Cello There: The Funny Side of Music Education

Music Education has a whimsical side to it. Music teachers and student musicians get to see the funny in class and rehearsals. Cello There takes all of this and puts it in one place where we can see a new set of Music Education Funnies every weekday by Gregory Pavliv and MusicTeachingGuru.com

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Find the Power of Community in Music Class

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Find the Power of Community in Music Class

There are indelible cultural links that run deeply in urban communities that transcend faith, geography, and circumstance which are all explicitly linked to music. When I was teaching inner-city schools in New Jersey, every class had students with several different races and nationalities. I decided to create an informal case study, tracking the progress of my classes as they guide me through the cultures of the school. Over the period of about one month I asked students, parents, aides and teachers, what type of music they listened to on a regular basis. I was humbled.

TEAR DOWN THE WALLS AND ENCOURAGE CROSS CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING

Most of the styles of music they were telling me about, I didn't know enough about to teach it in a classroom setting. There were dozens of different styles of rap and another half dozen styles of club. There were over a dozen popular forms of latino music and then there was Reggaeton, Bachata, Creole, Kompa, Brukdown, Tejano, Bomba and a myriad of others.

 

IT’S OK TO BE HUMBLED

After I pushed through the initial embarrassment of not knowing any of these styles, I embraced whoever was telling me about them as the teacher. After creating about four weeks of lesson plans, I had each “teacher” (teacher, group of students, aide or parent) share the style with one of my classes spending at least 10 minutes telling us about it while we listened to examples.

Initially, students would start cheering for “their” styles of music when we discussed them. After the top three or four styles of music were studied in class, the classes began settling down. All of a sudden the cultural barriers were torn down. Every student was keen on hearing the new style of music, giving it a chance. I made it a point to tell them that I was not an expert on their style of music but I appreciated it, saw its value, and was grateful for having experienced it.

This showed me that it was not enough to touch on the five or six “world music” sections that are in proper music education textbooks. It is our role as music educators to be the school ambassador, embracing all of the community’s cultures in a very real and respectful manner.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT

Around the globe, whether you live in a community that is a melting pot of several nationalities or in a community which is symbolic of only one culture, music drives it. For example, I have the stereotypical American background containing many different nationalities including Ukrainian, Scottish and Italian. Even though I’m not from Scotland, whenever I hear bagpipes I immediately have an introspection to the music with revered respect. Likewise whenever I hear Eastern European or southwestern Russian mandolin or balalaika music, I also have the respect to identify that culturally.

If no one ever taught me those things I never would have that connection. Likewise, Cuban students of mine introduced me to the Buena Vista Social Club. While I don't understand what they are saying, I love listening to them. And a teacher in high school introduced me to country music. Since I live in an area that really doesn't have a country music culture, this opened that door for me and I now have an appreciation for that as well.

URBAN DISTRICTS SHOULD EMBRACE, NOT REMOVE, MUSIC EDUCATION

Every urban school district is individually facing challenges. The common theme that I have seen in touring public education programs throughout the country is the minimization or elimination of music budgets. This may mean the closing of a band program, removal of music specialists (such as a vocal music teacher or an instrumental strings teacher) or it can also mean the ending of all arts education offerings.

There are indelible cultural links that run deeply in urban communities that transcend faith, geography, and circumstance which are all explicitly linked to music. The question is, “are these districts cutting music because music is already such an integral part of the local culture” or is it “are these districts cutting music because of the academic pressures of using additional class time and monetary resources to somehow boost test scores?” I believe it is the latter. (We have already seen in our earlier research at www.MusicTeaching.Guru that the cutting of time and resources from music education to increase time and resources for core subjects does not increase standardized test scores.)

THE NEW ROLE OF THE MUSIC TEACHER

After the adoption of the No Child Left Behind which then evolved into considering a merit based teacher pay system, music educators who are given the privilege to remain are faced with a stark reality. Those wonderful teachers that share music with their students in urban schools are creating magic, daily, in their classrooms while improvising curriculum and making due with the lack if instrument funding.

To be more specific, consider the role a music educator can take in this scenario benefiting special needs children, allowing the students to embrace the world around them without prejudice, increasing self-awareness while instilling self-confidence and arming them with additional tools to help them in other academic areas.

I saw programs eliminated everywhere!  And some music programs were being allowed to stay open as long as they didn’t ask for anything. I saw teachers cry. I saw kids cry. I heard about concerts being cancelled because schools couldn't afford paying security to stay open.

Doesn’t it make sense to keep the one subject that ties together a community as part of the school day?

 

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