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At 3:15 PM, Class Is Just Beginning
Much of my recent non-music writing has been in the area of music advocacy. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m flagging this article up again, but this time I’m aiming for a different audience. As I look toward my doctoral studies at Kent State University, the area of music advocacy is an area that I believe music educators (and future music educators) should be more careful to develop as part of our profession. We must strive in every class (such as that offered by the creative Owen Bradley) and every academic and extra-curricular to provide our students with a meaningful connection to music and to foster in them a respect and appreciation for this art. Given our careers.
This is one of the easiest battles I’ve faced during my tenure in public schools. We are sometimes the most consistent element in each day of a student’s life – and as Uncle Ben said to Peter “with great power comes great responsibility.” It also just so happens that we teach one of the most dynamic, cross-curricular, aesthetically appealing unique subjects in world history – and in case you missed it, the reference to Peter Parker’s uncle listed above. Our students may have trouble admitting it, but they want this exposure to everything music can give them: appreciation as a person? Get On The Mic And Play Changes Coltrane Jr. Contribute to a team that can achieve great things? Ask the GCC Marching Band how it felt after the Clarion County Festival a few weeks ago. Experiencing the height of human emotion and beauty? About Von William’s “Variations on a Theme of Thomas Tallis”, Morton Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” or Eric Whitacre’s “October” (yes, he is young, but he is very good!). Power? intensity? Drama? Mahler, Beethoven, Respighi. This is an easy battle. When they leave school at 3:15 p.m., or after the band plays, or the choir, or the district festival practice….the battle begins at home.
No matter what they tell you in your methods, educational psychology, foundations of learning, or learning theory class: children struggle in school because of genetics and environment. Why is it so important to be a music public advocate? If you lose the battle at home, you lose the war. Teaching music to students is easy. Parents who we only see at concerts, sports (where musical groups perform) and booster meetings are ultimately difficult to educate. Our time with them is limited. We don’t have time to build a relationship of trust and communication with them as we do with their children. Even worse, speaking to many colleagues who have had conflicts with parents recently, it seems that there are fewer and fewer parents who have instilled a value system for music in their family setting. Some parents have given me the impression that music is not a “real” subject. This course is designed to allow time for core classes to prepare for them. So disciplinary issues in music do not matter and concert attendance should be voluntary and not mandatory.
I feel bad for the family that feels this way. They are deceiving the greatest of human experiences. Worse, they have alienated another generation from this experience because of their own myopic, uninformed and uneducated views. It’s “I don’t understand music, so why should my child?” A trained music teacher exposes your child to things you don’t understand so that maybe – just maybe – your child will grow into something bigger than you. And as a parent, that’s what I want for my three daughters – what about you?
Why is this battle so tough today? I can offer some thoughts that we should consider. But I’m more interested in giving you all some pointers on how to win the battle on the home front for the good of music education and your program. First of all, I believe that our microwave society is harmful. We want instant gratification – something that is the very opposite of what music exists for. Parents want instant success for our children and there are many bad ways to find it. We can throw a ball on the grass, watch six kids swarm like bees around a hive, and they call it a soccer team. Put six instruments in one room with six kids and by the end of the day you have a music shop repairman’s nightmare. Let me use soccer as an example – we are not concerned with the quality of the experience, just the kid having the experience….and the time to move on to another experience….which brings me to my next point. Will someone start telling college and university admissions offices that filling out resume after line of pointless experience as an officer for every Tom, Dick, and Harry club in high school is not a quality student? All these experiences, but still: What is this student actually good at? What he really applied himself to during these years. I get frustrated with the over-commitment some parents make their child do it all. Finally, my last suggestion about the battle points towards diminishing the musical experience that MTV has brought about over the past 20 years. Students in high school and middle school are now products of the first MTV generation. Pop music reigned supreme, and we all watched the TV with its wacky stories of pop stars, their minions, their wasted, good times, songs of their hardships growing up in the Detroit suburbs (sorry Marshall Mathers.. ..) Tell us it was music. Let me be clear on this point: pop music is junk food. Not bad to get from time to time. Too much of that and we’re all going to get fat and blame McDonald’s…er….wait a minute! Do we have another example of art imitating life?
We must always fight for what we believe to be true about music, and that means stepping outside of our “box” and taking the fight home. It could change the future of music education in any number of ways. My friend Joe and I go back and forth on this very issue: What will music education look like in public schools in another 40 years? Do traditional school bands and music classes exist as we know them? Or that a deluge of curriculum trimming, a lack of financial support, and a loss of support and appreciation from parents and community members will leave music as a mystical art studied for the sole purpose of being able to play “Britney Spears: Hoops Eye at age 50.” Fall again, and I’ll get up. Can’t!”?
The fight is on, and the fight is now. Here are some solutions I would suggest to all of you when out-of-school education begins:
1) Program notes in concerts: I use program notes in every concert. I am very particular about what they say and what information they convey to the audience. It allows me to convey my own notes to the audience when I choose to speak. Many parents drop off their students for concerts, they would really like to read something! On a PSSA related note (hope you read this Governor Rendell), it promotes literacy.
2) Organize “Information”: Have an open rehearsal with your pairs in the evening. Allow parents to sit side by side with their child at live rehearsals. It may be loud (suggest earplugs), but they’ll have a better understanding of what their child is expected to do with your addition. If one of the parents is a musician, there is a side-by-side rehearsal. You can also schedule songs at upcoming concerts and invite them to play. Choruses do a great job at Christmas with the singing of the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Ed Lisk originally developed this idea, and his books have some excellent forms.
3) Parent/Student Agreement: For many of my after-school groups, I use an agreement. It gives families an opportunity to declare known conflicts in the group, and I know families read the material about the addition because it requires parent and student signatures before it can be returned. It is a form of communication that can avoid unwanted and unpleasant conflicts.
4) Monthly Newsletter: I prepare a monthly newsletter to distribute to my students. It includes curriculum and additional band news. It also includes news from our Booster organization. Special kudos to great musicians and a full calendar of band dates on the reverse side for that month. A great way to communicate and administer without sacrificing rehearsal time to read a list of announcements.
5) Say Thank You: Express gratitude frequently to parents who support your efforts. It may only start with 3 or 4, but it’s a start. A handshake and a kind word to let parents know how they’ve raised their child, how important their support is to the music, and the event sometimes goes much further than a pizza fundraiser. Tom Zumpel always told me that the easiest thing to do is to make a phone call to say thank you, and if you can’t find the phone, they make nice little cards you can write and address yourself.
I am Dr. Let me share a Jack Stamp quote/phrase that I heard many years ago, but am only now beginning to understand. In a regional band, he was commenting that a parent said his choice of music wasn’t very “interesting”. “I’m a music teacher. If you want entertainment, turn on the television.” We can find moments of entertainment to share with our community, our students and our parents, all while aligning with our mission to allow every student to connect with music in a meaningful way. If you choose music for your pairs to study and keep balance and moderation in mind, the music you can share will educate and entertain your students and their parents. We must find our desire to teach both at school and at home. As a music teacher you have tremendous power. Share your vision and enable music education at school and at home.
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