Sunday, August 17, 2014

Moshe Paranov on the Competence of Teachers

The following is an excerpt from an online publication called “The Rhythm of Successful Teaching,” by Hartt alumnus Larry D. Allen.

Mr. Allen was Principal of Boone Grove Middle School in Boone Grove, Indiana. He also taught and conducted at the college and university level at Trinity College (Hartford, Connecticut), The Hartt School, Central Connecticut State University, Valparaiso University, VanderCook College of Music, Duquesne University, and Villanova University.  Among his degrees, Mr. Allen earned a Masters of Music Degree in oboe performance with Bert Lucarelli at the Hartt.

In this section of his publication, called Competence and Incompetence, Mr. Allen relays some stories about Moshe Paranov and his philosophy of teaching music.

Competence and Incompetence

One of the mysteries about teaching in public schools is that almost all of our gurus and geniuses throughout history that daily receive universal respect and admiration would not legally qualify to be our child's teacher.
Moshe Paranov

Moshe Paranov was a musical guru who provided outstanding leadership at the Hartt School throughout most of the 20th century. He and his team of outstanding teachers developed an idea: to build an outstanding school of music in the greater Hartford, Connecticut area to international acclaim and respect. Moshe’s official title was Dr. Moshe Paranov, President of the Hartt School of Music of the University of Hartford. All the children knew him as “Uncle” Moshe. He was active into his 90’s as the Artist-in-Residence for the schools in Glastonbury, Simsbury, and Torrington, Connecticut. Imagine being in demand as a teacher at 90 years young.

The reality of Dr. Paranov’s talent began to unfold in his high school years, as he entered the principal’s office one morning requesting that the principal give him permission to attend school daily for the balance of his high school year beginning at 10:30 a.m. so that he would have time to practice the piano at home from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. With little hesitation the principal presented Dr. Paranov with the bad news regarding the request even though there was strong parental support.

With that decision, Dr. Paranov moved on with his life, left school and proceeded to practice four hours per day from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., and over the years became a legend without his high school diploma. He built one of the most respected music schools in the world, and he received an Honorary Doctorate from the Philadelphia Music Academy.

Over the years Dr. Paranov interviewed hundreds of candidates to teach in his highly respected school. His mantra was, “play first and then we will talk.” If the candidate played well, the hiring took place immediately. If the candidate could not play well, there was no talking just a painful silence that communicated the message.

Each year there was an opening meeting at the Hartt School of Music where all the faculty would return after a hearty summer of touring, recording, and many exciting musical performances. Dr. Paranov would command the open meeting with humor, enthusiasm, and commitment. The opening speech went like this each year:

I want to welcome you all back to another season of excellence. What I want from each of you teachers is to know “what have you done today to help each of your students and what have you done today to make yourself a more competent musician and a more competent teacher.”

Following this powerful statement, Dr. Paranov would go into an intense delivery about how he was so “sick and tired” of hearing about more pay for less work. He was clearly a teacher’s teacher, a mentor, a leader, a conductor, a performer, and a master psychologist. His work day would begin early and end late. I enjoyed hearing about his stories of beginning his day with private students followed by one or more orchestra rehearsals followed by an evening opera rehearsal and concluding with dinner each evening at his favorite restaurant where they had his meal prepared at 10:00 p.m. on a daily basis.

When he began the Hart School of Music, he had a good location in the city of Hartford where all the music teachers would pool their money at the end of the day and spend it as there were needs. The teachers lived at the school which consisted of two houses, and music was their life: private lessons, chamber music, orchestral performances, opera, and church music.

The team was not only passionate about music, but they pushed each other to a higher and higher level of competence. Included in the team of music teachers was Dr. Paranov’s brother who was a sensational trumpet player. As the school progressed, a higher level of student talent was attracted to the school. With a higher level of talented students, it was necessary to hire more experienced orchestral and operatic teachers. As the school became a four-year institution with a formal degree in music, there were huge changes. One of those changes was Dr. Paranov telling his brother that the trumpet students entering the school needed to work with an orchestral trumpeter, and as such, he was hiring a new trumpet teacher to work with all the trumpet students.

I heard this story many times, and each time I could see and feel the hurt that Dr. Paranov felt in having to tell his brother the truth; however, he did it. It was the competent thing to do. It was honest, and we would all have to move on. Dr. Paranov could not stand any dishonesty at any level of behavior by anyone he associated with on a day-to-day basis. He always referred to dishonest people as charlatans. He was very careful about the company he kept. He often repeated to me the following:

Be careful of the company you keep. If their motives and intentions start to smell like a sewer soon you will start to smell just like them.

I spent many days with Dr. Paranov observing music teachers in the Hartford area. His response to much of what he observed centered on two themes:
a) Too many teachers are not motivated by great music; thus, they spend too much time entertaining the students with music games and their own methodology.
b) Too many teachers are not playing great music daily on their major instruments; thus they have nothing great to give the children.

Passion, honest, and competence were the key words that would best describe Dr. Paranov. He wanted to see his work ethic, his love of music, his knowledge of great music, and his competence with children in his observations of others. The first step was the great literature. What are the teachers teaching the children. Are they receiving a well-balanced meal full of musical nutrition or are we giving the children ice cream and candy bars while trying to convince everyone that the literature being performed is a quality experience.

No one selects a medical doctor because of the doctor’s personality or political standing in the local community. One selects a doctor because of his/her track record of competence. Dr. Paranov would only select doctors with both medical competency and musical competency. If they were not musically competent he would seek another specialist who could perform great music.

In my own observations as an administrator I always heard Dr. Paranov’s voice as he described to me over and over his disappointment in what he was observing in the classrooms, and his focus on the importance of teacher competence with quality literature. He would always say, “I love to eat an ice cream cone and a candy bar, but not during my class.” Dr. Paranov felt that the classroom was sacred ground, and the teacher was God. There was never any confusion about the mission or the purpose. The following was always Dr. Paranov’s closing statement to a music teacher observation:

A teacher can only teach what they know; thus, it important that they know. When a teacher begins to understand that they do not know, then they begin for the first time to know.

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