If we start wishing…

If we start wishing that things were different without accepting the way things are, then we start to lose touch with the ground, to lose our rootedness, and risk being blown away on the winds of idealism.

Peter Merry in Evolutionary Leadership (2009).

How have music classrooms changed over the years? What ideals have we let go? Have you accepted the way things are?

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Seems I have been in a bit of a slump personally, and this has affected my contributions here (and elsewhere, for that matter…).  Looking forward to posting delightful stories about youngsters producing sounds via musical instruments, collaborations, etc.  

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join forces

Perhaps a palpable challenge will be in an ongoing understanding and acceptance of purposes, both of services and of curricula, and how we can join forces to achieve these. School music has been going between an aesthetic purpose – art for arts sake – and a functional or utilitarian purpose since the mid-1950s. As an arts discipline, is music statically only aesthetically academic, or only utilitarian for entertainment and ceremonies? This may be were praxis of pluralism thrives: music has many purposes and roles, and it can attract students for any number of reasons. Recreation and leisure service departments, likewise, have engaged a broad range of activities in the service of citizens. The school music profession, led by scholars both questioning and developing our purposes, while realizing a greater need to advocate for the continuation of music in schools, started to argue a broader, more pluralistic philosophy (McCarthy and Goble, 2005). The intersection of history, purposes, and interests serves as a starting point toward a mission of collaboration among flailing institutions in efforts to fully serve our citizens.


McCarthy, M. and Goble, J. (2005). The praxial philosophy in historical perspective. In
D. Elliott (ed.) Praxial music education, pp. 19-51. New York, NY: Oxford
University Press.

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alternatives to school-based

The recreation and leisure services profession in the US is one whose primary purpose is to “generate significant public support for (the recreation movement) in order to advance the development of best practices and resources that will make parks and recreation indispensable elements of American communities”, advocating for “increased national funding through grants and initiatives that support healthy lifestyles, economic vitality and environment stewardship” (NRPA website).

Considering the existence of both public leisure services departments and nonprofit and community-based organizations that provide services upholding the purpose of the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA), discovering literature specific to music performance and the recreation movement has been mildly successful. Lackey (1997) studied the topic of recreation-based arts programs as an alternative to school-based and credentialed teacher-mandated arts education. She discovered that there was an impression that recreation was viewed as “freedom, pleasure, and non-education” (p. ii). Her work included the deconstruction of perceptions of the recreation field as not related to education, even though as she states, “learning – always a complex transaction – undeniably occurs in every context of life” (p. 3).

Prior to this, Kaplan (1963) acknowledged that interests in music education exist beyond the school building. “Together with the interest in the arts among community centers, in recreation quarters, in adult education, in programming for retired persons, in industry, and even in such quarters as alert urban-social renewal planning, remarkable opportunities exist” (p. 36). Lackey (1997) considered the roles of community recreation services as educating beyond schooling and challenged an engrained way of thinking toward reconsidering the contributions of recreational art as potential for educating in a nonstandard education setting. She identified a phenomenon she calls “schooling and territoriality” (p. 26). Who should teach art? Cultural agencies, such as recreation centers and similar organizations, tend to view their roles as educators, yet they caution that their role is not to do work of teachers.

Kaplan, M. (1963). Music education and national goals. Music educators journal (49, 5), pp. 33-36. Accessed January 8, 2013. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3389941

Lackey, L. (1997), ‘Pedagogies of leisure: Considering community recreation centres as contexts for art education and art experience’, Ph.D. dissertation, Canada: The University of British Columbia.

NRPA, (National Recreation and Park Association) http://www.nrpa.org. Accessed 9 May 2012.

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“…concert A is 440.”

“Music educators cannot sit by unconcernedly, during these times of enormous and rapid change, content to know that the scale still numbers 12 half steps and concert A is 440” (Kaplan, 1966, p. v).

This quote seems as timely today as it did in ’66.


Kaplan, M. (1966). Foundations and frontiers of music education. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

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Music ed serves many purposes

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

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Another reflection of a music teacher

Last night, I led my first-ever elementary school music performances. I have led many successful middle and high school band and orchestra concerts, but this was my first elementary school “chorus” concert. It was only 5th graders. In this depressed part of town, we had exactly 50% of the students attend the concert. Only half of the kids showed up? I couldn’t believe it! BUT, their teachers were ecstatic — these ladies, who know the kids much better than I — didn’t expect that good of a turn out. Interesting. Is there a way to increase that in the future?

Having this event was a chore in the making, though. These kids haven’t had a public performance for several years. We certainly had to make some accommodations to pull off the event. First, I let them use lyric sheets and not feel the pressure memorizing. Secondly, using standard choral music certainly didn’t go over well with this group. So, we did one “choral” piece and two popular pieces (with very inspirational lyrics).

The kids, who are the rowdiest bunch of 10-year olds, really stepped up for the occasion. They said things like, “I’m so nervous!” And, then into the multipurpose room they went — poised and respectful — to an awaiting and expectant (nearly) full house! The kids had a good time, they sang purposefully, and they audience responded fully and exuberantly. Kids smiled and stayed after to have pictures taken.

For lifelong music engagement – performing, creating, playing – we need to let go of the rules sometimes so kids can figure it out. Thanks for a good effort to those 5th graders. Thanks to the families of 50% of the class for bringing them and for being there to support them.

Now, let’s see if the excitement will spread to 75% participation in the spring…

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