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Music Teacher, David Schnittman With a Passion for Music Written By Jordan Rosenfeld D ozens of instruments cluster on the walls of music teacher David Schnittman’s home studio in Morgan Hill, where he now teaches music lessons full time since the Music Tree closed down in September, 2015. Brass instruments like saxophone, flute and trumpet rub shoulders with the strings, like guitars and bass; a concert waiting to happen. When you ask Schnittman how many instruments he plays, he won’t give you a hard answer, because he can play just about anything with one exception. Don’t ask him to play the Harmonica, whose requirement of breathing in and out essentially at the same time defies him. Otherwise, he says, once you can play one instrument fairly well, others may follow. “If you can read music and get a fingering chart and get a good sound of an instrument, the question of how good you become is about how much time you put in,” he told TODAY . You could say Schnittman has put his whole life into music. Born and raised in Queens, New York, he already knew he wanted to teach music by high school, at which time he was mostly playing the trumpet and French horn, and the occasional piano at home. In college at Stony Brook University, Long Island, he studied music and history and continued with the French horn, but did not follow a direct path to teaching music. After a detour to France where he sampled French cuisine he attended the College of London and worked on his thesis. His next move was to Santa Cruz. There, he worked as a counselor for at-risk kids gmh 102 at EMQFamiliesFirst, a mental health organization in Campbell, and Rebekah’s Children’s Services in Gilroy. Though not hired to teach music at the time, he intuitively followed his natural inclination to use it in his work with the kids. “It was really a stunning success, like magic what music did for these kids who had the self-esteem of a slug. Most of them were suffering some kind of psychological trauma, or were abused or came through the foster care system,” he said. What Schnittman saw right away, and which has since become a cornerstone of his teaching methodology is that playing music together had a profound effect on these children. “My teaching experience informed my music. I brought back the idea that the power of playing music for most people is about connecting with other people while you’re playing. There are great musicians who play solo, but for most of us who are not virtuosos, the real joy comes from the synergy of playing with others.” By 1995 Schnittman had taken up teaching music lessons full time at the Music Tree, and brought his les- sons in counseling at-risk kids into that experience, organizing ensembles he called “Music Jam” alongside individual lessons. And that was before the now famous School of Rock, started by musi- cian and producer Paul Green in 1996, was making national waves. “For the last fourteen years, once a month instead of lessons, I arranged my students into three large hour-long groups,” Schnittman said. Beginners will play simple songs like GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN JULY / AUGUST 2016 “Louie, Louie,” which he says are “groove- oriented.” The intermediate group will have a more complex arrangement, and the advanced group does “straight ahead jazz, where they can be more improvisational,” he said. Improvisation is another area where Schnittman differs as a music teacher from the classic mold. “Every step of the way self-expression through improvisation is the core of what I do. They all get tips on song writing and theory, then I go back in and say these are the notes, the letters.” He feels improvisation is also important in building confidence and creativity. Equally important in his teaching practice, he said, is to put his students “in a self- reflective place when they judge themselves harshly for failing. That energetic shot you give yourself…has spoiled your ability to understand what led to the mistake.” He said it took him some years to understand something he’d heard his own teach- ers say repeatedly: “Don’t practice the mistake.” Which means, “When you’ve gone through some process, and you try to do it and you fail, the negative voices come in immediately — always lies — and obfuscates that piece of gold that’s sitting there that allows you to examine what led to the mistake. Since you couldn’t examine it, you end up going through the same process and mistake again.” With self-reflection, teaching his students to notice their own tendency to judge themselves harshly, allows “a glimmer of space between the mistake and reaction” in which a student now has a choice not to judge, but to learn.