Teaching as a Community of Music Educators

We don’t think enough about how to teach music as a community of music educators. We think about the importance of it, and the narrow sequences of how to do it in individual classrooms… but there’s no strong standard on what kinds of music should be taught, what students should be exposed to (and at what age), or what we completely leave out. We spend a lot of our time defending the art, the profession, the curriculum – talking about the value of music education for all students.

I think that even 50 years ago there was reason to teach only western music to our students. We had access to the history, the performers, the music itself, the recordings, the instruments. At this point though, I’m not sure I understand why ‘we’ limit the music education of our younger students to european art music most of the time. I have access to several traditions, even here in this small community. We bring in and teach the traditions of Africa, India, South America, the U.S., Europe, etc etc… and I think it’s all important – yet there’s no rhyme or rhythm to the curriculum. I know that I want students to be exposed to as many different kinds of music as possible, to develop the ability to compare music of different traditions and thus to appreciate it, yet there’s so little time with them that I worry about holding them back because other programs bring their students so far ahead in european classical music when I’m trying to expose them to all of it equally.

There are so many reasons why my program is artificial to public school classroom experiences, and I’ve been thinking about that lately. Here, students gain knowledge of fundamentals in theory class, then apply it to their ensembles. It means we spend more time playing in ensembles instead of teaching the basics of how to read music. K-12 teachers don’t have that luxury. I’m able to offer something that public schools just don’t have the resources for: that ability to bring in guest artists every single time my students walk into the building – the ability to expose them to new music every single week, and to talk about it for an entire half hour in a music history segment. Every student walks into the building and has their own private instructor for a half hour lesson. Imagine if every public school student across the nation (or even New Orleans) had all of those components once a week like ours do. A total of 6 hours is what I have them for, every week. I need to do a comparison study of students involved in this program and local music students who aren’t (that are the same age). I hate to be narcissistic but I really think this program is effective, probably more-so than any other program in the city. Then again, our goals are different. There are other amazing after-school/weekend programs in New Orleans – I would like to point that out.

I wish I could develop some kind of course on musical mathematics – revisiting the reason why Plato included it in his Republic – based on acoustics and development of sounds, but for young students. I strongly believe that music will only be a core part of the curriculum again if we treat it like an academic subject again, and not for the sole purpose of a final performance.

In 1837, Lowell Mason included music as part of the curriculum with the development of Boston’s public schools because , it “provided a recreation, yet not a dissipation of the mind – a respite, yet not a relaxation – its office would thus be to restore the jaded energies, and send back the scholars with invigorated powers to other more laborious duties” (Birge, 1966, p. 43)

…While surely an advocate for music ed, I think Mason could have touched on the academic rigor of music a bit more. 🙂 I wish I could have a core group of 10 students to start teaching academic music to from the age of 10-17 and see where they would land in college –

There’s a lot in this one – sorry it’s so jumpy. My head is zippy today.


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