This Christmas break, I stumbled across one of my favorite childhood memories on Netflix—Bob Ross.
In case you aren’t familiar, Bob Ross was a painter and art instructor who hosted a show called “The Joy of Painting” that aired on public television in the United States from 1983 to 1994. Soft-spoken and encouraging, he inspired thousands of people to paint their own masterpieces using basic paints and brushes and simple painting techniques.
I am no artist, but watching Bob Ross paint made me think I could be. His calm, simple instructions walked viewers step-by–step through the process of creating a work of art. He demystified the process of painting, emphasizing to his audience that anyone could paint. As Ross once told a reporter, “Traditionally, art has been for the select few. We have been brainwashed to believe that Michelangelo had to pat you on the head at birth. Well, we show people that anybody can paint a picture that they're proud of. It may never hang in the Smithsonian, but it will certainly be something that they'll hang in their home and be proud of. And that's what it's all about.”
Re-watching these episodes as an adult, I am struck by the similarities between Ross’s philosophy towards art and my own philosophy as a piano teacher. I love the little nuggets of wisdom that Bob Ross sprinkles throughout each episode as he paints. A few of my favorites:
“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” Isn’t this what we want our students to remember, particularly as they explore improvisation and composition?
“Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you're willing to practice, you can do.” If only more people understood this, instead of thinking that musical talent is something you must be born with!
“I can't think of anything more rewarding than being able to express yourself to others through painting. Exercising the imagination, experimenting with talents, being creative; these things, to me, are truly the windows to your soul.” Replace the word “painting” with the word “music” and I think this sums up why many of us became piano teachers.
To paraphrase Bob Ross, I believe that every student has the potential to be a musician—that the joy of music is in itself a worthy pursuit and enriches each student’s life. Not every student will go on to be a concert pianist, but every student can experience the pure joy that comes from expressing oneself through music. And, as Bob Ross himself said, “that’s what it’s all about.”
So, this coming year, my resolution is to help my students to discover the joy of music. I will strive to make each lesson an opportunity for my students to both learn something new and do something fun. I will encourage my students to listen to new music and discover composers that move them. I will help my students to find repertoire that they love; repertoire that helps them to stretch their technical limits and spread their artistic wings. I will make it my mission to help my students to discover the music inside of them, in whatever form it might take.
To quote Bob Ross: “Look around. Look at what we have. Beauty is everywhere—you only have to look to see it.” May the coming year be full of beautiful music for you and your students!