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The Music Educator’s Oath – First Do No Harm

Thomas Palmatier • March 2024Perspective • March 30, 2024

The phrase “First Do No Harm” has been widely quoted as part of the Hippocratic Oath that physicians swear upon obtaining their medical license. After in-depth research (two minutes on Wikipedia) I found that the phrase was not part of the original oath but has been added over the years.

When I present conducting workshops, I frequently use this phrase to remind conductors that everything they do should result in something positive for the musicians we are fortunate to lead.

Last month, I was adjudicating and clinicking (I don’t think that’s a word, but it should be) at a festival. One of the musicians, who is studying to be a music educator, gave me pretty much the greatest compliment I’ve ever gotten as a conductor. She said, “often when I watch conductors, they seem to just be waving their arms around, but every one of your gestures told us something.” After I handed her $100 (not really!), we talked about the importance of directors giving the musicians what they need, not what we need.

Over the next few weeks, I will be a judge and clinician for several assessments and the instruction to the judges was clear. MAKE THEM BETTER! Anyone can point out flaws but be sure to tell them how to fix those flaws. It’s possible (and necessary!) to be honest and still be encouraging and positive. In other words, First Do No Harm.

In this issue we mourn the passing of a couple of music luminaries. Seiji Ozawa was one of the most revered conductors of the era. Dr. Dan Bolin was certainly not as famous, but his long career as a music educator and music administrator was just as impactful. Both left the earth better for their presence.

We look at several notable music technology products in this issue. Often, when people think about music tech, they envision massive audio consoles. Luckily, new technologies are improving all parts of the music universe. An example is a line of student ukuleles made of nearly indestructible materials. 

We’re often told we need to keep learning, to attend workshops, and to study our craft. Sometimes, you may think “where’s the time for all of that?” Well, do you have one minute? We are debuting “Minute Clinics” by a wide range of composers and educators who are leaders in band, orchestra, choral, and jazz music education.

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