key points

I have been forced to reconsider what our goal is as music educators as well as the methods used to reach those goals. In short, I believe our goal is to enhance student’s experiences in music, and to do so in a way that encourages the lasting use, application, and love of experiencing music.

            Experiencing music can and should take many different forms. Being an active musician can take shape in the form of performing, listening, theorizing, studying music history or ethnomusicology, or teaching music.  Each of these roles is valid in and of itself.

            If our educational goal is to enhance student’s experiences of music in school, then our practices should be re-sculpted to bring out the musicians of each of these categories.

            Furthermore, I have learned about the increasing separation occurring in our school system that emphasizes learning about music rather than learning within music.  Music is different from other academic areas in that its value doesn’t necessarily come from its compatibility with other subjects, but rather it’s value comes from the effect it has on people. This should inform us to refocus our goals to that of which allow students to feel and participate in music as much as possible.

            With this being said, music education’s primary goal should be providing the experience of music in the richest and truest way possible, to as many individuals as possible. Part of the inherent responsibility to educators in this task is developing students with the knowledge and skills necessary to promote individual interests that serve them within school, and even more importantly for a lifetime of application.

My pedagogical creed:

                                                                                                Jesse Stevenson

I believe that music is a vital aspect of humanity, and thus is fully worthy of inclusion in all students’ education. Music is an integral part of one’s culture and of one’s being. Music enriches our culture on personal and societal levels. To neglect music in schools would be to ignore part of what makes us human.

I believe that music functions to serve society and that music education should similarly serve to develop music performers, listeners, theorists, philosophers, historians, and teachers on all different levels of degree including musical aficionados, amateurs and professionals.

I believe that the nature of music education can be used as a vehicle to develop other skill sets such as creativity, collaboration and critical thinking skills. A successful educational system allows students to investigate and explore the nature of music as well as other subject areas.

I believe that a quality music education should build upon the strengths and interests of its students, but should also stretch the abilities, skills, and beliefs of its participants. A quality music education should include variety of musics from different ages, locations, styles and cultures.

Wonderment #1

In her book Transforming Music Education, Estelle Jorgensen states that, “Notions of freedom, equality, inclusiveness, and humanity invariably collide with systemic pressures toward conformity, injustice, exclusivity, and inhumanity; as a result, they are only ever achieved partially, if at all“ (Pg 6).  I agree with this statement and evidence of its truth visibly permeates our culture.

            It is true that we uphold freedom, equality, and inclusiveness in our culture, but the same culture we aim to refine is halting our progress with notions of conformity, injustice and exclusivity. We are holding ourselves back. We are stopping progress in one direction with progress in another.

            How did we get here? What does our culture really value? I think to myself that both directions are good directions, so why do they seem to contradict? One possible explanation is that the scale to which these truths are being applied are too large. Maybe one size doesn’t fit all. Maybe total individual freedom isn’t a perfect ideal. Maybe we aren’t fit to decide what is best for ourselves all the time (not that someone else should decide for us instead.)

             Equality means to be equal, right? Is that qualitative or quantitative I wonder? Are we equal? I know that we aren’t all the same. Equal rights sounds like a good thing, but I am still stuck on what it means to be equal. Jorgensen says that, “equality, inclusiveness, and humanity invariably collide with systemic pressures toward conformity, injustice and exclusivity.”The more I read this the more I am confused. What I do know is that our culture propagates uniqueness and individuality, as well as conformity and orthodoxy.

            To what degree is it acceptable to be different? I always smile to myself when I see people with wildly different tastes then my own.  Clothes, cars, food, music, houses, hair color…those are reasonable places to see individuality. How about lifestyle, religion, or relationships? Maybe yes, maybe no? As long as my decisions don’t affect you, then you shouldn’t care, right?  You don’t judge me, I don’t judge you. This is one aspect of our culture, but there is an equally challenging aspect which is telling us to assimilate, to go with the flow, to conform and to not cause any problems while doing so.

            This same culture is responsible for hiring me, as a teacher, to shape the lives of its children. My job is to foster understanding, cognition, synthesis, and perspective. Regardless of my content area, students look to me to find truth and meaning. What should I teach them? I don’t even know where to start. No belief is universally accepted; do I just leave the controversial parts out? What is okay to discuss, what isn’t? I have been counseled to not discuss religion, for example, unless a student independently initiates. What are the rules on discussing other hot topics like homosexuality, abortion, liberalism and conservatism, living with abuse, single parent homes, or poverty?

