Teaching Article'sThe New Apprenticeship
Ahmed Abdullah on Teaching Music
Teaching music is a vocation that Ive come to treasure as much
as performing music. Ive been doing this work now in tandem with
other performing projects since the early 1980s. It matters not whether
the work is teaching recorder to elementary school children, or doing
lecture demonstrations on specific artists such as Duke Ellington for
high school students or developing performing ensembles to play Sun Ras
music on the college level or giving trumpet instruction.
My recorder lessons are designed; to give young people a hands-on-activity
with a musical instrument; to learn the basic elements of music, including
music notation; to give students an opportunity to make music in an ensemble.
Recorder lessons are designed for small groups (10 or less) or large groups
(30 or less) and for students from ages 9-12.
Lecture Demonstrations Workshops
Can be arranged to suit. Existing lecture demonstration includes a 45
minute session on Duke Ellington or Sun Ra or an overall history of Jazz
from the Middle Passage to the 1970s, complete with dancers.
My approach to teaching the trumpet comes from experiences Ive had
in the music which I think have uniquely shaped my style of trumpet playing.
I think of myself as teaching life lessons and trumpet lessons and therefore
I take students at any level and at any age.
Sun Ras Beingness; His Music, Lyrics, and Philosophy
Since the death of Sun Ra, there has been, on the one hand, a greater
worldwide interest in his music, and, on the other, no educational forum
through which to explore the elements that comprised the Sun Ra phenomenon.
His approach to blending the disciplines of music, dance, poetry, costume
making, philosophy, history and the audio-visual arts as separate and
integral elements of one whole presentation is now fully explored in a
classroom setting and understood as endemic to African American culture
in general and to Sun Ra's sense of genius in particular. Having spent
a span of twenty two years (1975-97) with his ensembles and several decades
leading my own groups and fours years writing about my relationship with
him, I approach Sun Ras music with first hand experience in a number
of different areas.
Teaching the Duke/ Ahmed Abdullah
Published in JazzTimes 3/99
One of the recent treasured moments Ive experienced was spent in
a classroom with high school students who I had the pleasure of informing
about a great African American composer. The students were virgins to
the Maestro. Their teacher, who invited me through the Carnegie Hall Education
Division, from which I teach, gave me unrestricted freedom to conduct
the class as I pleased. I chose the lecture/demonstration format. Since
I play trumpet I naturally wanted the students to be aware of some the
great trumpeters Mr. Ellington employed, especially those who played and
made their instruments talk. So I talked about Bubber Miley and played
the Black and Tan Fantasy for them. The spirits of Freddie Jenkins entered
as did Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Clark Terry and Ray Nance. From the
section in Mr. Hesses biography, Beyond All Category, I dramatized
the story of Billy Strayhorns arrival into Dukes inner circle.
Wide-eyed with interest now, they were told of the creation of the song
which was written on the way to Harlem, disappearing and resurfacing,
to become the melody most associated with Ellingtonia, yet, written by
a Strayhorn. I had them totally enraptured, as I talked about Ellingtons
Carnegie Hall extended works period and the hundreds of recordings he
had made by that time.
The story of his comeback with Dimuendo and Crescendo in Blue at Newport,56
is one that every student delighted in. They liked the idea of having
folks believe they were finished only to re-emerge triumphant and victorious.
My favorite story, that also pleased them, was the one about the Queens
Suite. The tale of how Queen Elizabeth and Duke Ellington were so taken
with each others royalty that he wrote a piece of music for her
and went into his own pocket to record it. Who but a genuine Duke named
Ellington would think of writing a song for a Queen and making just one
copy, for her ears alone. The letter I received from their teacher weeks
afterwards convinced me that my subject had struck a responsive chord
in the hearts of some from a generation that had never seen or heard of
Contact Ahmed Abdullah for Teaching Information