Twitter: Instant Professional Development
Music Education and the Power of Twitter
A little less than two years ago I took two nearly simultaneous leaps into unknown territories. Both of these have had profound impacts on me as a person, as a musician, and as an educator. They shared many similarities, even though one was in the “real” world and one was in the virtual world. One was moving to a new city and state to start my master’s degree. The other was signing up for Twitter.
It may seem absurd to compare starting a graduate degree to joining a social networking site. But much of what I did in my first months – in the real world and cyber world – were similar. I had to search out friends and colleagues, make new connections, and find things of interest to me. I discovered a lot about myself in those early months, and learned new things that both interested and disinterested me.
If you don’t use Twitter, you may have some negative conceptions about it. Early media reports tended to revolve around the notion that it was a place for people to share what they’re eating for breakfast, and didn’t hold any real value outside of feeding narcissism. Famed and respected author Malcolm Gladwell wrote, “the revolution will not be tweeted.” And maybe he’s right: maybe the revolution won’t be tweeted. But the events of this year’s Arab Spring showed the power that Twitter can have in helping organize the revolution. And Twitter is fast becoming a news stream. Countless people – myself included – learned of the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan via Twitter, and news that Osama bin Laden was killed spread on Twitter before major media outlets reported the information. Twitter is a microblog. It’s a place to share your thoughts, a place to promote your interests, and has the potential to be a “total game-changer” in the field of arts and education (as one of my tweeps put it).
Most importantly, though, Twitter is a place to connect. As music educators, we know the importance and power of networking. We’re in the minority in a school building, surrounded by science, math and English teachers. It can be easy to feel outnumbered. It’s one of the reasons so many of us go to music conferences and seek out continuing education credits: we like to connect to others who share our interests and passions, to rekindle old friendships, to learn from others and to share things that we’ve learned. But we can’t have conferences all the time – when would there be time to teach? Who could afford the constant hotel costs?
Twitter, in many ways, is a virtual replacement for those music conferences. But instead of meeting with teachers from across the state or those who share an interest in Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance (CMP) or Orff, you’re available to connect and converse with people across the nation and the world, and hear from a variety of professional perspectives.
I was skeptical when I joined Twitter. There was a steep learning curve, and I found myself stumbling, trying to decide if it was even worth the effort. Very soon, though, I started talking with a young composer from Ireland. This composer, a little younger than me, shared some interests such as Mozart and John Williams, which we would talk about. (It helped that he was an insomniac and was often online at the same time I was – evenings in the Midwest, middle of the night in Ireland). Through this connection, he sent me his recently completed euphonium concerto. I never ended up performing it, but I got the opportunity to talk with him some about the piece, and learn a piece of music that just recently received its premiere.
Twitter has opened up my network, and it can do the same for you. There are almost two million Twitter accounts you can follow, including celebrities, comedians, news organizations and businesses. Beyond that you’ll find eager musicians who share thoughts and ideas. On Twitter, discussion topics range from the serious (the state of classical music in today’s society) to the inane (banning pianists from learning any Czerny etudes). The Twitter-verse is full of music educators, professional musicians, composers, and music promoters. More than being a platform for people to share what music they’re listening to – that is, for one-way communication – Twitter breaks down barriers and allows for two-way communication.
I do not want to make this a “how-to” about using Twitter. There are plenty of resources for that on the Internet, and plenty of people can write about it better than me.
First, a brief guide to joining Twitter. Its registration process is much like any other website (such as Facebook). When you first visit Twitter.com, you’ll be asked to enter your name, email address, and a password. Your next decision is on what your username will be. A lot of people choose their name or part of their name, but others choose something that includes their interests, such as @PianistTweet, or @mitchthetenor. You can change your username later, if you want, but, like changing email addresses or phone numbers, it can be somewhat of a hassle and lead to confusion.
After that, it’s time to find people to follow. You can perform searches related to topics you have interest in (such as “music ed,” “classical music,” and the like), and Twitter will show you tweets that have those terms. It can be overwhelming. I suggest finding someone who tweets something you like, and looking at their profile to see what else they tweet. If you like what you see, follow them, and perhaps, introduce yourself to them. If you end up not liking what they tweet, you can unfollow them in the future.
