Finding opportunities for continuing education is a problem for all professionals, yet it seems even more so for the pastoral musician because of the scheduled and unscheduled demands on available time. How does one harmonize the need for continuing education with the uncertain timing of people's special pastoral needs such as weddings and funerals? Even the anticipated and regularly scheduled demands of a position can limit the time available for professional development. Education is continuing. It is continuous. In this article I wish to offer some comments on how to deal with our need for professional growth and intellectual refreshment.
For some people, the phrase "continuing education" conjures up nothing more than images of adult courses in community colleges, or in the public high schools. Or we may think of magazines and books that focus on the "how to" aspects of a subject. We may see in our mind the bulletin boards in various locations filled with notices of this course or that course led by local professional artists or gifted amateurs.
Despite the demands of a busy schedule, lifelong learning is a necessity for all of us, no matter how we approach it. We will continue to need additional training for our professional life and, if we hope to live a rich and full life, we will continue to need experiences that attract our interest and spark cross-connections with what we have already learned. There are ways of extracting education from our daily life. Not all learning situations require a total commitment of additional time. Sometimes the greatest source of training is in our daily relations with other people.
As a practical matter, an excellent learning experience is to volunteer to teach a course yourself at a school or some other center such as summer theater arts schools or public libraries. Such courses might be arranged through the diocesan education program or your own parish. (Yes, I know that preparation for such a course takes time!)
What about preparing a carefully designed retreat for the late summer or early fall directed toward your own choir? The opportunity here is to learn yourself, to discover your own forgotten skills and knowledge, and even to use the music and materials planned for the coming year. Here, education comes from getting to know your own choir a little better, in planning your own responsibilities, and in providing a rewarding experience for the choir members. Here is the opportunity (to borrow a phrase from current popular psychology) to rediscover the inner teacher within the pastoral musician.
A friend of mine who is a magnificent woodwind player once remarked in an apparently contradictory statement that while technically his music had not improved over the past twenty years, he felt that his "music has matured and it now flows out of him with passion and ease like never before." The difference he felt was in the lessons of compassion that he had learned as a person, as part of a family, as a member of the community. He rightly felt that his experiences were expressed in his music. Compassion itself had been a continuing education. We must educate ourselves to express in our music the sorrow, the frustration that we feel in our daily lives as we encounter the seeming victories of politics over pity, illness over health, restlessness over inner peace. But we must also express with passion the joy that we feel in our encounters with beauty, compassion in others, and renewing love. Life itself is a continuing education course in which we determine what to emphasize in the curriculum.
Continuing education is helped by developing an awareness and understanding of the self as a learner. Life experiences for learning come in any shape and size and may take the form of a person, place, thing, or some combination thereof. What are some of the characteristics of life situations that lend themselves to learning? Activities that are goal directed and action centered foster learning; activities in or out of a classroom that are open to possibilities and meanings foster learning; activities that encourage discipline and investigation open up immense possibilities for learning. Beyond these, activities and situations that encourage and support the search for truth and beauty that adds meaning to our lives and activities that foster close human relationships—all support our growth as persons. For instance, plan a meeting with colleagues to play and discuss the music that you use and love; this too is a "learning" situation.
In addition to times for active learning, we need opportunities for solitude and calm reflection. When we strain or injure our bodies, doctors prescribe periods of rest and physical therapy sessions. We need the same prescription for our spirits, when they are under strain or suffering from injury of one kind or another. We need changes of scene to revive us; we need appropriate therapies to relieve stress and anxiety; we need the stimulation of sharing experiences with colleagues, even sharing our music with another musician. Or we may choose just to go bowling with some friends.
Continuing education is a life process: we live to learn. We can and should make use of formal structures for learning, setting appropriate goals and evaluative criteria for ourselves, but we should also foster a view of life that all experience is a path of study. In doing so, we will seize our place in the communities in which we live and in that place we will thrive.