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Episode 47- Transitioning from Creative Orchestra Teacher to Musical Entrepreneur with Austin Scelzo

Creative Strings Podcasts
Creative Strings Podcast: Exploring Intersections Between Creativity, Music Education, String Playing, DIY Music Business, And Culture

On Today’s Episode…

Join us with Austin Scelzo as we discuss his experiences as part of the next generation of music teachers helping students to develop a positive, lifelong, participatory relationship with music.

​Some people are so nice that we actively root for them to win. 

Austin Scelzo is one of those people. Whether you’re a musician, teacher, or entrepreneur of any kind, take a page from his playbook. Because he’s young and the things he’s doing are applicable NOW.

I met Austin around 2015 during his first year as a classroom orchestra director. He attended several of our music and career programs.​ I’m amazed by what he’s doing now.

In our interview he shares

Practice– how he developed ninja skills without going back to school for a masters or performance degree.

Teaching – how he increased student/parent engagement and introduced creative pedagogy without hurting “standards”.

Entrepreneurship – How he left his classroom job and quickly became a successful independent teacher and performer.

Our discussion includes...

  •  Austin’s advice to other teachers trying to work outside the box of “traditional” music standards
  • Austin’s goals in the classroom and how he accomplished them (musical objectives, standards, community involvement, parental involvement, student engagement, et al)
  • What metrics he used to measure results
  • How Austin adapted to teaching online during the pandemic
  • Why he left classroom teaching
  • How his thinking on music entrepreneurship has evolved
  • The top things he would like to see changed in classroom music education
  • The top things that other teachers, if they realized, would make their lives easier
  • Dealing with insecurities to be able to grow to the point of touring at major festivals
  • How his professional journey (teacher/musician) is tied to his personal growth

Chris: Austin. Thanks very much for doing this interview with the creative strings podcast. Um, part of the reason I want to bring you on is because I feel like you. Like the new generation of teachers and artists in our string playing community. Um, you’ve done so much just even at, in like your mid-twenties.

And so what I guess I want to start with, because you spent, I think, several years teaching in classrooms and Connecticut, and part of what you had asked me about, you had these really ambitious ideas, like about improving the standards, teaching different objectives, getting the community involved, getting parents more involved, getting students more gauged, um, And you’ve done all that over the last few years.

And I kind of wanted to just ask you just to talk about that. You know, how many years were you teaching in classrooms before transitioning recently to being a full-time independent teacher, private teacher, performer, and online and all these other things, but what was your journey like in the last five, six years?

And from that, what would you want to give to other teachers?

Austin: Sure. Thank you, Chris. I appreciate that. Um, I have been in the classroom for the past four years, right after receiving my undergraduate degree in music education. I received a really amazing position in Darien, Connecticut, teaching sixth through eighth grade, middle school stress.

And I really enjoyed that, that position. And a lot of the, the things that you mentioned, I was inspired by actually a lot of it was inspired by your partner, Evans classes on vision, on having a really evocative vision for how you want to live your life. I attended one of those workshops and it, and I just thought of my career as a teacher.

And how I could be living my best life and, and be most engaged in my teaching and be as effective as a teacher that I could be. And I created a vision and expanded on the vision that I already had. I made it as vivid as possible. And that sort of led me to, to do some of these things that you mentioned.

My, my main overarching vision from the start of teaching public school was to create. In my students have lifelong, not just appreciation for, but also participation in music. And so this is one that, you know, wouldn’t stop at after high school orchestra or high school band, you know, and, and that meant giving kids more, a broader exposure to music and, and, and ways of thinking about music that included non-classical styles.

You know, if this lifetime participation in music was the goal. Then I had to give students more options than just playing in, say the community orchestra or becoming a classical soloist or performer. I wanted all of my students to leave class the three years that I had with them to leave the class feeling just as comfortable playing, you know, around a campfire or with singer songwriters or an acoustic band or plugging in, or using a microphone in a jazz or rock setting.

Or playing in any of these awesome fiddled traditions. We have, you know, Irish and Scottish and old time and bluegrass music all requires a very different way of thinking about and interacting with music. And so that required them to learn different skills than, than what is traditionally the focus, which is just a traditional notation, which is something that my students are learning in conjunction.

The skills that allow them to communicate with some musicians outside of the classical, you know, styles, you know that man, they’re learning how to range. They’re learning how to improvise. They’re learning how to listen. Listening is huge in, in my teaching, giving kids the tools on how to listen to her song, how to break it down into smaller parts, how to listen repeatedly and have the patients to really study.

It’s something I didn’t do much when I was in public school. Listening was a big part of it. And then mimicking learning from yes, from the same from homogenous instrument groups, but also being able to learn, getting the skills to learn from other instruments. That’s something I, I find often is, you know, once you leave the string world, it’s very difficult for string players to learn.

