Is Music Performence Oriented In America, Does Freeware Cause Starvation, And More

Attending a music conference regularly is a must for any educator; it gives time for reflection, reinvention, relaxation, and… RECHARGING!   The PMEA convention held in Hershey PA, did just that for me and the thousands in attendance.  

While at PMEA, as always I had a chance to speak with numerous band directors, choir directors, general music education teachers, vendors, music experts, and technology experts.  There were a number of interesting conversations that I had this time around and I thought I would share them with you to see if you all had any opinions on what was purveyed to me by various folks:

  1. Music education in the U.S. is predominantly performance oriented… This one has been going around a long time…are we still so focused on performances in America that we totally miss what making music is all about?   
  2. Freeware music products take the food out of the mouths of people writing and supporting software for a living… This one came from a software vendor… to be honest it caught me by surprise.  While I can certainly understand the “cause and effect” that could be construed here in this context…is it a threat or a sales pitch?  What about the schools that can’t afford multi-hundred dollar software? 
  3. A school principal told a band director that they were very frustrated and disappointed in the music program and was sabre-rattling about the destruction of the program AFTER giving, said band director, four straight years of GLOWING reviews and verbal approvals… What is this all about? 
  4. How does an ensemble director deal with a district that will take students out of their classroom for any reason, any time, and it’s TOUGH LUCK for any time lost to the student’s music instruction.  This one strikes home to many of us.   Are we teachers? Does our class(es) matter? Is our discipline important?  Why not take them out of social studies, health, spelling…dare we say, math or reading?   While I’m sure that a student will most likely never be removed from a class for one of the three “R’s”, what does the action of removal from music really say about the, seemingly universal, underlying thoughts behind these actions?
  5. A successful music teacher is one who succeeds in teaching music to students (creating music), interesting them in the discipline, propelling them to become self-motivated about learning music DESPITE the roadblocks seemingly put in place by the administration…  Is anyone beside me getting the feeling that our  music teachers feel like their in an un-winnable battle with the schools and they have to be on the defensive all the time?
  6. Students are too busy, too involved in too many things making them adequate at everything and an expert in nothing.   We’ve all heard the so-called advice given to high-school students (and earlier), “Be involved in as much as you can, it’s all good resume builders, it will make you diverse…”.   To that I say…BALDERDASH!.  We’ve “caught on” in higher-education and quite honestly, I would and have recommended students to our program with fewer activities on their resume that have shown a propensity to be good at something rather than a dozen activities with no noticeable signs of excellence, the so-called resume builders.  Which leads to number 7.
  7. Students are given a trophy for everything they do.  They expect to be rewarded for simply participating in something.  It’s all part of the “I’m o.k., you’re o.k.” culture…  I think it’s a “dumbing down” of the perception of excellence.  This is why I am such an advocate of “getting beyond the four walls of your school and classroom”.   Students in music MUST be exposed continually to people, groups, and ensembles that perform music excellently.   Too often a student is told they are good at something (in our case -music) and they go through life under a false pretense.  Encouragement is needed at all times to truly strive for “better”, BUT they must have a reference to what “BETTER” is!   Don’t believe me on this one?  Tune in to the auditions at American Idol.
  8. Superior ratings are given out to frequently to sub-superior groups. AMEN.   See number 7 and 1 above. 
  9. Department Chairs in Music are not given time-release for their administration’s duties (Please note that many are, this was a particular instance).  I’ll say and sing this one until I’m blue in the face.  At the collegiate level the Music Department Chair’s duties are well beyond that of other departmental chairs (think: concerts, public relations, juries, recitals, applied faculty, room scheduling, rehearsal scheduling, library management, technology management, auditions, etc.)…  These are things not-uncommon to our profession as many music teachers will note they have similar responsibilities in their daily routines.
  10. The Army Field  Band and Soldier’s Chorus Concert was amazing!  YES!  See 7 above.

I didn’t go into too much of my opinions about the above.  How about yours?   Do these topics that were circulating at PMEA strike a nerve or ring a bell with any of you?   What’s your take?

                 

Joseph M. Pisano, Ph.D. is the creator of many education websites, a lecturer, clinician, trumpeter, and conductor. He is currently the Associate Chair of Music and Director of Bands in the Calderwood School of Arts at Grove City College in PA. He been named a TI:ME Teacher of the Year, received the JEN Jazz Educator Award and the PA Citation of Excellence. He is a past Vice President of the Technology Institute for Music Educators and the current Vice-President of the PA Intercollegiate Bandmasters Association. He also writes for DCI Magazine, Teaching Music Magazine, and is the Educational Editor for In-Tune Monthly Magazine; he has contributed hundreds of articles to various publications. Find out more at his website jpisano.com.
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