Tuesday, May 31, 2011

30 DoB 9: Steve Takes a Risk

So I'm sure all of you know this by now... but I'm kind of a musician. Kind of, like, dedicated my entire life and my career to music and it's all I really think about, at the end of the day. I have YouTube videos trying to share my love of music with other people and to make my favorite kind of music (Western Art Music) more accessible to people who think that it's only for high-class people... because let's face it, at the time of its creation, Western Art music was about as middle-class as was possible. If you exclude the Baroque Era. Please exclude the Baroque Era. From everything. Including history. It's like the 80s... there was nothing really good happening while it happened, but it laid the groundwork for some really awesome things. (Now I know I'll get some backlash for that, but I mean, the only good thing that happened in the 80s, in my experience, was my birth.)

In any case, in my post-student-teaching seminar, we were each assigned a chapter of our textbook to summarize and present to the class, and we also had to choose one or two points from the chapter to really delve into and write a 6-to-8-page paper on, incorporating the textbook and some of our own research and personal experience. The chapter I was assigned was on the Teacher as a Musician, which basically argued that we have to be as knowledgeable as we can on what we are teaching and that we need to continually practice music in our lives so as to lead our students by example.

The point upon which I chose to write my paper was the section of the chapter on Tradition and how Tradition influences our decisions as music educators. Tradition is made up of cultural beliefs, practices, religions, etc., which turn into musical philosophies, which turn into musical practice. I'm summarizing the section heavily, but if you're interested, you should read The Art of Teaching Music by Estelle Jorgensen. Now, this is something I'm very passionate about, because I love learning about world cultures and history, and I love it most when these things pertain to music. I love, for example, knowing about Mahler and Wagner and how their music influenced Schoenberg, and his music isn't for everyone, but having learned about it, I've definitely learned to appreciate it. I love knowing about how improvisation is encouraged in Cherokee music because of how composition is essentially prohibited by their religion. I just love knowing things like that and I love teaching them.

So I guess it seems pretty strange that, having been brought up in a traditional American Wind Band form of musical education, I would essentially write a paper that argues that we should slowly phase out the American Wind Band. Well, I wouldn't argue that we should get rid of it, but I would certainly argue that we make it only a small portion of the music that we teach. Perhaps one period a day, with other periods teaching other forms of music. But I digress.

Basically, what I'm saying is, we're perpetuating an ensemble that hasn't been popular outside of the school setting for nearly 100 years, and even then, it had a specific place in society. When bands were first established in schools, administrators hated them because they were so fun, and all the kids wanted to be in them because they wanted to be just like the Sousa band. Nowadays, if you ask high schoolers who John Philip Sousa was, they won't even know. They'll probably guess he invented the washing machine or something. He didn't. It's uncertain who did, but it definitely wasn't him. But basically, band stuck around in schools because after five or ten years, it was no longer "cool" because jazz bands were all the rage, and therefore it was no longer "fun," and therefore it qualified adequately as "work" for school. And somehow this has become the main way we teach music in the United States. This is what has become the stereotype of a musician in school. The "band geek."

Why is it that "only nerds join band"? Because we're teaching music that doesn't really make sense to learn. Nerds like obscure, high-class, complex, esoteric things. I should know. I am one. What we need to do, if we really want to reach everyone, though, is to teach them how to be good craftsmen of the music they see an application for. That is what music education in the US was about, at least, for the first 250-or-so years of its existence. We taught children church tunes because that was the largest cultural institution of music at the time. We taught our daughters how to play piano because that would make them good entertainers, because people used to get together and sing. For fun. Strange, right? Why don't we do that more? But that's another post for another day. Anyway, when school band started, it had that kind of practical benefit--people wanted good bands for their town because that is how you celebrated things. But suddenly, it froze. Completely froze in time, and hasn't really changed for 80 years. Sure, jazz bands were introduced to school programs; after headaches, protests, covert jazz band operations, and such, we got Glenn-Miller-like big bands, but that was nearly 30 years after even that ensemble was obsolete. It qualified for "classical" status as far as we were concerned. Basically, it was boring enough for school.

So why do we do this? I just don't get it. I guess I'm feeling disillusioned with the classical music scene as a whole because it's just not very American, and I'm stuck in America. I want people to like classical music. I love talking to people about it. But I don't know that it's the only music we should be teaching our children. There's so much more out there to teach. To me, it's like telling our children that the only literature we'll read is Shakespeare, Dickens, Frost, and Orwell--Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms. There's so much more out there and these kids need to be exposed to it. They won't find it on their own.

Sorry. I get really worked up. People say they can't imagine me ranting. This is the kind of thing I rant about. Things that are important. I couldn't ever get this worked up over Snooki. What does she matter to me? I didn't even know who she was until Hank made that video about running into her at the airport.

Anyway, I know this wasn't organized and I'm not going to go back and look because that would both get me all worked up again and make me stay up really late trying to clarify. I would just post my paper, but the great thing about this story is that my professor said that she thought it was wonderful and that I should submit it for publication in the national journal for music education, so I probably shouldn't also post it here. We'll see how that goes.

So I'm off to bed. It's taken me half an hour to write this. Holy wow. I should probably not have said so much. Good night!
Sleep: O (I just could not sleep last night. It's okay though. I still have cold medicine. I think that was the problem.)
Blogging: X
Homework: X
Reading: O


  1. Thankfully, I had good exposure to a wide variety of composers in my band classes, but I can mostly recall R. Vaughn Williams and maybe some Sousa (among others) from my high school career.
    - Jason

  2. At my school there are three bands. But we also have a separate teacher who teaches the "traditional" music classes, a separate teacher who teaches Chorus and a separate teacher who teaches in Techno-music/theory. I geuss Im lucky. But this format works really well for our school and everyopne loves band. I dotn know how well phasing out band would work at our school, but at schools with fewer music programs, I definitly think its a good idea. :)