And that’s a different set of skills that you’ve got to learn. And then of course, functional music theory is something I actually incorporated a lot in my classes. Things that kids can listen to a song on the radio and what can they pull from listening to that song? How can they get that into their instrument?

Or how can they, what do they need to, to create a project out of that or, or an arrangement out of that, and also how to use technology. So multi-track videoing was a big, you know, a big part of. COVID introducing kids to that. And a lot of them can already do it on things like Tik TOK, and, you know, they were teaching me things too, but getting them to use technology, even as, you know, guiding them through the process of using YouTube slowdown feature or teaching them how to change the pitch or key of a song, figuring out a, a key that is better for.

Recording and using garage band, like DAW programs, all that sort of stuff. I saw it as a part of my, my role in teaching my students in this classroom setting, which is technically called orchestra, you know, but I’ve really liked to think of my classes, a music class. I took it really seriously. I take it really seriously that for three years of their lives, They there one exposure to music is this orchestra class.

So it needs to be, you know, in my sense, if I’m going to really take their music education, seriously, I have to think about how much broader of musical skills that I want to give them in those three years, which is, uh, you know, more. We’re basically a third of their music education. If you think about from a public perspective, I think that all of these goals that I mentioned, the arranging, the listening, the improvising music theory, technology, all these things are great skills.

And I, and I want kids to know them, but, but I recognize also that. From my own experience, being a incredibly uninspired, you know, middle schooler. I remember when I was that age and, you know, my parents were pulling teeth, getting to me to practice. I remember, you know, my private teacher rightly telling them, you know, I think you’re throwing your money away here, you know, because I, I just, I would take my instrument out in the car on the way.

And so I understand that that really all stuff, these great skills that you want to teach. Kids has to start with a love of music. It has to start with a spark, and I realized over time that my role as their teacher during that time, especially in middle school, was primarily as a motivator. A motivator to develop, uh, to, to create a spark for those students.

 

And once you create that spark, then they’re going to be into all this stuff that then there they’ll naturally want to take out their instrument. They’ll naturally be more engaged in whatever you’re teaching with.

And so the ways that I did that is by telling authentic stories of either my personal life or my ex musical experiences or, or performing for them, you know, and taking that when I’m exposing them to a new style of music, taking that beginning exposure really seriously as well.

And I also sent these stories through email, which is a big part of, of kind of my growth as a teacher in the past couple of years, every time I told a story that resonated maybe off the cusp, or if I planned on it, I would also email it. And then I learned that in addition to emailing it every time I sent an email story that received a couple of comments, I would add that to my blog.

And I did this because I have new students and new parents every year. And a lot of these stories that are valuable to my students and their parents. I had upcoming students and parents who are looking to see who is the sixth grade, middle school teacher. And what do they do? They find my website on Darien public schools.

They, they look through my blog. They look through my resources and bam. That’s where I. Who am I, what’s my teaching philosophy. Here’s how to overcome, you know, anxiety and stress and music. Here’s ways. I think about reading music. Here’s ways. I think about listening to music and learning music by ear, all that is embedded.

All these emails are put into blog format, you know, and all these resources and videos and things. They’re all there. And that’s something I’m sure we’ll get into more later. This idea of a content library, which I think is a really helpful. Teachers and even musicians to have to be organized around that.

I realized that the, the emails that I was sending were the most effective way of getting students and parents alike, more engaged. So I sent, I sent emails to my students to write, you know, six, seventh, eighth graders, and they’re responding. They’re getting back to me. You know, I have these emails with pictures of their classes.

Um, Embedded videos. So I would take a video in class of, of this one tune that the eighth graders are learning and send it to the sixth graders or whatever. And, and those are just, you know, hyperlinked. I use Google photos where you just share the link. I would take a picture from the video. So in the, you know, it’s kinda grabs your attention to the email.

You see the picture, you click the picture, it plays the video. They get to hear each other. That was really motivating. That that’s the only way the kids outside of a concert setting would learn what the other grades are. And so that was a big part of, of engaging students and parents as well, getting parents to see what is my kid doing on a day to day basis in orchestra class, especially if you’re, if you are thinking about these things beyond just the twice a year concert, then this email is the only way that parents figure out what you’re doing.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. I think more, more, um, teachers or school programs are catching on to. Uh, more email is better. I remember talking with you about this, like maybe a year, maybe two years ago. And, um, you know, do you think at first you were skeptical about sending emails to parents, sending emails to students. Um, would you understand why other people would feel skeptical about sending too many emails?

How did that evolve?

Austin: Yeah, I think my skepticism came from, well, a few things, one just thinking that they’re going to be to this students and the parents they’re too busy to, to answer, you know, and I, and I also thought that I have so many other important things to do as a teacher. I don’t have time for that, but what changed for me is I realized, instead of nagging myself, To go practice or nagging my students to do this assignment or that assignment.

