Music Class in the USA

Part 2: A Philosophy of Multicultural Music Education

February 10th, 2012 Posted by Jazz 0 thoughts on “Part 2: A Philosophy of Multicultural Music Education”

A Philosophy of Multicultural Music Education

In today’s musical classroom environment, teachers are continually attempting to find new ways to provide diverse musics for study and provide a multicultural platform for the dissemination of musical knowledge, based on the model endorsed by MENC and the Tanglewood symposium of 1967, which asked “What do we need to do to make music education more useful to the American society of today and tomorrow? The resulting declaration not only called for the placement of music at the core of the curriculum in schools, but pointed to the importance of the arts in the actualization of the psychological and physiological search for self-identity and worth. It also included the charge for educators to take responsibility for addressing social issues such as values, generational hostility, and racial and international tensions. What followed was the Goals and Objectives project which was designed to make music instruction comprehensive and provide better resources and training for teachers. These declarations, while not new in theory to musical instruction, were in line with the idea of music’s important role in contributing to the ideals of a pluralistic society.

The following decades saw the rise of more MENC type musical societies and several initiatives that were aimed at strengthening the musical literacy of the community through music education and curriculum development. These included the Yale Seminar and the Julliard Repertory Project, which were not successful in their original intent, but provided models for creative thinking and opened the doors for curriculum reform.

Privately funded initiatives like the Contemporary Music Project and the Center for Arts Education Partnership Programs have spawned similar initiatives designed to broaden school curriculums and create stronger ties between the schools, community based organizations, artists, and university arts programs.

The Tanglewood philosophy of providing a multicultural experience to musical learning through the port hole of the Eurocentric model for music instruction may have the same shortcomings as those previously mentioned initiatives. Though the ideas are forward thinking and present new ways to approach music instruction, they provide superficial results in accomplishing the pluralistic ideals that they aspire to. Musicologist Patricia Campbell cautions that although the current trends in music instruction include music from the global community and diverse music making opportunities, the context in which they are experienced focuses less on “cultural interfaces, contexts, and processes of the music.”

The chasm between American music education and American music has continued to widen throughout the last fifty years and may continue to do so unless we begin to take a hard look at the foundational complexion of our educational practices. Patrick Jones examined the current state of American music education and concluded “the growth of school music may be hamstrung by the very traditions that it has developed.” The paradigm of the large school ensemble led by the autocratic music director may have outlived its usefulness in this age of democratic ideology and cultural pluralism. Jones believes that in order to provide a music education for our students that focuses on the goal of “creating life-long musical involvement in the community” , we should seek curricular activities that foster cultural participation, individuality, creativity, and innovation.

The first question to ask is: are we basing our musical instruction on a model that is so foreign to American music that it alienates most Americans from the start? Our music instructional practices have been based on the European Art musical tradition for more than one hundred years. Is this system one that cooperates with the ideas of pluralism and diversity? Is there another historical model of music that can better serve as the roots for understanding our musical heritage and provide us with a strong foundation from which we can pursue our pluralistic and multicultural experiences in music? Perhaps we should start with authentic American music in building a curriculum that will invite all cultures and ethnicities. A closer look at jazz history may provide us with answers to these questions in an attempt embody pluralism in our musical curriculum.

Mark, Michael and Gary, Charles, A History of American Musical Education, Third ed. (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Education, 2007), 364.
Ibid., 365.
Ibid., 400,01.
Ibid., 410,11.
Campbell, Patricia Shehan, “Music Education in a Time of Cultural Transformation,” Music Educators Journal 89, no. 1 (2002): 31.
Jones,Patrick M., “Music Education and the Knowledge Economy: Developing Creativity, Strengthening Communities,” Arts Education Policy Review 106, no. 4 (2005): 9.
Ibid.: 6.

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