorporate is jeopardized as the position of the teacher is destabilized in the process. The result of this is that the position of the teacher is itself the position of the one who learns. The teacher becomes a student. Perhaps (s)he teaches nothing other than the way in which (s)he her/himself learns (cf. Felman, p.88). Both (s)he and the student are learning something about the music, but also learning something from it. Music is not a simple object of teaching; it is its subject. Music is the purveyor of the act of teaching. Perhaps thinking about the role of the teacher should have to start with the question: 'How can what music teaches us be taught?'