If I had every week, an inspirational story ever, the behavior in class changes the, the amount of homework, you know, practice submissions. If I wanted them to buy in and believe what I’m telling them to work on is. Then I, I realized that this is the real time saver is actually doing the communication.

And again, that comes back to seeing my role as a motivator. And so these stories and the ease of access to materials and, you know, hyperlinks embedded links and having email signatures with all these things. That prevents students from doing what they need to do like tuning, how many parents have no idea how to tune their instruct you and other kids instrument.

And the kids don’t know how to do it. And they don’t know how to find it. They don’t know how to find the trust resource, so they don’t do their work because of that. There’s a ton of reasons that, that kids, you know, might not do what you’re asking them to do. And I realized that with these motivational stories and the structure that you can put around emails, that’s where my mind around emailing changed

Chris: right. Yeah. You’re preaching to the choir and, um, you know, a year ago or a year and a half ago when the online thing became necessary, you know, I was yelling a lot about, um, all these online teaching strategies and there was a lot of pushback from a lot of teachers who said, literally, you know, we’re already being under paid.

You know, and now you want us to send emails. Now you want us to make a content library. Now you want us to, you know, uh, teach on zoom. Um, you know, and, um, you, now you want us to teach all these standards. So I think that’s part of why I’m interested in hearing your perspective, because I think most people think that, well, this is just more and it’s too much to do and teachers are already overworked.

But what I hear from you is that these things actually mean. Teaching easier. So sending emails, making content library, it made your life easier and enabled you to get more of the results specifically around parent involvement, student engagement, uh, you know, um, and I guess one of the main, I guess, so even if we, if we, if we put that aside and say, you know, we get listeners here to, to connect.

You know, just very explicitly Austin saying, if you, if you send emails and if you make content library, your life’s going to be easier. You’re going to get more of these results. Right. So I think that’s huge. But what about teaching all these standards that are different? I love how you said, um, that you’re, you know, you’re the sole music provider in their life.

It’s not just about orchestra, it’s about music and that’s kind of how, why you want to be broader with those kids and not as narrow as traditional orchestra teaching. Um, and also that you have this, this vision of, um, giving them lifetime participation. Thousand percent agree. But what about the blocks that many classical teachers are gonna feel around learning, feeling like, oh, it’s too many things to learn.

How am I going to teach improvisation? How am I gonna teach fiddle styles? How am I gonna teach, uh, overdub acapellas and looping and all these other things. I mean, obviously you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into your own training around those things, but what would you say to teachers that are in that position.

 

They’re like, well, I want to teach other styles. I want to offer more multicultural options, technology, things outside, but I feel like pressure that I’ve got to stick to these standards and I don’t have, you know, these traditional orchestral standards and I don’t have the time to go beyond it. What would you say to them?

 

Austin: Well, I think I would have to convince them the same thing that you convinced of me, which is this idea that you can learn technique while being creative at the same time. And Chris, I, I mean, even up to two or three years ago, I had heard that from you for years. And I just poo-pooed it as many I’m sure many, you know, classical music.

 

Uh, would this idea, but I remember it clicked for me just a couple of years ago that almost a hundred percent of my practicing now is, is improvisation with a focus on a technique.

 

 And I guess in some ways, teachers and musicians alike would have to just sort of trust you on that and try it enough, but they also need, you know, they need some guidance, of course, too.

What does that really look like? But I truly believe wholeheartedly now that scales, you know, the way that scales are traditionally taught in schools are, you know, either unison playing or playing in rounds and it’s, you know, route to route back and forth. That’s just how it’s been when I was a kid.

That’s how it is now. And if you really look at, you know, the science of learning that the next step after you learn, that’s really just the very basic step one. Right? And for a lot of schools, you get a check when you do that, you know, Kids are quizzed on, do they know their D major scale and their F major scale?

And if they play it from route to route, they get a check, you know? And so in my sense, you know, really taking the science of learning seriously, the next step is to use it and to use the scale musically. And so you can start with that. You can have on a page, you know how to play the D major scale or how to play the F major.

But then that’s just, uh, you know, you’ve got your canvas or your palette and now let’s color with it, you know? And I like to think about warmups or every class. All the things that teachers are already doing, teaching rhythms, teaching techniques like vibrato and shifting and playing in different keys.

Once you teach, teach the very basics of it, then you can provide great structures for kids to be creative with those things. So you’ve got in my class, if the kids are learning scales, yes, they’ll have their scale packet in front of them where they could see that for an F major scale. You know, to lower their first finger for a B flat things like that.

You know, they’ll have that, but once they play through it up and down, what I would do is either make a loop or easy mode for teachers. I just created a, a Google doc of a bunch of YouTube already made back background tracks. You could S you could just search F major F major background track in YouTube, and it would play this really cool, you know, kind of.

As far as piano or guitar or maybe light drums or something, just creating a nice roof for kids to explore using F major. And then I would, that’s the term I would use. You don’t have to say improvise. I’d never got kids to solo people associated with soloing, which is not about, I think that’s what a lot of times.