            For me, at least, these are real life scenarios.  I have had numerous situations as a teacher where I chose to be restrictive on what I said when discussing certain ethical issues in our culture. I find that as teachers, students look to us for guidance, but what if our guidance looked different than that of the prevailing culture’s guidance?

            This is an inherent difficulty, but beautiful opportunity within education.  It is beautiful in that we can change the world, and we are expected to do so. It is an attribute unique to our profession that administrators, parents, and fellow teachers all expect you to guide and counsel children into healthy and productive citizens.  One amazing part of my job is that I get to work with each student for seven consecutive years.  What a privilege and a responsibility!

The inherent challenge is that you can be sued for doing so incorrectly. There has been a shift in the public’s view of teachers. We are sometimes viewed as overpaid, corrupt, and irresponsible. We are supposed to be close enough to make an impact but not so close as to be suspicious. We are supposed to fill student minds with knowledge, but not any sort of knowledge that will shake a cultures status quo.

The way to deal with this is difficult to assess. Teachers need judgment, discernment and integrity. Students need to listen attentively, but ultimately make their own informed decisions.  The public should trust our education system, but we need to prove we are trustworthy; removing any type of hidden agendas or self-ambition.  Furthermore, culture should embrace fairness and ethics and not rely wholly on schools to instill these ideals in their children. Plurality is real and people will always disagree. Definitions and increasingly strict guidelines are not the answer. We should embrace our human qualities, not define and regulate them.

Wonderment #2

A dialectical view of the relationship between the curriculum and the student suggests that the human dimensions of music education are just as important as the material to be learned and taught and cannot be separated from it. Building curriculum solely around subject matter, programs of study, and abstract objectives derived from expert knowledge of the field of music is short-sighted because it fails to take sufficient account of the ways in which knowledge is socially and individually constructed and of the centrality of teacher-student interaction in the learner’s and teacher’s experience.    

Estelle R. Jorgensen Pg 124

            An increasingly present criticism of education is that it is behind the times. As culture evolves, education should follow suit. This not only pertains to the pedagogy of teaching, but to the content selected to be in curriculum as well.  Both instruction style and curriculum are largely an outcome of a cultures purpose of education. 19th century public education was designed to accommodate a very different climate than today. The skills necessary to succeed always have and always will change.

            American culture is increasingly multi-cultural, communal, and technological. Skill sets used now look very different from what they did even ten years ago. Information is at our fingertips, communication is instant, and machinery has replaced much of the work that used to be done by human hands.

            It is obvious that the world we operate in is new and always changing, so what then should our school change to enhance productivity? Stepping back even further, what is the reasoning behind education? Is its goal entirely to produce competent workers or does it delve into humanistic aspects as well?

            Considering the obvious truth that not every student needs to know every item of each subject’s detailed curriculum, what then do we focus on teaching?  What is actually important to know today? Is knowledge the direct path to an end?  If we could theoretically separated knowledge from an ends, than students would leave school with almost nothing of use. If our goal was to create skilled workers, for example, we would have to first determine what the skills needed in today’s workforce are. Do students need to know more about a specific product, or how to create one? Furthermore, when creating this product, does the worker work independently? Does he solve the same problem everyday?

            If a brand new worker started a job and all he had was knowledge, he would be almost immediately useless. It is far more useful to be able to think critically, to be social, and to be collaborative than to know “about” something.

            Jorgensen’s quote says that it is important to understand how knowledge is individually and socially constructed. A modern music student should look at society’s need for music, and the process of how music is created rather than knowledge of the music created. She also stresses the significance of the interaction between the student and the teacher as a significant part of the educational experience. Human interaction is not just a small detail in the process of life, it is central. The educational system should recognize that, embrace it, and work to enhance it.

            Regarding my own practice, I admit to spending much of my energy on what I believe my students need to know which is namely specific skills and an understanding of how those skills are used. I rarely think to focus on who designed or developed those skills, why the skills are useful, and how they might be used after graduation. I also rarely think of the interactions and experiences my students and I participate in together as a goal or an “end” in and of itself. With this refined thinking, I would like to reorganize the lessons I design to emphasize the social experience, the understanding of how and why topics are chosen to be studied, and the experience at that moment instead of the teaching of a skill to be developed down the road.

