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October 1, 2001
Vol. 59
No. 2

A Sound Education

Music classrooms reflect the increased diversity and changing technology of our times.

Imagine that you are visiting a high school music suite. You look around for familiar instruments—violins, trumpets, clarinets, drums. Instead you see instruments that look like guitar strings hooked onto an oversized "s" shape. A bank of thin keyboards replicates not only the piano, but also flutes, organs, and guitars. The drums are small, flat electric pads, and the flutes and clarinets are played with a computer-generated piano accompaniment. The students are working at computers, individually or in small groups, creating compositions that they will play in the spring recital. Other students are taking an Advanced Placement music theory course from a university thousands of miles away.
In the adjacent music room, you discover drums of varying sizes, colors, and types. You see an amazing collection of other instruments made of beads, gourds, and logs and all kinds of guitars, as well as marimbas and steel drums. The students are setting up a Balinese gamelan—an array of percussion instruments—for an after-school rehearsal.
In the chorus room, students of all ethnicities are working out improvisations for an African American spiritual. The school choral director observes while the music director from one of the local churches works with the group. The choral director then asks the choir to get ready to rehearse a Renaissance composition.
Your visit is not a fantasy or a time travel experience. Parts of it are becoming the norm in many schools. Whereas band, chorus, and orchestra are still the mainstays of most school music programs, many schools are incorporating technology, multicultural music, composition, and improvisation into the course offerings.

Influence of Technology and Diversity

Both the diversity of our student population and the technology that infuses our lives have affected music programs. The changes in music rooms during the past 10 years have not been without challenges, though.
Traditional instruments still fill school music rooms, but they are frequently paired with their electronic cousins. Students who would never have considered being in the choir or orchestra are signing up for guitar or keyboard classes, wanting to study the instruments that many of their musical heroes play.
Keeping up with recent technological innovations in music can strain the abilities of even young, technology-savvy teachers—and can often terrify older teachers. Music directors question the appropriateness of incorporating non-traditional instruments that sound like tubas or violins in traditional ensembles, worrying that this will bring about the demise of bands and orchestras as they knew them.
Multiculturalism also is having a tremendous impact on music instruction. World drumming has become popular in many schools, as have steel drum bands. Mariachi bands, salsa groups, gamelans, and gospel choirs are entering the regular schedule, particularly in those districts with diverse populations. Even traditional ensemble performances are including Asian, Australian, African, and Caribbean rhythms and melodies along with classical Western European and American folk and jazz works.
Music teachers who were traditionally trained feel out of their element teaching musical styles that are not a part of their culture or musical experiences. In addition, purists often find fault with how composers and performers have "Americanized" ethnic music. As a result, teachers are reaching out to musicians in their communities for help in correctly performing such music as gospel or salsa.

Tradition or Innovation?

The powerful influence of popular music on young people and the place in the classroom of sometimes controversial styles of popular music are also worrisome issues among music educators. Critics—such as Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences—are scathing in their remarks about the division between what Greene (1998) calls "bland school music" and the music that fills students' lives. He says that a "social disconnect" occurs when teachers don't acknowledge popular music styles in their instruction.
Others, however, bemoan the potential loss of the traditional, Western European musical heritage. They question the worth of spending any time on music that is, by its very nature, ephemeral. Communities expect the band to play marches and patriotic songs in holiday parades and football halftime shows. They want the show choir to perform standards for the Rotary Club. They expect music programs to reflect our heritage and celebrate our collective past.
As we become more heterogeneous, however, our collective past is becoming more diverse. What is a musical standard for one group in a community is not for others. Cultural and religious diversity have important implications for the music performed by school choruses.
Music teachers walk a fine line between tradition and innovation. Many feel that they are asked to stay the same and to change at the same time, to maintain school traditions while offering courses that honor diversity and reflect today's musical innovations.

Outside the Music Box

Imagine that same music suite after school. You see the orchestra director meeting with the dance and theater faculty to plan the end-of-year concert. It will include the Overture to West Side Story and Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet. The teachers want to incorporate a scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and several dances from the 16th century. Next door, a music teacher is working with the Spanish department on a Cinco de Mayo celebration.
The inclusion of multicultural music in the music program offers opportunities to make interesting curricular connections, as does focusing on the relationships between music and history or literature; but time and planning are needed to create meaningful interdisciplinary projects. Many teachers are finding that special events such as themed concerts or schoolwide programs provide the best opportunities for multidisciplinary instruction.
Music educators have learned that the projects are more successful when connections are natural and substantive. The desire to make curricular connections should not interfere with the importance of teaching music and other subjects for their own intrinsic value. As stated in the National Standards for Arts Education, Because forging these kinds of connections is one of the things the arts do best, they can and should be taught in ways that connect both to each other and to other subjects. But one point is basic. Correlation, integration, and similar approaches to learning are first of all a matter of knowledge and competence within each of the arts disciplines themselves, which must be maintained in their full integrity. (Consortium of National Arts Education Associations, 1994, p. 13)

The Need for Music in School

When schools face tight budgets or pressure to raise test scores, the arts—including music—are likely to be the first subjects on the chopping block. Music teachers feel required to justify the time given to music instruction in terms of how it enhances other kinds of learning, especially those subjects that are tested. Not very long ago, the research on how listening to Mozart improved test scores was highly touted, and slogans such as "music makes you smarter" abounded. The "Mozart Effect" research has been questioned lately, leaving music educators wondering whether their arguments in support of music in the schools weren't stronger when they stayed away from the extra-musical rewards of learning music.
Former President Clinton and others have said that their participation in band was one of their most important educational experiences; unfortunately, the desire to make schools accountable for student achievement seems to run counter to the sometimes intangible learning that occurs when young people participate in music rehearsals and performances. Every successful music teacher has multiple anecdotes of how music prevented students from dropping out, encouraged their achievement in other areas, or provided the school community they needed. The causes and effects of these success stories, however, are hard to prove.
Music and other arts educators are beginning to wonder, Will the wolf always be at our door? In Vision 2020: The Housewright Symposium on the Future of Music Education, music educators said,Whenever and wherever humans have existed, music has existed also. Since music occurs only when people choose to create and share it, and since they always have done so and no doubt always will, music clearly must have important value for people. (Madsen, 2000, p. 219)

Music Programs of the Future

Music classrooms of the future will look increasingly like those in your imaginary visit. Music programs of the future will continue to be rooted in convention because of music's role as a purveyor of traditions, but changing demographics and technological advancements will influence the way that music is experienced in life and in schools.
In the future, perhaps the advocacy efforts of those who support the place of music in schools will pay off and decision makers will come to value the intrinsic rewards that come from learning about music. Instead of spending time working to prevent cuts to the music program, music teachers will be able to direct that creative energy toward higher standards, more multicultural and interdisciplinary connections, greater variety in course offerings, and more innovative teaching.
Imagine it is the year 2020. All students have access to varied music instruction through the school, the Internet, and the community. Music is seen as a crucial element in quality education and an essential means of self-expression for students. It is valued for the cultural understanding that it promotes and for the community traditions that it fosters. Schools have fully embraced the idea of a "sound" education for all. Pipe dream or future reality? Let's work together to make it a reality.

Greene, M. (1998, October). The 21st century—It's coming, ready or not. Presentation at the National Music Education Summit, Washington, DC.

Madsen, C. (Ed.). (2000). Vision 2020: The Housewright Symposium on the Future of Music Education. Reston, VA: The National Association for Music Education.

Consortium of National Arts Education Associations. (1994). National Standards for Arts Education. Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference.

June M. Hinckley has been a contributor for Educational Leadership.

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