And students for sure get, you know, shy away from, from improvising, because it’s usually introducing the concept of soloing, which it never has to be. It could just be a part of the door, you know? And I love the environment of, you know, creating an environment where you look around the room and yes, you’ve got the F major scale that they’ve run through from route to route, but then you give them five minutes to explore F major and you go around the room and they’re playing it.

And none of them are, are thinking about. There the speed with which they’re learning either faster or slower than the next person. Cause they’re just, they’re in their own little world they’re playing and you know, it’s really easy to do this as strings. Maybe not band is a little louder, it’s harder, but with strings, you can still hear yourself in a room and you, you can, you can just kind of be in your own world.

Kids who are taking lessons at Juilliard over the weekend, and they’re shredding on cello up and down. Would they F major scale? And then I’ve got other kids that maybe, you know, or are just really experiencing what it, what it feels like to play a B flat, you know, and, you know, What does it feel like? And just very slowly moving their bow.

And then I could challenge kids if they, if they weren’t engaged, you can challenge them in so many different ways. You could say, well, you can play it in third position. You could play, you could focus on your foot Brado or your bow arm or your posture. There’s just so many great things, uh, uh, ways of incorporating.

That a creative expression, really in every class, every class.

Chris: That’s amazing. Yeah. And I know that, that there’s a lot of, uh, what’s the word there’s, there’s, there’s a lot of detailed scaffolding that goes into, you know, how you make that happen. You know, that, that, that I know that I believe you’re aware of and have explored really in depth because, you know, that’s one of the differences or one of the things that.

Um, think is unique about you is that you do have this very, um, you know, you have this education background, you know, you’ve taught in classrooms for years, even before you were a full-time. I think you were probably an assistant teacher, you know, working with a great, um, teacher. Um, oh, in Darien what’s what’s her name?

Why am I spacing? Can you tell me, remind me of the, the teacher, the woman that I came to work here. Yeah, Jane menace, a very experienced and caring. Amazing. Um, in my opinion, uh, pedagogy, I mean, you were kind of working underneath her to some degree in the beginning when I first, you know, when I, when I was introduced to you, I think several years ago.

And so you have the, the, my point is you have this background in the science of learning, uh, in education, you studied it in school. I don’t have that background. Right. You know, so I’m coming at it from this other perspective. So I love when I hear you. The way you describe it, um, often comes from that lexicon and it seems like you’re able to uniquely bring these things together because as a teacher, you were kind of bold enough to go after these other ideas.

Um, but there’s a few things. So I just wanted to call out that I think. Yeah. Cause if, if a lot of teachers might say, Hey, just have them explore in the key of F major. But there’s ways to do it right. And ways to do it wrong. And you, I could hear that you were referencing that, but I think some of those details, that’s the reason that people should connect with you.

You know, teachers that are working in classrooms and they want to get those details that scaffolding, you know, they could be. They can really have those nerd out conversations with you about that. Um, and, uh, and I’d be happy to have those conversations with them too, but I think you’ve got this really deep appreciation for what it is to be a classroom teacher.

Um, one of these things is form versus function. I’m not even sure if that’s the correct way to apply it, but I it’s part of what I, you know, what you said is like you can do creativity at the same time that you’re learning. Fingerboard geography, vibrato. And I think there’s this common assumption and I’ve heard people express it.

Like you’ve got to learn proper technique before you can be creative. Right? That’s a very common, I think, flawed assumption, but also beyond that, it’s the idea that you can only learn proper technique with classical repertoire. It’s like that. I think those are both deeply ingrained and flawed assumptions.

And it’s the difference between. I think form versus function. It’s like tech good technique can be applied and learned in many contexts in many forms. Um, so I think that’s what I hear you speaking to. Um, so this, this is great so much to go into, but I’d like to pivot if it’s okay, unless you want to say something more.

Austin: Sure. Well, I couldn’t agree more with what you said, and I think that’s a difficult thing to, to break down. It’s so ingrained in this, in the way that even the way that teachers, if you study music, education, that’s kind of the, the path that you’re on. That’s how you’re taught to teach, you know, in the traditional music education system.

If you think about, you know, my experience learning and I had an amazing experience studying music education, I loved my class. That being said, a lot of them, we’re still kind of preparing you to just do the traditional rehearsal and a lot of what music education preparation is a traditional orchestra setting rehearsal.

And I think one big aspect that you’re bringing up here is that if diversity is an important thing for a classroom, Oftentimes it’s thought to be diverse by just say, if you want to introduce rock or gospel or funk music, instead of authentic exposure to that music and authentically learning how gospel funk and rock musicians think about music.

It’s often. It’s just taught in the same structure of traditional notation. Let’s practice from measure one to measure a, you know, all that sort of stuff that you’re not going to be able to use that language with a rock or gospel musician for the most part, you know?

