Monday, August 21, 2023

Garrison soldier / combat soldier

There were four platoons in the company, and of them all, Second Platoon was considered the best-trained and in some ways the worst-disciplined. The platoon had a reputation for producing terrible garrison soldiers— men who drink and fight and get arrested for disorderly conduct and mayhem— but who are extraordinarily good at war. Soldiers make a distinction between the petty tyrannies of garrison life and the very real ordeals of combat, and poor garrison soldiers like to think it's impossible to be good at both.

- Sebastian Junger, War

I don't like drawing military/war analogies— I'm interested in that stuff, it's also the exact opposite of everything I believe in. I don't revere any of it. But teaching a lesson to an 11 year old recently I was reminded of that quote.

That student is making a good emotional connection with the instrument— he likes to play the drums, likes playing loud, he experiments, makes up his own stuff, and is naturally able to expand creatively with the things I give him. And he can also be pretty bad at being guided through the lesson, at being taught. 

For the most part this is what we want. The point of all of it is for people form their own idea about how to play, and enjoy the physical act of playing, of making sounds on the drums. We're not just making a box for people to get good at living in. As a teaching problem, I'd be hoping to get him to get him to hold the sticks the way I want part of the time, at least (in fact he has improved over time with this). I have to be persistent about keeping the lesson focused and productive, but that's up to me, not him. 

Being a little bit of an ape is good, being a full ape is bad. I'm talking about being personally disordered, engaging in real life mayhem, outside of music. Full apes can succeed as rock performers, for a little while, and then become some of our biggest musical losers. I've known people like that.  

But any form of engagement is good. You don't have to be an ape to play music well. Probably most musicians now are not apes. 

Also noting that I recognize some of that “garrison” type personality phenomenon from music school, and other settings with large groups of musicians— there are people who are very decorous and rule oriented about music, who get upset if anyone pushes that envelope, and who are basically oriented around keeping others in line. That's the essence of mediocrity, right there.  

I don't want to go too far with this— I hesitated even putting it on my site, even more than I did the rather explicit jokes in another post. But, the analogy was unavoidable with that one student.

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