            It is always hard to change a practice that has been ingrained inside us. My teaching has been rooted in skill development whereas it should have been rooted in musical experience. Thankfully, music as it still exists in public schools has much freedom to experiment and change without overarching guidelines, rules, and state testing. Furthermore, students will almost certainly embrace the change of focus from isolated teacher-directed knowledge and skills, to socially developed and agreed upon musical experiences.

             

Chapter 5: if/then

            Music is inherently meaningful. It is innate in us. We naturally yearn for it and in general, most everybody you will ever meet enjoys it. The meaning however is, I believe, impossible to articulate. I believe in music for music’s sake. I believe that music in richly saturated with meaning by itself, though it also has numerous extra-musical benefits with their own separate meanings and functions.

            We often say, (and Reimer agrees) that music cannot be expressed in words. We cannot fully explain the phenomenon of music. Reimer explains in chapter 5 the “frustrating gap” for that very reason. Frustrating it may be, it is a necessary gap because that gap is what separates music from other language/symbol related experiences and what makes it special (pg 134). We can explain that music functions to provide emotional expression, aesthetic enjoyment, entertainment, communication, and even spirituality (Merriam,The Anthropology of Music,1964), but these are merely functions of music, not music itself. We can also see that communication, critical thinking, and collaboration arise in the process of experiencing music, but I advocate that these processes are not part of music itself, but rather experiences that accompany it.

            Music’s meaning can be recognized in that it is clearly visible within every culture. Music is inherent in culture. If there is culture-there is music. Regardless of what music’s meaning actually is, there is abundant proof that music is meaningful.  With this being the case, if we do our jobs well as music educators, then we are providing meaningful experiences in our student’s lives. Furthermore, we are developing avenues for students extend and pursue that meaning far beyond what is experienced in the classroom. Music is en essential part of what makes us human and what enriches our lives. We have the beautiful responsibility of enhances those experiences.

            We have always known that music is meaningful, though in education we often skate by without specifically thinking about what our goals are and why we do what we do.  Our goal is to provide students with meaningful musical experiences through a variety of means.  Reimer explains that music’s meaning is “…everything a person experiences when involved with it” (pg165).  Simple but profound. A raw explanation of our goal then, should be to simply provide musical experiences. Reimer later expands that goal to say that we have three obligations in order to help provide musical meaning to students; to offer artistic creating experiences, to offer responding opportunities, and to expand student’s repertoire and understanding of music beyond what is available within their immediate culture (pg. 160).  I should and will adopt Reimer’s suggestion. My future rehearsals will incorporate familiar and unfamiliar literature, and it will provide students opportunities to respond to the music that is being experienced.

If-then chapter 4

            “… Creativity will be found, I will argue, to exist on a continuum, a continuum from what children do to what the greatest exemplars do. The difference is not in kind-only in degree. To influence that degree for all students, no matter their age or their capacity, is, I believe, a major obligation of music education.” (Reimer 108, emphasis original.) There you go, pretty simple isn’t it? If it is true that creativity is on a sliding scale, then it is our job as educators influence that scale. Given the difficulty of defining creativity, it is hard to say whether or not we can teach, raise, or develop creativity, but what we can do is nourish it by embracing it and giving opportunities to explore it. We don’t have to look far to notice that we are very capable of restricting creativity within schools, this area should be are starting point as educators.

            It is obvious that children are born with curiosity and creativity. As students move through their education, it is suggested that their creative levels are actually reduced. We can point to many reasons this occurs, but we can stem them all into one notion; our present educational system puts students in a situation where they are told the answers, and furthermore, they are told the “one correct answer.” Instead, what we should be doing is posing problems for students to investigate and have students solve the problems. There are numerous ways to solve a problem, right? And that is basically what our educational system aims to do right? – To create people who can solve problems? The distinction is that we (as an educational system) believe knowledge is the tool to solving problems instead of using problem solving skills to solve problems. All this is, is two different ideologies trying to achieve a goal-neither are wrong. The problem lies in that over time, the knowledge-acquisition system has led students down a path of disinterest, confusion, and a sense of pointlessness. As a product of this system, I can say that it does in fact work, but it has plenty of issues.

            Have you ever been in a situation where you are blown away by the creativity of a student? I am often pleasantly surprised when students answer difficult questions well but in their own way. Most of what we teach is not too abstract or too difficult for students, but we often see them struggling to make sense of our uncontextualized information.  Instead of explaining the circle of fifths, 3rd position, octaves or BEADGF, we should allow students to figure it out for themselves. That’s what our predecessors did when they wrote the treatises that we fully adopt. This is my goal for next year, specifically in regards to key signatures. The first time a student asks me about a note or accidental, I won’t tell them the answer, I will have them discover it by whatever means they come up with.

