Is Music Performance Worth Saving?
The current state of our profession is immersed in a survival mode. Our profession is facing difficult times as the ever-changing world of education copes with a national financial crisis. The current conditions continue to be an enormous challenge for current and future music educators. We, as a profession, cannot alter, stop, or resist the changes that are taking place. The most significant factor in determining our future will be dependent upon our ability to define and present our instrumental program as a vital academic component to education. The current challenges will require perseverance and working together at all levels of our profession.
A different educational structure is taking form at every elementary, middle, and high school across the nation. What we, as music educators, commonly based our existence upon will no longer serve the needs or be accepted by the new standards for education. We have, for too many years, created an environment for our programs through a rationale supported by numbers and entertainment. For example: the number of activities the orchestra program presented, the number of trophies or contests the choir won, or the number of services a band provided for public events and other assorted athletic or competition needs. Such an identity has little to do with being recognized or accepted as a vital component to the new design for education. For music ensembles to move successfully through this maze of changing school design, it will be imperative that our music programs be established upon a solid, meaningful academic foundation that contributes to the student’s total educational process.
We are at a crossroad, and we need to ask a few questions. I share a very shocking question, “Is music performance worth saving?” What will you do in your school district to assure ensemble music will be a vital academic component to education? We have immersed regional, state, and national conventions with “Advocacy” in hopes of greater recognition for the value of music education. It seems that our advocacy efforts are losing ground as we consume many hours at conventions convincing “ourselves” about the importance of what we do.
Ensemble directors are in search of ways and means to communicate both program value and needs with their school administration. Too many school decision makers fail to acknowledge the importance of music study and the complexities of playing an instrument. I am a firm believer that the cause of this lack of recognition is found in the preparation of an ensemble director. We are not equipped with the tools or means to substantiate why we teach music. Once in the field, there are few opportunities for professional development to train us in such essential measures. We (and I) must accept the blame for some of the current conditions that exist with our music program identity. Directors must substantiate their program design through new curriculum and assessment practices to assure deep learning that contributes to the students’ total educational experience. Once this is in place, we must expand the size and scope of our program too not only include students, but parents, teachers, administrators, and board members…those who are making the decisions for educational issues in your community.
Creating New Value by Guiding Adults
We must break down the misunderstandings about musical performance, especially for our non-musician decision-makers, namely, administrators and board members. Cultivating awareness and understanding of the complex knowledge base required for playing an instrument are paramount to the sustenance and growth of our programs. Playing a musical instrument requires the brain to respond to the complex signs and symbols of notation while making decisions in a timed sequence through these physical and mental events – all while producing a sound on an instrument. Dr. Frank Wilson, notable neurologist, reported at the 1993-94 Nobel Peace Conference in Minneapolis “that when a musician plays his instrument, he uses approximately 90 % of the brain.” Wilson states, “they could find no other activity that uses the brain to this extent.” Through ensemble performance, we can expand academic dividends and create a more productive, successful life only attainable through artistic production and performance. Until we make this evident to our administrators, in a language they will understand, expectations for any more support then we currently have is unrealistic. Creating new value and respect for our programs are the priority.
I developed a program that went beyond advocacy. I referred to it as, “Leading the Way.” I simply considered the aftereffects of many masterwork concerts that my ensemble presented. I discovered I had to do more than simply program worthy literature and conduct the concert. Each time I concluded a concert, I felt as though the audience simply did not understand the significance of what had just happened in the concert. Indeed there was applause, standing ovations, and respect, but did they really understand the demands and complexities of playing an instrument? Within a period of three years, I established a strong administrative support base and my programs were recognized as an important academic component. My requests for additional staffing, facilities, and budget were never questioned. The administration, board of education, parents, and community were all “on the same page” as our staff because the expectations of our program were made evident to all stakeholders.
Over the past twenty years, I shared this program with many directors and all have indicated that this Leading the Way program has been a tremendous success. They now enjoy a positive support base. The program is based upon two simple questions, do administrators, and parents recognize the complexity and demands of playing an instrument, and secondly, do they understand why our curriculum is based upon significant works in literature?
This special program (not a concert) is a means to guide parents, and administrators into recognizing music as being an important component of the students’ academic program. The important word here is “guide”. As we shape and design new opinions and values about what it is that we do and the importance of what we do…value and meaning is understood. This program is in addition to the normally scheduled concert performances… a live demonstration about what it is that we do and its academic significance! It is extremely important to change the long-held perceptions that so often inhibit a program’s potential.
I offer the following questions to prompt your thinking about your own program and how it is recognized for its worth in an academic setting.
- Is your program recognized as being only a competitive activity?
- Why is the language of music important?
- Do your students have an extensive performance vocabulary that allows them to perform a wide range of worthy literature?
- Do your parents and administrators understand why you select certain music?
- Does your audience expect you to play pops literature?
- What does it mean to play “in tune” and what does an “out of tune” ensemble sound like?
- What is the total amount of money parents have invested in purchasing an instrument?
These are only a few questions that need to be addressed in every school district with a band, orchestra, or choral program. The audience “is the product of someone’s school music program” and their opinions and values are based upon the strengths and weaknesses, perceptions, and experiences resultant of that program. When I made this realization, I assumed the responsibility of getting everyone “on the same page.” There is no easier way than to present a special Leading the Way program to transparently engage all stakeholders in the value of the program.
I urge you to begin an annual presentation of this special program. We must share and demonstrate through our performing organizations that music spans the entire universe of learning. Playing a musical instrument requires an intricate combination of intellectual, visual, physical, and auditory control coupled with a perceptive decision making process. The Leading the Way program is specifically designed to clarify all misconceptions, myths, and mysteries for those adults, administrators, parents, civic leaders, board of education members, and all ‘people specialties’ who have for so long viewed us as being a mere activity in a school setting.
An extremely massive task is ahead to assure our position in the design of 21st century learning. Too often, we have based our worth and value upon those things that have nothing to do with music making! We can no longer be “outside the framework of education.” Artistic expression …an experience that becomes “priceless!“ Music spans the entire universe of learning!
HERE is a PDF containing Leading the Way program including topics, instructional modules, forms, and information for presenting to administrators, boards, and parents. Please contact Mr. Lisk at: firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any more questions.
If you end up using any of his ideas, let us know how it goes! We’d love to see some video of a Leading the Way program.
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