And, and so that, so I think that there’s, I just, just to reiterate what you’re saying, I think there’s a little of professional development that needs to happen. Post music education, at least in the programs today for teachers, if they want to learn these things, they, they do need to be doing that. And I think that public education does provide teachers a lot of opportunities for professional development. It just needs to be viewed as a priority.

I think, as you know, as opposed to an ancillary extra thing,

Chris: what if, what am I going back to what you said. You know, that music edge that orchestra teaching track in college was re-imagined as you know, music education that happens to be in an orchestra versus orchestral education. That happens to be music.

I mean, I don’t know that I’ve heard people express it the way you did before. And that actually really resonates with me. It’s like, no, our function is to provide holistic music education experience for a kid. And we just happened to be doing an, an orchestra, but, but, but the orchestral aspect of it in some ways is secondary, you know?

So if they changed the track to reflect that, I think it’s not just about professional development after college. It’s about get that stuff in college. Right. You know, I mean, I don’t know. That’s just what comes up for me. I could be wrong. I never took that path. And I hear that you’re not dissing. You’re not dissing the music education path itself.

Um, but that’s what comes up for me.

Austin: Yeah. Yeah. I feel really strongly about that because if you think about, you know, if you spend any time in classrooms or in schools and you walk around, you know, you got sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, U S and world history, you know, they’re learning about. You know, the civil war and the revolutionary war.

They’re learning about these things, very sequentially, right? And if you think about music education, they have this choice of choir, orchestra, general music, very disjoint.

Chris: So, and I guess this is a good segue to, I mean, first of all, part of what I heard from you is that the reason that you took these bold leaps in your teaching.

And I mean, I can’t, I just want to see, like, I’ve seen it and we’ve been talking about this for the last couple of years, you know, I’ve, I’ve witnessed your journey and it’s been amazing. That’s why I want to have you on here. Uh, we’ve had a lot of conversations about it. Um, and, uh, but what you said in during this was that, you know, the reason you, you kind of took these steps is because in part, because you wrote down.

And you took that, that exercise very seriously. And you know, um, my partner, Evan Gregor, we did it. We have a class I’ll link to some of that stuff that, you know, in the, in the show notes page at, uh, at Christian house.com or creative strings.org, I’ll link to that for people. But even if you go through a visioning exercise, Even if someone says, you know, okay, what’s my vision as a teacher, I want to do all these cool things, Austin Scelzo did,

there’s still going to be a lot of fear for most of us about going into the unknown? I mean, the fact is orchestra teachers, they know what they know, like they learned in an orchestra program. Right. They look just like all like me. Like, I mean, I learned in Suzuki and most of the people that I teach have a similar skill.

You know, uh, and similar areas that they don’t know, you know, you know, unknowns. And so there’s that point where we have to go into that unknown and it’s really, really scary. And, um, that’s also one of the things I respect about you so much is because I feel like, you know, in the last six years, seven years you have pushed through, into those unknown territory.

Like you had that music education degree about orchestra, you know, and you had growing up as an orchestra as a kid who played in orchestra. Right. But then you took the leap to go into all these different areas, not only as a teacher, but also as a, as a musician playing fiddled music, playing, you know, um, pop, rock, jazz, many other styles.

And even transitioned into working for yourself. Full-time now where you’re teaching people independently. People can study with you online. They can come to your group classes and your. You’re touring you just, I mean, I just saw a video, you posted with the, the great Michael Cleveland the other day, you played a duo with my it’s incredible to see what you’re doing.

So I want you to just speak about that journey of pushing through that insecurity for, you know, not only for classroom teachers, but just people out there that might be experiencing that because I definitely know it’s a big part of my journey is, is having insecurities and feeling crippled. You know, and just like judging myself, you know, harshly, you know what I’m saying?

Negative things about my ability as a player and, or as a teacher. I wonder if you’d be willing to speak to that, sir.

Austin: Yeah. I would say that the beginning of that journey started with my grandparents actually in high school, sending me to. Camps of different styles of music. You know, I did the community orchestra as a kid, but they also sent me to, you know, my freshman year Kent jazz camp and Connecticut.

And they sent me to a Berkeley’s week-long summer program, where they had teachers from all over the world who, some of which didn’t even speak English, you know, that were, that were really teaching authentically from their backgrounds. And so I think that that’s where this journey started for me. And all of those were very uncomfortable.

They they’re uncomfortable to be in when you start, but every uncomfortable experience you have is a rep, a mental rep of it’s going to be okay, or you can do difficult things. You can do uncomfortable things. I think that that sort of mental training by doing it often enough, there’s something to be said for that.

But in terms of my own journey, kind of through, and still engaging with some insecurities around. Uh, teaching and definitely performing. I kind of attribute my journey to two main, two main things. One is having mentors and. Teachers and a support system, uh, uh, people who can give you the feedback that you need at the right time, people who are going to encourage you, people who are going to believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself, you know, those, those people for me have been you Chris throughout the years have been people like Andy Reiner and Pete Wernicke has been a big part of the.

