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A Personal Credo For The Professional Music Educator

John Whitwell
Director of Bands, Michigan State University Ret.

Suggestions to help manage the many demands we place on ourselves as well as those we perceive to placed on us by others.

A CREDO or CREED has several definitions ranging from religious in nature to “a set of fundamental beliefs”. In the early stages of my 41 years as a band director, husband, father, and son, it became apparent to me that I was not doing a good job of managing the many demands which I PERCEIVED to be part of my new career along with other parts of my life, like the family! It was as a young graduate student at the University of Michigan in a band techniques class taught by William D. Revelli that I encountered a class assignment to write my own personal credo. Not only was this was one of the most difficult assignments I ever encountered in any class, but the issues involved have continued to this day to be of great importance and have remained difficult to manage. In attempting to define the issues we all must face, it may be helpful for each of us to answer a few questions for ourselves. Any personal credo which results will be as unique as the individual writing it.

QUESTION – Who is best able to determine how YOU should spend your time; you or everyone else?
QUESTION – When YOU look back from the end of your 40-50 year career, how would YOU like to feel about the balance of personal, professional, and family balance YOU achieved?
QUESTION – What are the most important parts of YOUR life?
QUESTION – What sacrifices or compromises are YOU willing to make in order to have a better band, a better family, a more well-balanced life?

In beginning to examine the completeness of who we are and WHO WE WOULD LIKE TO BE, it will be helpful to identify the various parts of our lives that we believe are most important. The following are but a few to be considered. Each of us will enhance and complete the list in our own ways. The professional music educator should feel responsibilities to:

OURSELVES – If one is to maintain balance in all that we attempt to do, we MUST begin with ourselves. This involves:

Nurturing our own PERSONAL GROWTH (in areas other than ANYTHING to do with the band). This could include:

Reading books about anything that interests us

Listening to great music (other than for the band)

Learn as much as possible about painting, sculpture, poetry, etc.

Become well informed about world events and politics (although this may become too depressing)

Other? The possibilities are endless.

Nurturing our own PROFESSIONAL GROWTH. We are probably best at this!

Attending state conventions, the Midwest Clinic, etc.

Commissioning composers to write music for us and our bands – This is one of the areas in my professional growth that has been the most exciting and rewarding.

Bring guest conductors and performing artists to work with you and your students.

Seek advice from seasoned teachers whose work you admire. Be open to suggestions from others.

Pursue an advanced degree from a school which will force you to grow.

Move outside your comfort zone by learning and performing new music which is outside your experience. Professor H. Robert Reynolds has said that “we learn the most when we put ourselves in the position of becoming most vulnerable”. This means we are growing less if we stay inside our comfort zone!!

Become as good a conductor as you are a teacher.
There are many more areas we could discuss here, but I suspect we already know most of these!

Nurturing our own PHYSICAL WELLNESS – Most of us are not good in this area! We don’t make time for this because we are always at school and therefore too tired by the end of the day! The reality is that the more physically well we are, the more energy we have, the better we sleep, the more effective we are in rehearsals, and the more capable we are of achieving BALANCE in our lives.

Nurturing our own EMOTIONAL WELLNESS – For me, this comes naturally when the other areas are in balance.
Nurturing our own SPIRITUAL WELLNESS – This is a deeply personal issue which we all attend to in our own different ways.


We are also responsible to OUR FAMILY and this will certainly be part of our personal credo. Personally, I believe this to be an area where many of us make sacrifices in order give more time to our jobs and the profession.

Nurture the relationship with our spouse

Nurture the loving atmosphere within the family

Nurture the children and their personal, educational, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness

We will all include our responsibilities to OUR STUDENTS as well.

When they leave us they will be MUSICALLY EDUCATED. The details of what this means are for another article!

We will be a role model for them, not only musically, but in EVERY way.

We will treat them with the utmost professionalism and respect. It also makes them easier to teach!

We will attempt to give them the tools to be successful at WHATEVER they do with their lives.

We will teach them how to be leaders, how to be good followers, and how to know when it is the time for each.

We will teach them to be exemplary citizens of the planet.

We would all agree that we have numerous responsibilities to OUR PROFESSION. This could include:

Regional and state associations

National and international associations

Being a mentor

Providing service and leadership

Serving individual colleagues


SUMMARY – I remember in the early years of teaching that I learned something very important from Myles Mazur, a younger colleague with whom I worked for eight or nine years and for whom I developed a lifelong friendship and admiration for his humanity, musicality, devotion to his students and their education, professionalism, character, and his ability to achieve BALANCE in his life. At the end of a typical school day (about 5:00 p.m.), having taught five classes, returned several phone calls (no email in 1972), tidied up the rehearsal room and my office, etc., but still having much work to do before I could go home to my young family, I noticed that Myles (still unmarried at the time) was preparing to leave the office. I sarcastically (and with good nature I hope) asked him if he had completed all his work, to which he replied “your problem is that you don’t know how to prioritize. In fact, if you were to move into the band office you still wouldn’t have time to get everything done!” At that moment I was almost angry with him because I knew he was right and that I was guilty of spending too much time at school to the detriment of my family.

This quest for personal and professional balance never becomes easy, but it can be better managed with an objective view of the problem and a strong desire to remain in balance.

I would like to thank Dave Knox, Executive Director of the Band Director Media Group, for the invaluable service he is providing our profession and for giving me the opportunity to share thoughts gained during my career with you.