I am drawn toward a pluralist perspective on the purpose, importance, and placement of music in our public and private lives. Music education sits at an intersection of interpretive and critical epistemologies. I understand music to be an opportunity that goes beyond the task of rudimentary mechanics of operating a manipulative (instrument); isolated, that is a mechanistic task. Music is a process-oriented experience, not to be solely defined by its measured outcome; in fact, in some cases, the outcome is irrelevant. Eisner (1991) asks whether or not everything can be measured, and suggests that researchers who are looking for a true measurement mistake the measurement for adequate subject matter; or, that the outcome is greater than the process. More than a half-century earlier, Dewey (1934) similarly stated that the artistic process, an esthetic experience, is itself a “mode of knowledge” (p. 302). Music, as one of the arts, is open to individual and collective interpretation, and qualifies as an interpretive approach to knowledge, one that is individual, collaborative, and with objects (Hesse-Biber & Leavy, 2011). Of course, in this example, objects can refer to instruments, beaters, and other music making devices.
Music education encompasses a powerful term of social justice: education. At this juncture at the intersection of multiple perspectives of knowledge, public education exists as a “construction and reconstruction by people within evolving power-laden environments” (Hesse-Biber & Leavy, 2011, p. 20). Education constantly dances through ideology, ideas, and values of a current power structure. As an educator, I see (music) education fitting within the framework of the critical strand of epistemology, especially the social justice-oriented strands of postmodernism. Legislation enacted to address the achievement gap between historically marginalized student constituents, especially African American, Latino, and students identified as requiring special education services, has been met with appropriate public intention but with mixed results. Arts, music, and instrumental music specifically have been under attack in California, especially since the implementation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act revision of 2001. Even though “the arts” are identified as a part of the core curriculum, the reduction or elimination of the courses is regularly identified as a result of the need to address NCLB-guided proficiency issues (Music For All Foundation, 2004).
The business of education, and the inclusion of music education, is messy. Music education can stand as the great equalizer of people, as suggested in Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) and Lisk’s (1987) theories of flow and peak experience.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Dewey, J. (1934). Art as experience. New York: The Berkeley Publishing Group, 2005.
Eisner, E. (1991). The enlightened eye. New York: MacMillan.
Hesse-Biber, S., & Leavy, P. (2011). The practice of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Lisk, E. (1987). The creative director: alternative rehearsal techniques. Galesville, MD: Meredith Music Publications.
Music For All Foundation. (2004). The Sound of Silence: The Unprecedented Decline of Music Education in California Public Schools. Retrieved from http://music-for-all.org/sos.html