There’s not just one type of student or teacher. Everyone has there own learning styles, needs, and quirks that make up a diverse learning community.
In the instrumental ‘traditional’ symphonic band and orchestra tracks, the expectation is excellence, discipline, and high-achievement – this is a grandfathered system that keeps going, but why? Because it’s comfortable or at the very least familiar? Or because it is what is right for our diverse learners?
In this article, I will be providing an argument for why it is important to seek alternative paths and perspectives that can be married with that familiar “excellence, discipline, and high-achievement”; as well as how these alternatives will help keep our art form alive for there to be another 100+ years rather than gradually lose public funding and favor.
University – Who are you?
When in university you are exposed to a whole new pool of people that – most likely – differ from you and the people from your formative teenage years. You have an immediate choice: do you integrate yourself into as many of these diverse pools as you can? Do you dip your toes into a few pools that either rebel against your former experiences? And/or end up fitting into your former experiences? Or do you completely reject these new perspectives in favor of your own personal experiences?
This is something most people begin thinking about around the time they develop social awareness; however, one people are left on their own – without a familiar backdrop of places and people – they are forced to see who they really are.
Hence, why it is paramount to take advantage of the time you have in university to explore these alternative perspectives. Now that doesn’t mean you have to do things that go against your morals or beliefs; but LISTENING to people about why they feel the way they feel does not do any harm to you. It doesn’t suddenly mean you are rebelling against your morals or are doing anything wrong.
One term that has gained popularity with the widespread use of internet forums is “echo chamber”. For those of you unfamiliar, you can read about it here; to summarize, it is usually characterized by people seeking out others who hold the same opinion as they do to further solidify their biases – most of the time this is not malicious and can often be done subconsciously.
With all this in mind, every once in a while take a step back to reflect on the media you are consuming to see if you are exposing yourself to a wide array of ideas or are just listening to what you know you will agree with.
Grandfather Music Education
Like many things in life, there isn’t one way to become a music educator.
Most people may think that you become a music educator through a 4/5 year Bachelors program (which includes clinical experiences, teaching portfolios, and state/nation required exams). The first glaring issue with this is that this is strictly an American perspective. Likewise there is also the bias of time – expecting someone to finish their degree in a set number of years – more or less. As well as assuming that someone HAS to do their Bachelors in Education. And the list can go on….
Here I will be reflecting on Music Education in America because that is where I studied and have the most insight on:
- One of the biggest issues is the separation of music in school and out of school. We demand support for the arts (rightly so) yet when it comes to music making we rarely ever create new things, we simply recreate what is expected. On top of that most of the music we perform is not meaningful to the students. Popular instrument, music technology, film score, etc. classes are heavily undermined and not taken seriously by many educators. However, can it be at the fault of all these educators? Or is it really the lack of preparation and training in degree programs to get these educators to make music education more accessible.
- Accessibility for special needs. At the end of my Bachelors they tacked on a few special education courses – which they graduate above my year never took and that is worrisome. I graduated with my Bachelors in 2019 and special education was not given a platform to all these educators who may not actively seek ways to support and reach students who really need it.
- Poverty – this gets touched on yes, but no one actually knows what to do, most of us are just told to make it up as we go. Not having enough instruments for students, or not enough materials (stands, music, chairs, space) for students is devastating when the engagement is there. However when there is low enrollment or interest, how do we get these students in the door? How do we make an environment that supports them, their learning, and their financial need?
- Racial distribution – this was never really discussed in my undergraduate classes (even with my University being on the East coast). Racial diversity doesn’t look one way it is highly dependent on the school you teach in/the district. You CAN NOT have a band of predominantly one racial group and them a sprinkle of other groups in there and call that diverse. There are many interconnected issues within this topic such as: lack of proper healthcare (which can effect proper diagnosis of special needs) and economic inequity.
Those are just a few of the topics that stick out the most (from my perspective). Others may want to call out gender, family/home stability, LBGTQ+ harassment, and more. Those are all valid perspectives that are not covered in this grandfathered music education pyramid.
Expanding Grandfather Music Education: Resources
Here are some resources that I could find address these topics – feel free to share ones you have found:
Roderick Cox – Conductor’s Perspective discusses “A live conversation among four American conductors across generational lines- sharing their unique stories navigating the elusive profession of orchestral conducting, and perspectives on classical music as a unifying art form for the future.”
NAfME: Teaching Lessons to Children with Special Needs
Article: Inner-City Schools Find Music Programs Could Be Key To Happier, Harder-Working Students
@blackgirlmusic_ / @iamcreateorg supporting Black and Latinx female musicians.
Article: Orchestrated Sex: The Representation of Male and Female Musicians in World-Class Symphony Orchestras
Reddit: Hello r/flute! What are your thoughts on males playing flute?
Trumpet Headquarters – Black Female Brass Players
NAfME: How to Teach Commercial and Popular Music in Schools
Forum: Students with Divorced Parents
Article: The ‘shadow education system’: How wealthier students benefit from art, music, and theater over the summer while poor kids miss out
Article: Teaching Music in Inner City Schools
Is it that easy?
No it’s an ongoing battle. Especially for the groups that can not just walk away from it. If you are able to turn it off and walk away you NEED to acknowledge your privilege. We (especially those with privilege) need to complicate our lives to make any sort of impact in the way music education is taught and experienced.
Especially with this pandemic that is rolling into its tenth month: people are either going into poverty or deeper in to poverty; the gaps in educational achievement are widening; people are stressed and emotionally unwell; and there is still so much instability in the world.
As a future educator my one message to you is: that people come first. Ease your students into lessons – how was your day/week? What did you have for breakfast/lunch? Who’s that on your shirt? What have you been listening to?
Make them feel seen and that they matter because they might not be getting that support elsewhere. The music can come later.
Share any resources you like in the comments!