There are also some terms that need to be defined before continuing (appearing in general order of appearance):
Tweet: what you write & send out; it needs to be under 140 characters, including usernames & hashtags, although there are third-party platforms that allow longer tweets.
Follower/Followee: Someone who chooses to follow your tweets you/someone that you follow.
Tweep: an accepted term for people you follow, and who follow you back. Essentially, your Twitter friends.
Stream/Newsfeed: what you see when you log into Twitter. Similar to the News Feed on Facebook, the most recent tweets – of all of the people you follow – is at the top of the web page or application.
Retweet (RT): a simple way to share someone else’s tweet; Twitter has a “Retweet” button, which automatically sends that person’s tweet and says that you retweeted it. Another option is to copy and paste the tweet (some apps have a “quote tweet” button), and place “RT” and “@username” in front of that tweet. This allows you to add commentary to the tweet.
Hashtag: when you start using Twitter you’ll probably notice a lot of number (or pound) signs (#). This is a hashtag, and its primary purpose is to allow easy searching of your tweet. For instance, if you write or post an article about music ed, you can tag it with “#musedchat” or “#musiced” and people searching for those tags will find your tweet. It’s also frequently used, though, to sum up an emotion, such as “A glass of wine and a good movie to end the night. #roughday”
Direct Message (DM): a private message sent to a tweep; similar to an email, only it is still limited to the 140-character limit
Trending Topics (TT): popular topics that people are tweeting about; it can range from the inane (Justin Beiber is frequently a TT) to the serious (the March 2011 earthquake in Japan, for instance)
Tweet-up: a meeting of Tweeps; many of these occur locally, organized by someone, but can also occur when a Tweep from across the country visits the area.
As I wrote at the beginning, it can take a while to figure out some things about Twitter, particularly who to follow. Searching for new tweeps would be troublesome without the search and hashtag features. I strongly recommend doing a searching for #musiced and #musedchat. You’ll find a number of worthy followers there, including the organizers of #musedchat. Take a moment to search terms such as “classical music” or “music education.” Be warned: sometimes there will be an overwhelming number of tweets that appear. If you read some blogs regularly, see if the author is on Twitter. Also, look for local businesses with active Twitter accounts; they frequently tweet about upcoming events, sales, and other deals that you could take advantage of.
As the number of people you follow grows, you may find Twitter to be too much to handle at times. Sometimes logging into Twitter can be like arriving late to a crowded party. There are a lot of conversations going on simultaneously, and you’re trying to say “hi” to people, introduce yourself to new people, and start conversations. It can be a little overwhelming at times. Fortunately, Twitter has an easy to way to get organized: lists.
You can place people you follow into lists, making it even easier to use, especially if you are following a large number of people, or if you don’t check Twitter too frequently. I have a list devoted to friends, to those in my local community, to Music Ed tweeps, to piano tweeps, and more. This helps cut down on the “noise” that Twitter can create.
The creators of Twitter intended it to be an open platform and, thus, the site has very few rules. That said, though, there are some unofficial rules of etiquette. I asked some of my followers for ideas on Twitter-quette (a process known as “crowdsourcing”), and below are some of the best ones:
“The Internet is FOREVER.” Much like anything else online, be aware of what you’re saying and who you’re saying it to. I find it hard to believe that people willingly share their personal information, such as Social Security numbers and credit card numbers, online, but it has happened. You do have the option of making a private account. This means that people can search for your name and find your account, but cannot see your tweets unless you allow them to follow you. But unless you do this, your tweets are “public,” meaning anyone can see them, even if they don’t follow you. Additionally, you want to be cautious about you say and who you say it to, and avoid following inappropriate tweeters if you have a professional account (see: Rep. Anthony Weiner).
“Don’t be too serious.” Twitter, like real life, is an amalgamation of people. Sometimes people only tweet items related to their main interest or to their job, but most people – me included – tweet about a wide variety of topics, ranging from the weather to politics to sports. Twitter is a glimpse into people’s lives, in many cases, and that makes the networking powers more realistic. You’re not tweeting to and with a collection of robots.
“Reach out to followers.” Some people will follow you just because they like what you have to say, without reaching out. But, frequently, people will reply to a tweet, or ask you a question. Remember that for many people Twitter is a place to have conversations, and it’s polite to respond.