You know, those are the people that are giving me what I need to hear at the right time, not overwhelming me, but, but building a sense of self-efficacy a sense of self-reliance, you know, over time, a longstanding relationship with those sorts of people. I think my family has been a big part of that, you know, having, having just, I think in general that I would say is having a support structure, whether that comes from friends, family, or mentors or teachers that you specifically search out.

That’s a big part of it. And for me, it’s also from a musician perspective, it’s been my bandmates. People have exposed me to new different kinds of music, uh, different areas of music. You know, my bandmates, I, I played in mostly in three different bands, the angry Harrah’s on the trail, the rock arts. These are all my really good friends that have encouraged me and, and kept me musically sharp.

You know, my professional journey with them has, has helped me kind of steadily grow over time as a musician. The other big category, I would say for me, and I think it could be potentially for a lot of people in building resiliency and, and confronting insecurities that would be taking health and wellness really seriously though.

I have been really incredibly serious about mentally and this. Preparing myself for both performances and teaching at a high caliber teaching, you know, as with as much presence and engagement as possible. So that kind of journey started for me when I was in college and I was taking a really heavy course.

And it was really, uh, mentally challenging to, to stay on it. And that’s when I, that was the year that I got into intermittent fasting and something called Bulletproof coffee, which is like a mix of MCT oil and butter. And I did that for nine years. I mean, I still do it on days every day. I would do that because I had a course load at 8:00 AM class and the first break was three 30, you know, and I didn’t I’d want it to catch up.

So I would, I would do this intermittent fasting, this Bulletproof coffee thing. And that led to, you know, that became my morning routine through every teaching day. I, I would, you know, I didn’t need to take lunch breaks cause I would just be, my brain would be, you know, really add it and you know, that’s not the best thing.

I think it’s good to socialize. And that’s one thing I learned that, you know, after being a cocky young teacher or whatever, I’m like, I should probably thought like, uh, so I, you know, I don’t advocate that, but I think there are ways I think of confronting. Insecurities and building resiliency through that.

Chris: One of the things that came up for me though, about it as I was hearing you talk about it, just thinking about you is also just your willingness to, to, to call it out. I mean, I think a lot of us are. Yeah. Um, it’s maybe, maybe a lot of us feel pressure to be. You know, like, especially teachers, they, they feel a pressure to be expert at everything and they know everything.

And so the idea of even acknowledging that like, well, I don’t know anything about, uh, fiddle styles or you know how to do this. And even just to, just to express it, like, oh my God, I’m scared of. Having to learn this new thing. And it feels like so much work. And I, I that’s the one thing that comes up for me is that you, you have kind of looked those things in the face.

I don’t know. It reminds me of the 12 step programs. Like the first thing is like, acknowledging the problem. I don’t know if it’s exactly the same as kind of like calling out the thing, calling out the insect, you know, and specifically I felt a need just to, just to talk more openly about the fact that like I’ve had.

You know, insecurities, you know, for decades. I, I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress on it recently, but I mean, I’m almost almost 50, but I feel like there was a couple of decades where I was, you know, really hard on myself and like, for people to know that there’s a difference between being quote unquote advanced at something and.

Being accepting of where you’re at. Like it’s not correlated, you know? So there’s like people who operate on a really like genius level in any domain, but they still don’t feel like they’re, they’re good enough for something, you know, and vice versa. There’s people that are happy wherever they’re at. Like, well, if we think about kids that play music, maybe you see, you probably could speak to this more than.

For kids, I’m guessing in the middle score. Cause show you got some kid that can barely get around on the instrument, but they’re having the time of their life. And you have other kids that are crushing it, but they’re like, I’m not good enough. I need practice hard. Right. You know? So, um, I feel, I just, I just feel like, because I work with so many adults, I work with so many teachers that I feel like that’s a message that I want listeners to hear that if you’re an adult, you’re not, it doesn’t make, you don’t have to know everything.

And then it’s okay to it’s it’s more. To address where you feel insecure and to try to, you know, I don’t know what you think.

Austin: I think it’s really complex, Chris. I think the insecurities can come from, from all sorts of childhood experiences. You know, even, even kids at the middle school age, they can, you know, you can have kids that were brought up in a, just a really healthy and lucky environment where they, they naturally feel confident and other kids that had just unfortunate things that happened to them.

And that happens to everybody. I don’t think we have much control. Early childhood experiences. So some people I think are going to have a harder time confronting and dealing with these things than others. Just kind of through your, your childhood experience. So I don’t mean to simplify it in any way, but I could say broadly that there are.

Ways for everybody to grow and to, to overcome insecurities, whether it’s harder or it takes longer for one person. The next is inconsequential, I think, but it is important too. I think we could make the broad acknowledgement that there are things that we can do to train ourselves or our students to feel more confident, to feel more joy when they play.

