Monday, July 28, 2008

2 Simple Ideas for the Profession of Music Education

I began thinking about the subject of ‘change’ in music education many years ago during the internet boom. Remember those exciting days? Web developers across all disciplines were frantically working to change (or at least trying to change) just about every aspect of our lives.

That was a ‘can-do’ time when quick thinking individuals and small teams of pioneers were giving us amazing advances on a daily basis. And it seemed nothing was immune from innovation; from business models and marketing, to the way we bought pet food and groceries. Even the way we accessed and listened to music underwent incredible advances. Surely if there was ever a time that music education would expand its scope, this would be it!

But…here we are more than 2 decades later and our profession is no better off. School music programs are being cut at alarming rates, yet we still hold on to the same old tired ideas. We repeatedly cite any number of suspect studies regarding the benefits of music education to justify our programs and have done little else to help our cause. Big mistake.

So here are two simple ideas that I thought might help change (and dare I say even save) the profession of music education.

1. Stop training future music educators to (only) be ‘band directors’.

I am not in any way demeaning band, choral and orchestra directors or general music educators for that matter. It is a noble calling that many embrace with almost a theological passion. And I am a firm believer in the importance of music programs in schools. I am the product of a magnificent program from Westborough High School in Massachusetts where Bill McManus worked tirelessly, even writing a curriculum for jazz ensemble then lobbiying passionately for an increase in funds to make it a for-credit course. Anyone interested enough in this post has most likely benefited from their own experiences in a school band, chorus or orchestra program.

That being said, it is amazing to me that with all of the business and technological innovations of the past 25 years or so, the profession of music education and the direction of our training has changed very little... if at all. If the profession as a whole is going to survive current trends, it won’t be due to ‘save the music’ programs or the American version of ‘El Sisteme’ (I’ll reserve comments on the ‘system’ for another post). It will be through innovation, team work, marketing and packaging. So let’s give future music educators the tools they need to take innovative and definitive action.

2. Infuse university music education curricula with mandatory business, technology and marketing classes.

Let’s look at the facts. We are currently training future teachers to work in public schools at the same time that those positions are dwindling. In the mean time, a large contingency of tech savvy adults and older music enthusiasts with disposable income are willing to pay for the professional help that we can provide.

It doesn’t take a marketing or business genius to see what a potential boon this group can be to our profession. What it takes is a shift in thinking and a willingness to adapt. To that end, books like ‘The Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell and ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins should be mandatory reading for all music education majors.

Recognizing that ‘private practice’ is a viable option for music educators is only a beginning and training for the business of music education needs to be included in university curricula immediately. There’s no reason to wait until attrition in school music programs makes private practice the only option for future graduates.

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