Sentinel science columnist turns to ‘Making More Than Music’
Gary McCallister brings the same conversational but insightful touch apparent in his weekly Daily Sentinel Simply Science column to a new topic.
Now the career educator addresses not science but music in his book “Making More Than Music,” a paperback available through Amazon.
In the introduction, McCallister explains the title: “Music not only can, but does, play a significant role in helping people grow in all facets of their lives. It contributes to good citizenship, social responsibility, intellectual development and self-esteem, as well as musical skill. Music colors the whole way we see our lives and the world in which we live.”
McCallister himself is as well-rounded. His vocation may have been teaching biology at Colorado Mesa University, but his avocation is life-long amateur musician. He gave private music lessons, recorded 10 CDs of his music and builds stringed instruments, specializing in dulcimers.
As a musician, he is the One Man Mormon Blues Band. You can hear his music at onemanmormonbluesband.com.
In “Making More Than Music,” McCallister doesn’t teach how to play an instrument, but teaches how to learn an instrument, by addressing readers as if they were students taking music lessons in his Flaming Moth Studio.
As with any new skill, the learning is incremental.
“Play this string,” McCallister directs his student/reader. “Like this. Yes, I know you are a beginner. But you can play a note. There, that’s right. Now play it loud. Oh, come on, really loud! OK. Now, how soft can you play the same note?”
In that first pluck of the guitar string, McCallister teaches an important lesson about dynamics without belaboring the beginner with unfamiliar terms. The budding musician’s confidence builds throughout a year’s worth of lessons, while learning rhythm, melody, harmony, theory, intuition and more.
Throughout McCallister’s instruction, learning, music and life lessons are intertwined.
“In many ways, achieving balance is a little like algebra,” he writes in a passage about balance. “Yea, I know. But you can achieve balance in at least two different ways. Whenever you change something on one side of an equation, you have to do something to the other side of the equation or it will no longer be in balance. Consider when you play music. ...
“We will experience excesses in our lives. Do we talk too much, act too know-it-all, not talk enough, talk too loud, stay home too much, go out too much, work too hard, act lazy, or sleep too long? It is very hard to live in balance, and especially hard to achieve balance in our music.”
McCallister says early on in the book he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and faith is a subtle and recurring theme, but the references are not dogmatic. If the reader is like-minded, these connections may add another layer of enjoyment. If the reader is not, there is still much to enjoy.
McCallister is a masterful teacher. He was so in the science classroom and he is no less so in teaching music in “Making More Than Music.” He is encouraging and empathetic, eschewing the eroding effects of criticism and choosing, instead, to teach the “why” behind learning.
“From my experience, I do not see people change what they are doing in a permanent way because their errors have been pointed out,” he writes. “People change what they are doing when they are somehow able to visualize themselves and identify their mistakes. When people see what they look or sound like, they often make immediate improvements on their own.”
“Making More Than Music” is a book for multiple audiences: beginning musicians, musicians, music teachers and teachers of any subject. There is much to be learned from this master teacher/philosopher — about life, about learning, about teaching, about becoming a better person.
“It is all about just trying to be better,” McCallister writes.