“Don’t spam Twitter feeds for self-promotion.” We all want to promote ourselves, and share with others our thoughts. Tweet your latest blog post, or information about an upcoming concert, but avoid going overboard. Again, Twitter is place to converse and engage with other people. A constant stream of blog posts gets tiring to sift through and defeats the purpose.
Use in Music Education
As I’ve already said, Twitter has many functions, and each person will use it differently. The potential of Twitter is summed up with this recent tweet from Katja Presnal:
Its use in music education is continuously changing, as people explore new ways to use the medium and new users join.
One quick way this will help the profession is to follow active tweets who post articles and blog posts that may have otherwise slipped past you. (See some of the suggested followers below.)
Most Monday evenings there is a “live” music education chat on Twitter, tagged with the hashtag #musedchat. They often center around one topic a week. If you’re unable to be online at that time, save a search for #musedchat and you can search the conversations at a later time. Also, save searches for other topics you might be interested in. #musiced is a frequent hashtag, as is #mpln (music education professional learning network).
People often “live-tweet” conferences, or tweet ideas taken away from conferences. For instance, the Illinois Music Educators Conference in January had the hashtag #imea11. By searching for that hashtag, you can find fellow tweeters participating in the conference, and get ideas from some of the sessions. If you are unable to make a session – or an entire conference – this gives you a real-time update on what is occurring.
I believe that reaching beyond music educators can give us insight into our field. I encourage you to expand beyond music education to those involved in performance – performers themselves and performing arts organizations – and those involved in promotion and public relations of music.
In thinking about and writing this article, I was trying to find one narrative that I could use, one thing that makes me feel that Twitter is a valid place for musicians and educators to be active. I couldn’t pick one because there have been a multitude of times that I have been grateful for, and amazed by, the support and conversation that I have received from the online music community. Recently, as I was working on a paper for a music class, @JoseSPiano put me in touch with John Kander for an interview about his musical The Scottsboro Boys and theatre composer @MrJasonRBrown tweeted replies to questions I had about his musical Parade. @PianistTweet and @musicgirlnyc are always ready with encouraging and motivational tweets. And the participants in the weekly #musedchat offer great ideas and dialogue from the practice and philosophical realms.
In the end, Twitter is all about community. It allows to you can reach out and connect with those who you’ve never met – and otherwise would not have the opportunity to converse with – and talk about things you’re passionate about. People use Twitter for many different reasons, but through my experiences on Twitter, I’ve found a new world of friends. We share many interests, music being the one that brought us all together. Sometimes what we say is ignored, sometimes noted. And though I’ve only met a handful of my tweeps in real life, there is a connection between many of us that feels at times like we’ve been friends for years.
Twitter’s potential for education (including music education) hasn’t been reached yet. The more educators and musicians who join, the more the conversations can continue, the more we can continue to learn and develop, and the better we will become for it.
I encourage you to take some time this summer to sign up for and explore Twitter. Tweet me your progress or any questions you may have. I look forward to meeting you!
There are a number of people I follow, catered to my interests. New people are joining Twitter every day. It would be futile to try to list them all, but are a few people I suggest following for good tweets and conversation about music education and music in general (in no particular order):
@AndreiStrizek: That’s me!
@Leading_Notes: The Twitter account for this online journal. They tweet updates about the magazine, the work of their contributors, and anything else that fits in with their theme. Additionally, they’re running a book club this summer!
@ericasipes: Pianist and educator in the Eastern U.S., actively exploring new ways to present classical music and expose it to new audiences.
@gsandow: A music critic exploring the future of classical music.
@Bob_Woody: Music education and psychology professor at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.
@gaspsiagore & @operamission: The goal of this organization and its founder is to present classical music in unique ways. They recently performed L’histoire de Soldat and Pierrot Lunaire in the Gershwin Hotel in New York City, and livestreamed it online (archived here).
@AudienceDevSpec: A Boulder-based organization committed to increasing audiences and audience awareness of classical music.
@musicapologist: A choir director in Denver who came to classical music (comparatively) late in his life.
@waynemcevilly: A pianist who performs in a wide variety of settings, including many public libraries in his area.
@mlaffs: A public relations tweeter with keen insights into the classical music field.
@pisanojm: A college teacher and web guru (founder of MusicPLN.org). He has his own list of music educators to follow on Twitter.
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