Whatever you do, don’t let “their music” in here!

As the last few opportunities for “me” time start to fade away, and the end of that glorious time of year that we call “summer vacation” becomes real, I am renewed in my dedication to music education. As a musician, I have been trained in a multitude of technical, musical, and nonsensical means of storytelling through my instrument. As an educator, the training has been much the same… exploring various approaches to adapt to the ever changing community of learners (like a dart board on a merry-go-round). When I committed to pursuing this final degree, I was unaware of how much impact my experiences would have on my own reflections and practices.

We are currently at, in my humble opinion, a tipping point in music education (yes, it absolutely can be argued the same for ALL of education, but I am choosing to focus on music). As more details are exposed, it is painfully obvious that we are missing the boat. Well, we are on a boat (with our flippie-floppies… thank you T-Pain), but it isn’t the boat we could be on. It seems that the largest hurdle to get over is none other than us… music educators. The safety we feel being the captain of our boat is limiting the number of passengers (students) we could invite onto a different (maybe bigger) boat. Enough with the boat analogies (let’s be honest, I live in AZ… what could I know about boats!!).

Our traditional school model is limiting how students can engage with music at school. Let me be transparent and acknowledge that my main background is as a band director (who only taught guitar because he “had to”). The model of exclusively offering (its a space and staffing thing), supporting (through budget and PR), and celebrating (with trophies, of course) large ensembles in our schools disregards the vast array of other music that students connect with.  The stranglehold that our band, choir, and orchestras have on school music (especially through the literature chosen) is based on the antiquated emotional attachment we, the “highly educated conductors/teachers” have with them. Now, I am not suggesting that these ensembles do not still have a place in schools… they absolutely do! I am not suggesting that “traditional” literature should not be worked on. I am also not suggesting that your classroom become a space for student chaos and a musical coupe (assuming it hasn’t already). I am saying that they should not be the only musical offerings in schools and it takes an intelligent pedagogue to allow “different” in.

Me, 3 years ago, would have read this and said something like… “well, you just don’t know how to do it well, that’s why you want to change it” …or, “just because you had a bad experience when you were in high school doesn’t mean my students have bad experiences” …or, “yea, that’s cool, we should find someone who can teach that other stuff” …or, … you get the idea. There are many variations on a theme in this conversation, but they unfortunately lead to the same place… change = bad! (btw, that’s FALSE)

So let’s start somewhere (and I’ll keep it small so we don’t get hurt). Think of how their music can be a part of their classroom … chamber ensemble week (where they arrange a version of their music), original composition concert (and maybe it’s not traditional voicing, but it’s theirs), or a simple “hey, so what are you listening to on your iPod?” conversation (this one goes a long way, but they have to believe you actually care and aren’t just being a nosy adult).

Sometimes because I was assigned to, and other times because it just happened, I have learned a lot about that “other music”. In today’s music classroom, where so much of our energy is spent on non-musical things (PO’s, transportation, discipline, emails, justifying our job to administration, etc.), it is too easy to lose our own attachment to the musical experience (ya know, the whole reason you’re probably doing this anyway). And, if we lose it, how can we expect/inspire/foster/develop/appreciate/etc. our student’s attachment to music?

I made choices. Although I am no longer in a classroom every day, I still interact with young musicians multiple times a week. That “other music” has provided depth, breadth, context, and perspective on how “my music” relates to “their music” (hint, hint…its all MUSIC). I know more about Dubstep than I ever imagined (certainly more than when I was asked to arrange some as a stand tune). I use various Dubstep apps as a metronome in rehearsals… students love it! I appreciate French house music because I was exposed to and explored Electro Swing (and the many other different names it has). I allow my percussion section to improvise beats over our traditional literature (look up electro swing, this will make more sense). I have a remedial amount of DJ skills because I spent some time remixing and mashing up Tupac with Stars and Stripes (blasphemous, I know). Big discoveries here…1) DJing is most definitely a skill and 2) I still have a lot to learn about musical concepts (I now recognize that my interpretation of music is narrowly limited to Western classical vocabulary, and there is a lot more out there).

Bottom line, it only took two things to have these journeys… internet and an open mind. I continue to feed mine by giving myself nuggets of new experiences… allowing these experiences to be present (if not prominent) in their classroom… and I don’t want to stop being curious about their music, because that’s when my music becomes the oldies. Now, what are you listening to?

One Response to Whatever you do, don’t let “their music” in here!

  1. Isaac says:

    Well Said Sir. Very good food for thought.

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