            Part one of my goal (and what I believe our educational system’s goal should be) is to stop inhibiting creativity. No more wrong answers, no more mandatory fingerings, no more direct instruction. This is no small task, but one that I look forward to working through. Part two is providing opportunities to nurture creativity. It seems unlikely that the creativity we once had as kindergarteners has vanished. I think we might just have to work a little harder to bring it out again. I want to let my students take music wherever they want to. I will ask things like, “what do you want to learn?” and “what are some ways we can do that?” By doing this, students will let their guards down and worry less about pleasing a teacher, and more about following their individual interests.

just wondering…

Are the choices we make as we manipulate our instruments mere reactions to our experience and training, or are we actually creating something new? Is creativity the ability to recall and interpret prior knowledge?  Are our musical decisions actually creative decisions?

Chapter 3 if-then blog

Theme of focus: I will be focusing on how music is related to feelings, and why that is important. 

            To participate in music is almost synonymous with participating in feeling. Music by nature is drenched in expression.  Its value is derived almost exclusively by the feeling it produces. As a person studies, performs, or experiences music, that person is furthering his capacity to feel and emote.  This capacity to feel, can be developed,not unlike many other human abilities.  Reimer states that, “feeling can be educated in quality and depth and breath….And we can organize our efforts as music educators to effectively achieve the education of feeling so powerfully available through musical experience” (pg 94). 

            The development of feeling should be considered critical. Though it has been challenged by the scientific method, we now understand and believe that feeling is inseparable from intellect. The higher our capacity to feel, the better we will be able to understand. The way we process information, is largely through the lens of our sensations. Human cognition remains separate from a computers ability to process because we feel through our senses, and a computer does not.

            If the development of feeling is fundamental to cognitive growth, then our music programs should be refocused to emphasize that development. Music classes more than teaching about music, should invite students to participate and fully experience music. Developing the capacity to feel, incidentally is not the reason to participate in music, however deepening students understanding and expression within music will heed significant cognitive benefits.

            If this is the case, then it is our role as music educators develop students musical capacity as much as possible through whichever means is most effective (performance, listening, theorizing, improvising, composing.) Reimer states that, “A major way to encourage knowing within, or “taking within,” is to help reveal to both musicians and listeners more and more of the inherent workings of music so that the possibilities of feeling they contain become more available” (pg 98).  We are still obligated to teach the “inherent workings” of music. This will be the vehicle we use to enhance student’s expressive and emotive power.

            In my own school setting, I aim to refocus my rehearsal strategies to emphasize individual expression. Similarly, I must conquer my fear of emoting in front of students. I, as a musician, am very expressive by nature, but often hold back when I am in front of students. Others strategies will include questioning students reflection of music as they hear it. Asking questions like, “what do you think the composer is showing us?” or “how does this part of the piece make you feel?”, will help students explore the sensational aspect of music which is particularly needed in my program.

reflective blog- 8 and 9

            Well, I hope I am not breaking the rules, but I would like to reflect on certain ideas that were brought up in chapters 8 and 9.

            As I have been journeying through my masters degree, my blood pressure has been increasing, my stress and frustration rising, and a sense of being overwhelmed is ever present. Finally after reading chapters 8 and 9, I am beginning to sense a more realistic approach to solving all of the worlds problems-well the problems faced in music education.

            My present understanding (which is definitely still subject to change) is that instrumental ensembles are designed to accompany or supplement a general music experience. If this is true, then it is great news! I don’t have to single handedly teach fifty students to compose, improvise, listen, sing, and perform all by myself.  However, I still need to emphasize the other musical intelligences, just perhaps not as much as I initially feared.

            Reimer states that,           

…what an effective music education attempts to accomplish at the broadest, most inclusive level- the nurturing of each individual’s capacities to be musically intelligent (and musically creative) in the variety of roles that can be played in music as each culture makes them available.  (pg 241)

I think this is perfectly stated. Music education, I am now realizing is far more than the classroom experience I provide.  This further encourages me to collaborate and develop curriculum across and throughout the department. In line with this concept of an interdepartmental curriculum that incorporates more than just performance, I am further encouraged to produce “sticky” experiences for my students.  This can and will take shape in the form of various projects, but also, since performance has such a strong emphasis, I think it would also be valuable to change the structure of our school concerts. I would like to see students performing in different ensembles, in different venues.  I am envisioning my ensembles performing in parks, at events (school and public), before larger acts, with other schools, at competitions…the list goes on.  These would definitely be memorable and valuable experiences for students.

