Back from Hiatus Ramble
Introducing: Pick of the Week!

Music Ed: a bastion of traditional practice and realm of fantastic experimentation...with no overlap

The longer I teach music to college students, the more vexed I am by the gulf between much research in the field of music education, and how it is actually practiced in schools. In the U.S., music education in public schools by and large continues to be structured and practiced on the venerable model of large ensemble performance, usually in band, choir, and/or orchestra programs. I personally am a product of such programs, and have taught and worked in those modes and models for 20 years now. There is much to recommend them.

But as I continue to work in this field, I find it more and more preposterous how unchanging and unaffected by contemporary cultural practices the large ensemble, performance-based models of music education are. I mean, I can walk into almost any high school music room or university music building, and find curricula, models, modes of creation and performance, even values that are essentially identical to what I experienced 25 years ago. But consider how vastly musical culture has changed in those 25 years! What I experienced and learned as a student was culturally distant at the time; now it is absurdly so.

This matters to me both philosophically and practically. Philosophically, I hold as a primary value that a creative artist of any kind should be substantially engaged in the time and place in which they actually are: artists are the ones among us who very adeptly express what is like to be alive in a particular time and place, as well as what is universal among us. This is why art and music are so very important to people, and always have been--such creative experiences help us feel and understand ourselves and our context better. Practically, bridging this gulf matters because in public schools, musical experiences should better connect kids to the world we live in, and help increase understanding of it as well as the ability to navigate it a bit better.

So I take it as pedagogically and sort of humanistically important: this stuff matters, and those of us in the field really should be talking about it more. To show you a bit of what I'm talking about with research into new modes, models, and tools of music education, allow me to introduce you to the NYU Music Experience Design Lab. Led by director Alex Ruthmann (a fellow Michigan alum, Go Blue), this laboratory is at the forefront of developing both means and modes of truly contemporary, culturally engaged music education. You can explore their projects here and check out some recent highlights here.

More on this theme to come.