Lindsay Brazell

Music Educator and Creative Professional

3 Opportunities for Change in the Music Education Curriculum

This post was inspired by a reading assignment for my Foundations and Principles of Music Education course. The article was titled “Emotion, functionality, and the everyday experience of music: where does music education fit?” by John Sloboda. Responses and thoughts are my own and not of my institution.

John Sloboda’s paper was a challenging yet inspiring read. He highlighted the current state of music education in the UK, and presented opportunities for change to improve the curriculum and the profession.

This article allowed me to reflect on my past educational practices, consider my future practices, and also evaluate my thoughts on the profession and its current condition. My responses will be a mixture of initial reactions to some of his points, anecdotes on aspects of my teaching career and choral program, and ideas for the future of music education.

To me, it appears there are 3 opportunities for change in the music education curriculum and profession:

  1. Career Preparation for Students
  2. Advocacy
  3. Variety

By addressing these areas, I think we can fill the voids some students may feel in their music education, and provide a better, more well-rounded curriculum for our schools.

1. There are several careers in music and the music industry, not just performance and education.

“..the musical enthusiasms and aspirations of many young people are not addressed by the current curriculum.”

I completely agree with this statement, and have considered those students/aspirations to an extent in my choral classroom. First, a little background.

Before coming to USM, I definitely aired on the side of “no pop music allowed” in my repertoire. My philosophy was, “Why should I teach music that they already know?” To an extent, I still feel this way, but I can also see the value in defying that thought.

Most students who desired a musical career or college degree were more interested in the music industry. They wanted to be songwriters, performers, engineers, or do some kind of arts management. The one way I incorporated those skill sets was by implementing a Coffee House fundraiser each semester, where we removed everything from the choir room and made it look like a coffee shop, even serving coffee and snacks. This allowed students to perform pop music, their own songs, collaborate with friends, and learn how to put on a production from start to finish. They decorated, set up a floor plan, evaluated auditions, created a setlist, and promoted the event, while I sat back and watched/monitored for quality purposes.

Those skills aren’t always addressed in our music standards, but they definitely have a need in our classrooms for those students aspiring to pursue those careers. How else will they have those opportunities if we don’t create them?

2. We teach more than music everyday, and I don’t think people realize this.

“For many young people instrumental playing has no inherent ‘purpose’ which relates to their activities and goals, even those which might involve music in other ways.”

I hate this!!

I did an assignment with my choirs called “50 Things I Learned in Choir” where they had to turn in a list of lessons or skills that they learned just from stepping foot in our choir room. When I analyzed all of their responses, I found prominent categories: Musical Skill, Leadership Skill, Character lessons, and Inside Jokes. The last one may seem entirely out of place, but it absolutely represented a huge aspect of my classroom: humor. They were having fun and laughing in my classroom, all while learning musical, leadership, and character skills. I’m totally OK with that!

When I shared the statistics with them, I asked them, “So what does this mean?” to which they replied, “We learn a lot more in choir than everyone else thinks,” to which I did a verbal backflip. I think music educators need to show their students that what they are doing is more than learning music and performing it, and that it has such an impact on the rest of their lives, regardless of what career field they end up pursing. It’s not always obvious, so I think the responsibility is on us.

3. Music Education can exist in so many ways, and there are several times and places for it.

“Variety may well be the key concept.”

I love Sloboda’s 8 areas to increase variety in music education. A few comments on some of them:

  • Varied locations: While I feel private and public schools need ensemble classes and musical opportunities and courses, music education is definitely a mobile subject. Private lesson studios already exist and are great for individualized instruction. Can you imagine all the other places music classes or music-themed can function? Nursing homes, coffee shops, community centers, libraries…the list could go on. Pop-up workshops on speciality areas in music (outside of performance) can happen anywhere that accommodates a group of people.
  • Varied roles for educators: I think this is already happening, but perhaps not acknowledged by all stakeholders. I don’t think all of the parents/other subject teachers realized that I did all of the fundraising, programming, event planning, and even at times arranging for our choral program.
  • Varied activities: At Groove House, we offer special workshops on Saturday afternoons during the semester in areas like running a sound system, how to change guitar strings, ear training, and songwriting. Students can sign up and attend for free at their own volition, and they are very well-attended. I think bringing in professionals in these areas would be extremely valuable in a public school music curriculum, and worth the “lost rehearsal” if during the school day.

I think because I received a varied education, both in high school and my undergraduate degree, I see the value in it and definitely see the benefits of variety in today’s music education. My degree at Clemson was in Performing Arts with a focus in music production studies, which not only provided me with performance skills on my instrument, but I was exposed to a varied curriculum in music technology, arts management, and being an artist. I can’t count the number of times those topics and skill sets were addressed in my choral classroom!

I will close with this: Music education is alive and well, but like people, needs to maintain a healthy lifestyle if it wants to maintain its health. That healthy lifestyle is going to require a change in curriculum and approaches to all music, particularly with the best interest of the students being served in mind. I think with better advocacy for our profession and a more broad yet intentional curriculum, we could see a future of a more-appreciated and more-involved musical world.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/

About Lindsay

I’m Lindsay, a choral music educator by day, a singer-songwriter by evening, and a writer when time allows. You can find my latest album, The Room I Found – Lindsay Morelli on iTunes.

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