Teaching Comprehensive Musicianship
Applying the Eighth and Ninth National Standards for Music Education
Are music educators making relevant connections between music curriculum and the students sitting in their classroom? Are we teaching in a comprehensive manner, or are we simply allowing the act of “musical performance” to be the dominating component of our curriculum?
At a time when limited funding is often rewarded to those academic subjects with rigid accountability measures, music educators cannot afford to ignore defining guidelines for our music curriculum. As our students, classroom technology, and nationwide views on education evolve, music educators must strive to consistently deliver the most beneficial, relevant, and comprehensive music education curriculum possible. As a guideline for accomplishing this, perhaps we should individually evaluate how well we are addressing all nine of the National Standards for Music Education (Barrett, 2005).
According to Bennett Reimer, the publication of the National Standards for Music Education in 1994 emphasized just how limited our vision of the school music curriculum has been throughout the past century. The commonly accepted traditional musical performance curriculum marvelously addresses the first two standards of singing and playing, but greatly neglects the remaining seven (Reimer, 2004). Compare this practice with an American History teacher who only teaches students about the Civil War for an entire semester.
It is important to teach our students how to perform, however music educators must equally determine how to teach their students about the music they are performing (National Standards for Arts Education, 1994). Below are several suggestions for addressing the less popular eighth and ninth standards into your current music curriculum. I encourage you to adapt and modify each suggestion so that it will yield maximum educational results throughout your unique performance ensemble.
Standard eight: Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.
Standard eight calls for music educators to connect music with other fine arts disciplines, as well as outside academic subjects. In order to teach comprehensive musicianship, students need to learn about the impact that music has had and continues to have on all aspects of our past, present, and future societies (National Standards for Arts Education, 1994). Sometimes this may be difficult, since many music educators possess a considerably greater confidence in teaching music than any other discipline (Conway, 2008). Due to this fact, I have included several collaborative suggestions that can be integrated into any portion of your music education curriculum.
Collaborate with other fine arts teachers
Collaboration projects within a school fine arts department can create meaningful experiences that can enrich and diversify the musical lives of your students. These activities can also serve to strengthen each participating program by increasing the number of participating students as well as potentially involving supportive parents. Music educators should meet regularly with all fine arts colleagues to brainstorm, develop, and initiate future collaborative projects. Plan well in advance, stay organized, and establish free communication to ensure that an effective and successful experience will take place.
When collaborating with other performance ensembles in and outside of your school, there are many unique and exciting performance opportunities that can be explored. Consider combining performance ensembles to provide students with the experience of performing a large scale work. One example might involve the band and chorus performing Carmen Dragon’s treatment of America the Beautiful at the conclusion of a joint concert or patriotic assembly. An opportunity such as this would create more meaningful aesthetic experiences, further develop active listening skills, and would develop a greater sense of camaraderie amongst different performing groups in your fine arts program.
You can also collaborate with nearby performance ensembles. Arrange to have each ensemble perform for the other at a public concert or in a rehearsal lab set-up. As one ensemble performs, ask the other to evaluate and critique all aspects of the performance. As a guide, providing students with adjudicator evaluation forms that will enable them to more clearly articulate their comments and critique. Evaluating musical performances is the seventh National Standard of Music Education, and will help to develop the individual listening, musicianship, and analyzing skills. Create your own or use official state adjudication forms such as the one provided here.
A third suggestion is based off of what has become an important personal philosophy of mine: When in doubt, consult an expert. If you have an expert on a particular topic available, consider asking them to develop a presentation for your ensemble. For example, if you are trying to teach your “non-singing” band students how to produce a more resonant singing tone during the ending vocal passages of Andrew Boysen’s I Am, consider asking the chorus teacher to work with your students for an entire rehearsal. Offer to return a similar favor and they will be more likely to assist.
The most popular collaboration between the drama department and the music program is typically achieved during an annual staged production. Music educators must take advantage of any opportunity to provide a full ensemble, chamber ensemble (pit orchestra), or a barbershop quartet (on stage) to supplement any production with live music. Exploring options before or after theatrical performances, in conjunction with the production (on or off stage), or even during intermission of staged productions are all viable options. A small jazz combo could easily perform during intermission of a production; this would also be an excellent advertisement for an upcoming jazz ensemble concert.
