Marc Teitler is an acclaimed artist whose work spans musicals, films, plays and albums. His music has featured in Games of Thrones and American Horror Story. He has been nominated for and won prestigious awards at the LA Film Festival, the Berlin Film Festival, the Berlin Independent Film Festival and currently has a television series in the works.
Add to that having his own musical “The Grinning Man” transferred to London’s West End in 2017 after a successful premiere at Bristol’s Old Vic and it’s legitimate to conclude that Marc is an extremely talented individual whose creativity knows no bounds.
But the road to success was far from clear: excluded as a child by a formal education system inadequate to his creative mind and later as a teenager by the same formal approach at music school, Marc was almost completely put off from composing altogether.
In this conversation, he offers a thought-provoking perspective on nurturing one’s musical affinities…
HOW DID YOU FALL INTO MUSIC?
It happened fairly late in my childhood. My mum played the piano and she wanted me to take lessons. I did one when I was six years old and that was the end of it as my father thought it was a waste of time.
A few years later I was sent to boarding school where I was very unhappy: I didn’t fit the academic mould there and I recall the worst punishment you could receive for unruly behaviour was a form of solitary confinement where you would have to sleep the night in the attic.
Fortunately there was a piano there so it provided a starting point for my early attempts at songwriting and might partly explain my attraction to the musically macabre!
Then there came a day where the school recognised I had an ability with the piano so they advised my mother to send me to a specialised music school. I went for an audition, got in and didn’t like it at all!
HOW CAN A TALENTED YOUNG MUSICIAN NOT LIKE ATTENDING A MUSIC SCHOOL?
The reason I didn’t like it was because I felt there was a very narrow focus on the kind of music that was deemed “acceptable” and I had quite broad tastes. I did enjoy classical music but didn’t want to be restricted by Bach. (I was a lot into rap then so there was quite a contrast with Bach!) There was no understanding that in music there is a degree of subjectivity and I feel this mentality is still strong.
The formal aspect of this musical education and its rejection of other music genres was a complete turn off for me. I lasted a year in this structure. That said I was finally able to meet kindred spirits for the first time in my life! Suddenly being an oddball was the new normal and I was surrounded by people who shared my passion. I could finally have interesting conversations with my peers which was a revelation since until that point I had felt there might be something wrong with me! This was a while ago and I am sure things have changed now in the educational world.
ARE MUSIC LESSONS KILLING OUR KIDS' CREATIVITY OR THEIR "FIRE", BY BOXING IT INTO RULES AND IMPOSED METHODS?
The reality is it depends how you define lessons. On one level I am primarily self-taught but on another level that’s a lie as when I’m listening to music the composers become my teachers. What non-musicians don’t know is that if you sit down and actively listen to music, you’re having a lesson, even if that person is not with you in the room!
The traditional view of a lesson in which you learn a sequence of different techniques is often divorced from the motivation that make you take the lesson in the first place, which is problematic. It’s like learning a language: you can learn it for ten years at school and not be able to have a conversation with natives of that language. And I think it’s very much the same with music.
SO IS IT A MISTAKE WE'RE MAKING AS PARENTS TO RUSH OUR KIDS TO MUSIC LESSONS THE MINUTE THEY SHOW INTEREST INTO AN INSTRUMENT?
It’s very difficult to balance but it can be the case. It’s important to ensure the teacher brings as much enthusiasm for music, playing, listening and experimenting, as they do to scales! I think they should start with the child’s natural areas of interests and expand from there, not the other way round.
HOW DID YOU LEARN ANY TECHNIQUE BEING SELF-TAUGHT THEN?
There was a sort of instinct about the musical language and a lot of experimentation. When you are genuinely into something you tend to spend a lot of time on it. You put in the effort and try out different things when one doesn’t work out. It just doesn’t seem to be work because if it is your passion it will just be fun.
When you are undertaking music lessons you’re just ending doing the same thing: most of the learning that comes with lessons doesn’t happen during the lesson but between lessons. The teacher can give you a bit of direction but they can’t teach you: they can show you something but then you have to teach it to yourself.
There’s no such thing as being taught or being self-taught. You’re always learning when you’re listening and experimenting.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO KIDS?
To find out more about Marc Teitler, please click here.
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