            Yes, I am gaining confidence as I progress through the book, but I admittedly struggle with Reimer’s “phase 7” in his total curriculum. Quickly stated -the concept of meeting and adhering to the cultures expectations of education. What if the culture wants something stupid? I have had teachers, parents and students tell me “you should only play stuff like that”…yep, you guessed it, they were talking about “Lady Gaga Hit Mix.” I like to run these scenarios in my head, but honestly, I don’t typically respect the general population’s ideas of what is best. Call my a cynic I guess. I know this is something I have to wrestle with. Like most things in life, we as educators must compromise. A total curriculum wouldn’t be total if focused narrowly on one style of music or ignored another.

            My first year teaching I tried something new. Each day of the week I had a theme for our warm-up. Meter Monday, tuning Tuesday….you get it. I thought this was a great way to approach the items easily missed in rehearsal. To my disappointment, the students hated it, and I eventually had to abandon it.  Well, with the multiple intelligences in mind, and my new ideologies and education philosophies, I think bringing this back could be a good way to reach my goal. I want to, as Reimer stated it, “…[nurture] each individual’s capacities to be musically intelligent…” and create a musical experiences with more permanent residue that will effect students for their entire lives.

Issues Blog: Bartel

The chapter “What is the Music Education Paradigm” by Lee Bartel,  starts with an explanation of a paradigm, and ends by saying not everyone fits into this paradigm. He also mentions that by attempting to categorizing oneself as outside the paradigm, the point is proven that there is a right way to do things. I am perplexed, very clever Mr. Bartel.

            I would like to start by saying that I do in fact view myself as outside of the paradigm in many, but not all ways. I believe that since my school district is atypical socially and economically, many aspects of my school culture are different from the observations I am assuming this chapter is based on. I digress; I should have started with Bartel definition of a paradigm. “A paradigm is a set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them. In other words, a paradigm leads a group of people to agree ‘this is how it is and this [is] how it should be.’” Bartel’s goal is to inform us of some of our (music educators) misguided practices, off-target goals, and inappropriate strategies.

            I would like to spend some time addressing assumptions made by Bartel. This chapter seems to address primarily secondary music ensembles, which he then narrowly draws conclusions about student’s musical experiences in school. I view ensembles as a supplement to general music. In other words, he is looking at part of the picture and drawing unfair conclusions. While discussing ensemble he states, “the music education paradigm is strongly aligned with ‘classical music’…and musical theater. However, there is still an implicit hierarchy of ‘taste’ and, consequently, program definition that favours real (serious) classical music. Along with this is a general intolerance of popular music.” Admittedly, I do have a hierarchy of musical taste and preference that favors legitimate (I am using that word to be facetious) literature, but I am in no way intolerant of popular music and my school programming demonstrates that and I don’t think I am alone in this practice. While we are throwing out generalizations, I would also like to add that most choir ensembles I have seen, do in fact favor popular music in contrast to classical literature.

            Bartel also states that, “Music education today is perhaps more teacher directed than any other aspect of schooling.”   He later states that “…music educators are often demanding teachers and more than other teachers are ‘allowed’ (and we allow ourselves) to be passionately demanding in ways that may at times approach abuse.“ (pg 12,13). All I can say to this regard is it is not the case in my music classroom, and I don’t see it as a universally true statement. I am yet to understand why journalists and authors paint such antagonistic, aggressive and unrealistic picture of the very thing they are aiming to improve upon. Every story needs good drama I suppose.

           

            Lastly, I would like to discuss some of the truths that I pulled out of the article that I can actually constructively reflect upon. Despite my disagreement on the author’s description of the paradigm, there is still one in place. There is a status-quo which is hard to break. Music education does need to meet the changing needs of our culture particularly in terms of teaching style and technology.  Another insight I found useful is when Bartel reminded me of how we often start students at square one, assuming students have no prior knowledge.  An eight year old student, for example, actually brings a wealth of music experience that teachers should assess and build upon.  Finally, the ever-present argument, which holds much, but not total truth, is the assessment that “music education is essentially about developing performance ability” (pg 14).

            This last item I am taking seriously to heart. I plan to reorganize and reemphasize many things as I evolve in my teaching style. I plan to emphasize and devote time to developing listening skills, composition skills, historical and contextual background that will open up students understanding of music.