Providing live music to accompany a musical production can greatly enhance the overall aesthetic experience for the performers and audience as well as increase the total number of fine arts students involved. Maintaining large numbers of students in each fine arts production is especially important when advocating on behalf of your individual program, fine arts department, and fellow colleagues.
Similar to collaborating with the drama department, music educators should also work to collaborate with the dance department whenever possible. Since dance productions typically include a wide variety of themed musical selections as accompaniment, student musicians could provide the accompanying musical soundtrack. A jazz ensemble or small jazz combo would be an excellent ensemble to provide live jazz, swing, blues, and/or rock music for a dance recital.
Music educators must also consider consulting the expertise of the dance teacher regarding performance literature that is based on historical or modern genres of dance. It could be very effective to have the dance instructor explain and teach the actual dance(s) to your students in order to provide your students with a better understanding of how the music should be performed. Take a full rehearsal to learn each of the dances that the composer has embodied in their music. This creatively collaborative approach is far more memorable than any verbal description that could be provided in rehearsal.
Collaborate with the visual art department to provide live entertainment at school or community art viewings. Local coffee houses, churches, and libraries all make for excellent venues outside of the school campus, and will involve greater numbers of your community who are not directly connected to your school. Consider providing a wide variety of chamber ensembles, jazz combos, and solo performances that can serve as appropriate background music for the duration or a portion of the art show.
In class, music educators can also emphasize the relationship that visual art and music have had with each other. Students can spend time learning about famous works of art that have inspired particular musical compositions, and vice-versa. Music educators may also choose to study a composition that is based off of a particular work or works of art. One such example for an advanced band might include an in-depth study and performance of William Schuman’s George Washington Bridge or Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
Cross-curricular activities/collaborating with teachers outside of the arts
It is important for music educators to think outside of the comforting realm of their classroom and consider other interdisciplinary options for collaboration. Become interested in what your students are studying in their additional classes and consider ways to implement those lessons into your curriculum. Much like inviting the dance instructor to your rehearsal, ask other teachers if they would be willing to provide a relevant presentation or lesson to your performance ensemble. Consider swapping classrooms for a day, and provide a musically relevant lesson of your own. Maintaining a history of such collaboration projects with fields outside of the fine arts is also an excellent method to advocate the cross-curricular significance of your program (Conway, 2008).
In the following section, I have included several topics from outside academic fields that could be implemented into your comprehensive music curriculum. Any of the following suggestions may correspond to a particular piece of performance literature, or simply as a related enrichment for your ensemble. Strive to develop your own creative lessons that will be most appropriate in your unique classroom. As always, strive to introduce a diverse range of musical genres and styles.
- Discuss specific musical literature that has influenced and/or inspired musical compositions to be written
- Discuss the composers and/or genres of music that were popular when particular books, poems, and articles were written
- Discuss the similarities/differences in the construction of poetry and music
- Collaborate with the English, History, and Drama department to create full scale productions of plays, musicals, and comedy shows featuring appropriate live music
History (see standard nine):
- Compare the history of music with the history of civilization; spend time covering multiple genres of the 20th century as well (blues, ragtime, swing, bebop, rock and roll, fusion, disco, hip hop, etc.)
- Discuss what composers and/or genres of music were popular when significant historical events occurred
- Discuss the history of musical instruments, and how improvements have been made over time
- Discuss styles and genres of music that could appropriately and effectively portray significant historical events
- Discuss the similarities between mathematical fractions and understanding rhythm
- Discuss sound waves in relation to the intonation of a wind instrument
- Discuss how each instrument creates sound
- Learn to speak basic phrases from the culture that a particular composition represents or portrays
- Study the culture of a particular composer or composition
- Discuss the business aspect of the music industry and how it may or may not be changing today
- Discuss how technology is specifically changing the music production and distribution business
- Discuss musical soundtracks, and how they enhance the character development, plot, and mood/emotion of a particular film or television show
- Discuss the process of how a composer writes original music for a film scene
Standard nine: Understanding music in relation to history and culture.
Although it is listed separately, standard nine should actually be viewed as a slightly more defined extension of the eighth standard. Comprehensive teaching must include the implementation of intellectually stimulating and relevant lessons that will provide students with a strong understanding of how music can be specifically connected to aspects of history and culture. Consider any or all of the following suggestions for addressing the ninth national standard of music education into your music curriculum (Conway, 2008).