And, you know, that’s, that’s a different journey for everybody, but there are, there are ways of. Do you think that, do you suspect that some teachers, or were you ever in a position where you felt that your own insecurity as a teacher was holding you back from taking a step into being a better teacher to doing something that you thought I want to do this for my kids, but I feel so insecure about it.

So I’m not going to, yeah, I think there are, there are areas that. That way. I think with, with teaching, I’ve, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I’ve wanted to be a teacher from a really young age. And so I experienced a lot less insecurity in my teaching. I feel really confident as a teacher, I feel like I know what I’m doing.

I, I feel very strong in that, but, but confidence is this weird thing because while I can feel incredibly confident in the classroom, teaching all sorts of different styles of music, speaking, different musical languages and teaching notation and playing by ear and all these different things. For me, I think comes in some ways naturally in some ways I’m just really passionate about it.

So it becomes really easy for me to do something like that. But everybody has competence, just this weird thing where it doesn’t apply to all situations for me as a performer, I’ve, I’ve felt incredible insecurities around that. And I think. You know, wherever those insecurities lie in your life, whether it’s about your teaching or your playing or your ability to dance, or, you know, saying or something, you know, uh, they have to sort of be approached from a more, more directed, not as a, I think my failure thought was to think of competence as this, this, this broad thing that you either have.

But I’m realizing that you can have confidence and confidence in one situation and not in the other. So we need to learn to address our insecurities. And like you said, naming them to say, I feel uncomfortable, you know, and, uh, jazz jam or whatever, whereas you have a bluegrass jam or whatever I could. And for teachers, it could be, I feel comfortable teaching notation or teaching how to read rhythm or teaching, you know, how to, or, or running a rehearsal.

That’s something I feel comfortable in. And that’s great, but I also feel this insecurity around this sort of thing. And in general, I think if we can name those and label them more specifically than we can address them in a sequential way that allows us to build self-confidence self-efficacy, you know, over

Chris: beautiful. So being more specific about the domains that we feel less confident in. I love that. Yeah. Um, There are a lot of ways that that classroom teachers and also performers, hobbyists, uh, whether hobbyists or professionals can, can learn from you right now, including, well, I guess probably the easiest way is if, is if any of them just go to Austin dot com and that’s S C E L Z O it looks like , but it’s pronounced Sheldon.

austinscelzo.com and if they can go there, they can see your content library, your blogs, like a lot of free educational material that you, that you’ve done that I absolutely vouch for. Um, but also you’ve got, you know, group classes that you’re offering and you’ve got specific, um, areas that you’re focused on, helping people with.

Fiddle playing and, um, and other things. And that’s all to say that you made an, what I consider to be a very incredible transition, which is from being a full-time classroom teacher to being a full-time. Working for yourself person, uh, performing and teaching online. And I guess, yeah. Why did you decide to stop teaching in the classroom?

Full-time I mean, I know that you still do clinics in classrooms and, um, In fact, I think that’s one of the areas you could uniquely shine is just, you know, helping other classroom teachers in, in as a clinician. But why did you decide to stop teaching full-time in the classroom and switch into this, this new entrepreneurial freelance lifestyle?

Austin: Well, I enjoyed teaching a lot. I think that had I been in another point in my life that I, I would have likely stayed in that position. Had a lot of support made great relationships. And I was actually given a lot of freedom in that district to, to grow in a lot of ways. But what was happening for me is I was living this sort of double life.

I was kind of pouring my heart into soul and soul into teaching, but also being a freelance musician. And I was a member of three different bands that rehearsed late night rehearsals gigs and recording sessions. They’re all late. You know, they start up at different times and. You know, I tried to sustain that lifestyle as best as I could and, and still give 110% to everything.

And it sort of worked, but over time I came to terms with it, like, does that double life being in a lot of ways, feeling unsustainable, especially if anything changed. So if I had a wife or kids or a sick relative or anything, something would have to give and, you know, and I had to confront like, well, would I be willing to give.

This stuff that I’m doing outside of school or what I, which one could I do? And so essentially I was trying to create a lifestyle for myself that would give me the same opportunities to, to teach and, and give with. I think, you know, educationally in the ways that I’ve, I feel like I have a lot of strengths and ways to offer the world and also kind of give myself as a more.

Reliable structure to do some of these other things I had. And I think COVID for a lot of people. You know, gave you some extra introspective time to really think through that. So that, that was something I’ve been thinking about for a really long time, but it kind of, I think the extra time to think about it, you know, made me, or gave me the opportunity to make that final decision.

And so now I have this flexibility, which is also this great creative outlet for teaching actually in a way that that can reach and inspire even more. Which is a big part of this too. You mentioned clinics. I’m really excited to, you know, visit schools and, and I’ve, I’ve put all the content that I’ve used in the past four years, instead of having like a sixth grade class and a seventh grade library and eighth grade library, I put it all in once, you know, Multistyle diverse string kind of program that’s designed to kind of inspire kids.

