Conrad Weber is a white, middle class man who has spent his entire music education career in a black, high-poverty school. Conrad talks to Ryan about how to build bridges across the cultural chasm, in a situation where none of the usual standards apply. This interview is raw and heartfelt, and is one everyone should hear, but will especially resonate with those who have ever felt out of step with the choral majority.

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Highlight to Tweet:         “We have to understand the culture of our students. We have to become a student of their culture” – Conrad Weber

Show Notes:

  • Begin where your students are…and where they are isn’t good or bad–it just is.
  • Become a student of your student’s culture. This is their normal. They don’t care about what you think they should become until you connect with who they are right now.
  • Create your own definition of success. Success in your program may be defined as progress, rather than a contest win or festival invitation.
  • If there is resistance to moving beyond their comfort zone, find ways to build bridges and/or give them a “lifeline” to hang onto while they follow you.
  • “Convince a man against his will, and he’s of the same opinion still.” –my Dad, from someone else.
    Embrace the music of your student’s culture, but also lead them into new territory as you have the leadership capital to spend and as you can build bridges.
  • Understand your community and local culture, then remember that you’re performing for them and not your university professors or colleagues.
  • Define success as growth and progress in your local context, not as a comparison to other programs.
  • Pick your battles with music. If a song isn’t working, sometimes it’s better to try a different avenue to connect than to die on that hill. Other times it’s time to die on a hill because it’s what they need. Time will give you the wisdom to know the difference.
  • Value student engagement and your sanity more than proper choral anything.
  • No matter how hard it is or slow the progress, teach theory and sight singing. Period. Every student who enters a music class deserves to learn to feed themselves and not just be spoon fed.
  • If you’re dealing with students who are academically and/or socially challenged, learn the difference between compassion and pity (my own definitions). Compassion takes into account the reality of the situation, but doesn’t change the goal. Pity lowers the standard and deprives the student of the option to rise to their potential.

Bio:

Conrad lives in northwest Florida, and teaches choir at a high-poverty middle and high school across the state line in south Alabama. He graduated with a master’s in Piano Performance from Cincinnati Conservatory, and vowed throughout college that he would never end up in music education. After college, he meandered through church staff, healthcare marketing, and low income real estate. This is his 10th year in music education, and he started the choir program a in the 2nd or 3rd year of teaching. There had been no vocal program for 7 years prior. He has been married for 24 years, has three children, and loves outdoor adventures with his family.

Resources/links Mentioned:

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