This day in history…
Frequently visit websites that document and explain significant historic events for each day of the year. Consider any of the following websites as reputable and thorough sources:
Plan ahead, and create a short musical lesson around a particular historic event that occurred on a particular day of your choosing. Consider combining previously mentioned activities so that each lesson will be creatively unique and engaging for your students. Here is an example:
Date: April 12th, 1861
Event: Battle of Fort Sumter at Charleston Harbor, South Carolina
Significance: The first battle of the American Civil War.
Listen to: North and South marching songs; Gettysburg soundtrack, Randy Edelman; Blue and Gray: Songs of the Civil War, various
Activity: Analyze how the text of each song differed, despite the same melody and accompaniment.
Perform: The Blue and the Gray, Clare Grundman; Lest We Forget, Elliot Del Borgo; Battle Cry of Freedom, Elliot Del Borgo
Watch: Selections from the Ken Burns documentary, The Civil War
Supplemental activities may include analyzing, listening, singing, composing, or evaluating music that has inspired, or was inspired by a particular historic event. If commemorative music has already been composed, take a moment at the beginning of class to listen, evaluate, and discuss how it reflected the event(s) that took place. In an effort to meet the “writing across the curriculum” demand, provide students with a relevant essay question that is to be answered in a listening journal entry. Increase retention rates by allowing them to share their thoughts with the class (Garofalo, 1983). For example:
Date: September 11th, 2001
Event: The Twin Towers and Pentagon are struck by hijacked planes.
Listen to: On the Transmigration of Souls, John Adams
Journal essay question: Do you feel that this piece of music truly captured the emotions and feelings experienced as a result of this historic event? Citing specific musical and interpretive elements, explain why you feel this way.
Discuss: Many of your students were too young to remember September 11th, 2001. Take a moment to discuss these tragic events.
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana
Also listen to: Testament, David Maslanka
Journal essay question: As a result of the events that took place on September 11th, 2001, Testament was originally composed as a statement of belief in the healing power of music. In detail, explain how do you feel that music sometimes helps the healing process of hardship?
Celebrate music from other cultures
Music educators must ensure that they are programming a wide variety of educationally valuable music for their band to analyze, evaluate, and perform. More specifically, it is necessary for students to be exposed to a wide variety of multicultural music. Be diverse in your selections, and incorporate musical works from all time periods and musical genres. It is important to also remember that the term “culture” should not be restricted specifically to ethnicity. “Culturally rich” literature will allow you to teach aspects of geography, economic class, and religion to your students. Students who possess a greater understanding in these areas will become more respectful and understanding of cultures outside of their own (Mixon, 2009).
Music educators must strive to implement these suggestions into their curriculum as well as their personal philosophy of teaching music. Doing so will broaden the scope of their music curriculum, and will result in a more comprehensive and meaningful music curriculum.
While it is easy to fall into a hectic routine that leaves us prepping less and less for each rehearsal, we must not forget why we entered the music education profession in the first place. Most of us are in this field simply because one of our teachers went above and beyond their job description and provided us with a relevant, diverse, and comprehensive musical education that personally connected with us at some point throughout our own education. Consider the “younger you” who is currently sitting in your band, and allow the eighth and ninth National Standards for Music Education to breathe new life into the manner and method of how you teach.
Barrett, J. R. (2005). Planning for Understanding: A Reconceptualized View of the Music Curriculum. Music Educators Journal, 91(4), 21-25.
Conway, C. (2008). The Implementation of the National Standards in Music Education: Capturing the Spirit of the Standards. Music Educators Journal, 94(4), 34-39.
Mixon, K. (2009). Engaging and Educating Students with Culturally Responsive Performing Ensembles. Music Educators Journal, 95(4), 66-73.
National Standards for Arts Education: What Every Young American Should Know and Be Able to Do in the Arts. (1994). Reston, VA: MENC: The National Association for Music Education.
Reimer, B. (2004). Reconceiving the Standards and the School Music Program. Music Educators Journal, 91(1), 33-37.
Reynolds, H. R. (2000). Repertoire Is the Curriculum. Music Educators Journal, 87(1), 31-33.
Sindberg, L. K. (2009). The Evolution of Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance (CMP) – A Model for Teaching Performing with Understanding in the Ensemble Setting. Contributions to Music Education, 36(1), 25-39.
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