Straight from the Pit: How Concerts Shaped My Teaching Philosophy

I underestimated the impact music had on me and my career. Looking back on my formative years, going to shows every night wasn’t a complete waste of time after all. But it wasn’t until my show-going nights dwindled (mostly because of my career) that I began to understand why I only chose to attend some concerts rather than all of them.

Inadvertently, as I got older, I only attended shows where there was a nurturing, communal environment. Where the musicians don’t regard themselves as “more than,” or view their fans as “less than.” Everyone is equal. In this environment, the fan-people aren’t trying to show off their knowledge and compete, physically. Instead, there is something to learn, and there are emotions to feel together. These fan-centered shows, where there is no judgement and the musician avidly works to bring people together, made me realize that I too am trying to do the same through the power of a much quieter voice: writing.

Mantra: Being a musician and an educator are no different. Both of our professions leave impressions on people. No matter how large our audience is, someone is listening, and it’s our job to ensure they receive a positive message and a meaningful lesson.

Fan-Centered Shows

I’m not sure there is terminology for this sort of phenomenon. Perhaps most people assume that all shows are fan-centered because: don’t musicians play shows for their fans? Not necessarily. It’s like making the assumption that all teachers teach for their students. The assumption couldn’t be more incorrect.

Musician-centered shows occur when a musician isn’t an active participant in their own entertainment. They play a few songs, discuss the meaning of the lyrics, but don’t otherwise engage with their audience through the use of second person phrases (i.e. “we are…” “our community…”). It’s similar to sitting in a lecture and listening to an instructor, absorbing their words, but otherwise making no personal connection to them or the lesson at hand.

I used to go to plenty of these shows, and for awhile, I didn’t mind not being emotionally invested in a musician. But once I listened to Frank Turner, and the moment I went to a show, my view of on musicianship and teaching changed for the better.

Frank Turner’s Fan-Centered Model

From Frank Turner’s lyrics to his live shows, he makes a strong effort to bring people together, and to reassure everyone that, “you could do much better than some skinny half-assed English country singer” (“Try This at Home”).


Several of Turner’s songs use second-person phrasing which many instructors are encouraged to use if they plan on creating a student/learner-centered environment.

Turner has always incorporated “you”/we” phrases into his song writing. “Long Live the Queen” and “Photosynthesis” describe personal, painful experiences on losing friends and growing up, but despite their roots in the personal “I,” Turner includes choruses which invite the listener to be a participant in his personal history. This small shift in perspective creates a much more universal dialogue than an exclusive one. Similarly, in his more recent song, “Glorious You,” the inclusive you makes the listener the leading role of his narrative: “And I know you’ve been working as hard as you can…” Much like educators, this type of empathetic affirmation lowers the affective filter. In other words, the second-person narration reduces negative emotions, or any anxieties the listener may have, and ultimately will allow them to be more receptive to guidance. This implementation within his songwriting influenced how I phrased my course descriptions as an instructor.

Many instructors are being trained to incorporate learner-centered phrasing into their curriculums to provide an understanding environment; however, I did not receive any formal training to do this. My observations in the real world made me realize what classrooms severely lacked – the humanization of students. I’ve since discovered that phrasing my announcements and course descriptions matter. If my objective as an educator is to provide students with a meaningful education, then I am going to engage with them in a way that is also meaningful. Consider my course description:

Hello everyone,

Welcome to English 103.

This course was designed to challenge your current thought process and to help you analyze the world around you. That means that: unlike conventional English classes, we will be reading a variety of texts including commercials, television, music, movies, visual art, and public spaces. These are things we encounter daily, which means that it is all the more important to know why they exist and how they shape our world.

Through a series of critical frameworks and other theories, together, we will discover the greater significance, impact, and value of the texts we encounter. After gaining an understanding, we will then be able to reshape our world and compose texts of our own creation.

A classroom is for everyone. Teachers don’t have all of the answers, and should not pretend to. While educators are the official authority of the classroom, they still must exemplify empathy, and can begin doing so by addressing students in a way that reduces negative emotions. Second-person narration is a great place to start!


Similar to traditional lectures, the audience listens and the musician plays. In a fan-centered environment, the fan not only listens, but actively engages with other fans in the audience. This aids in creating a memorable moment, but also makes the experience as a whole more meaningful.

I don’t like going to shows alone. As a woman, a tiny one at that, it’s intimidating. Despite that I love the music, and have all intentions to have a good time, I still feel myself cringe at the thought of having to stand against the barricade without an ally. Similarly, students feel the same sort of apprehension going into a classroom. Some students struggle with social interaction, and a entering a classroom environment can daunting. As an instructor, it’s imperative that I create an environment that evokes interaction amongst students so they don’t feel alone. Frank Turner provides the same opportunities for fans at his shows.

The most memorable shows involve interaction with audience members. Whether it’s asking a fan to play guitar, or harmonica on stage, to asking the crowd to engage in an activity called the “Wall of Hugs,” Turner has his interests solely on the fan and their engagement with one another, rather than his own ego.

For me, embracing a stranger helped me relinquish this idea that venues are “scary.” Furthermore, students who engage with one another in a classroom setting develop this same outlook: classrooms become a place of learning, fun, and community. Exactly what a classroom should be.

Final Thoughts

Much can be learned from our observations outside of the classroom. I know: it’s incredibly unorthodox use a musician’s pedagogy in an English course. However, I am not a traditional instructor who relies on textbooks to teach me everything. My interactions with the world, and searching for positive communities, have impacted my career, and have shaped all of my practices for the better.


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