So that’s a big part of it too. Being able to do, you know, entrepreneurial ventures and create a structure where. You know, have a bigger impact as well.

Chris: Yeah. And well, I know that you were thinking entrepreneurially in your work as a classroom teacher as well, because we had conversations about where you were asking me, how do I get more sponsors that you don’t have to get just community?

And you would say it wasn’t even about getting like, you know, commercial, the commercial nature of sponsorships from the community, but you just wanted the community to be involved. You wanted the parents and be involved and, and. And so we had a lot of conversations about entrepreneurship, but in the context of being the leader of a classroom orchestra, you know, how do we get more parents involved?

How do we create a, you know, community involvement, get resources for the orchestra, grow enrollment, you know, make it bigger, you know, make it great. This, this is all to me, kind of entrepreneurial. And so I felt like maybe in some ways that was the ground. For you to take the step to be like, okay, now I’m going to just go work for myself.

It’s been great to, to see you go through so many of these things and, uh, yeah, hopefully, uh, if, uh, Asda, if American string teacher’s association, uh, conference goes live in 2022, hopefully we’re going to be there and people can meet you there, uh, or in future years. Um, but I know that I know that they have.

I hope that anybody listening here will we’ll reach out to you the best ways for them to do that. Besides obviously again, Austin shells though, that’s S C E L Z o.com. And by the way, you can go to the show notes page for this, for this episode. And I’m going to link to a bunch of Austin’s cool stuff there.

Just go to christianhowes.com or creativestrings.org. As always for all the episodes, but besides that, where would, where should people connect with you Austin? Cause I know that you’re like an open book and you just you’re really, at this point in your career, at least, uh, you just very open to just meeting and connecting and helping people.

So, uh, where, where should they.

Austin: Yeah, my website is a great place, but also Facebook and YouTube. I would love to talk with teachers. So, you know, I’d be happy if anyone were to call me. That’s. That’s cool too. My number is 2 0 3 8 1 5 9 7 2 2. You know, I, I I’m interested. I wait,

Chris: let’s hear that number again.

I love this. You gotta, you gotta see the phone number I get. Cause it’s a case the right to Doug. What’s your phone number again?

Austin: Two oh three. 8 1 5, 9, 7 2, 2. I just, I’m really passionate about education. I love talking to people, Chris, being a part of your online programs has connected me to teachers from all over the country.

And I’ve really enjoyed, you know, a lot of those sessions I’ll follow up by calling these people and just talking about why, you know, what are you, what are you finding success in? Where are you struggling with? And those conversations. Just give me a lot of joy and. Uh, feeling of purpose and it’s connected to why I think I’m here, you know?

And so I’d be happy to have conversations with people. Um, but, but any of those are, are fine. If you can find me on, on Facebook, YouTube, you can contact me, uh, with my phone or text me or call me whatever.

Chris: That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. Yeah. And I appreciate that. We’ve had, you know, I guess maybe it was seven.

I’m not sure. Do you remember the first time you came to Columbus for the creative strings workshop? I went twice and I went both years before you went online. Oh, okay. So it was like maybe four years ago that you started coming. Yeah. And, uh, it was great that I was able to connect with you at those live events.

Um, And then to continue connecting with you, uh, via our online, um, different coaching programs that we’re doing. Um, and, uh, and also even before that, in the, in the classroom setting, when I came out to work with, uh, Jane manners and, and met you out in Darien, Connecticut, it’s just like a really cool that we’ve have all these points of connection and.

And that’s why I feel informed enough to just say, like, I just want to acknowledge you for all the things you’re doing. It’s really super, super inspiring. So, um, so yeah, everybody, um, please reach out to Austin. Um, go check out his free content at austinscelzo.Com S C E L Z O. Or just check out the notes here.

Um, awesome, man. Thank you again for everything you’re doing and thanks for sharing with me today. I appreciate you.

Austin: Appreciate you, Chris. Thank you.

About Our Guest...

Austin Scelzo holding his violin

Austin Scelzo is a passionate music educator whose primary goal is to empower others and inspire a lifelong love of music in people of all ages. He specializes in leaning into his students’ existing interests, coaching them in whatever direction they desire.

His background in classical, folk, and jazz styles affords him a wide variety of opportunities for teaching and performing including active singing and fiddling roles in several Bluegrass groups 

A former public school teacher, Austin currently teaches creative string playing, harmony vocals, and country/bluegrass fiddle privately. He also hosts jam classes and offers teacher training/coaching and residencies designed to help students and teachers infuse creativity into their musicianship.

He also has a great youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/AustinScelzo

Learn about all the ways to work with and learn from Austin at www.austinscelzo.com/

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Creative Strings Podcast
Christian Howes presents the Creative Strings Podcast:
Exploring intersections between creativity, music education, string playing, DIY music business, and culture.

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