The Fragmentation of the Music Education Profession

October 1, 1981

The majority of American music teachers belong to one or more of the many music education professional organizations that exist today. The organizations are dedicated to serving such specialized interests as elementary school music methodology, band, orchestra, and chorus leadership, and jazz teaching and performance. The major nonspecialized professional organization is the Music Educators National Conference, which serves as the central association for the entire music education profession. The membership of the organizations is composed of pre-school, elementary, secondary, and college and university music teachers and administrators. It is the higher education segment of membership that has held the majority of organizational political offices from which policy-making decisions originate. Although most professors of music education perceive their professional responsibility to be that of intellectual leadership, many feel equal responsibility for organizational leadership.

We are now at a point in the evolution of the music education profession when the need for wise and farsighted organizational leadership is so crucial that the very survival of the profession as we know it is at stake. Those higher educators who have organizational leadership responsibility should carefully consider the phenomenon of professional fragmentation, which in recent years has increased and contributed significantly to the problems of the profession. In the past when more funds were available for education and when public education was faced with fewer problems, music education was accepted throughout the United States partly because it had been in the curriculum for some time, and partly because it was assumed that it was good for children to learn to perform and listen to music intelligently. Because of its widespread acceptance it was often possible to base planning on practical rather than philosophical considerations, and it was not as necessary for educators to be able to articulate justifications for their subject area specialties. It has only been in recent years that the successful future of the music education profession has depended on planning that is solidly based on a philosophy developed by means of a deep and objective introspective process. Since the late 1950s the exigencies caused by societal, economic, and cultural change have forced educators to look long and carefully at what their profession has been in the past and what it is now, and have made them think through the reasons why the public should be expected to expend funds for the support of certain subjects in the school curriculum.

As the rate of change increased in other aspects of American society in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, so it did in education. When change rather than the status quo began to be the "Way of life" for educators, new methods, materials, and techniques were often adopted without regard for long range effects. Long range goals were too difficult to consider when there was so much encouragement to try new ways. The fact that encouragement often came in the form of solid financial support by the federal government made innovation for its own sake even more attractive to educators. Over a period of time educators realized that they were defeating their own purposes by taking the short range view. Music educators, who for too long had been without a basis upon which to determine long range goals, found that they were drifting farther from the stability that was so badly needed. By the middle of the 1960s it was apparent that the development of a philosophy for the profession was of paramount importance. A philosophy was articulated in 1967 by the Tanglewood Symposium. It was called "The Tanglewood Declaration," and the process of introspection and justification by which it was brought into being (which was the reason for the symposium) was one of the most beneficial activities in which the music education profession has engaged in recent times.

From the late 1940s to the early 1960s the profession had no realistic guiding philosophy. Earlier, music education had fit very well into the Progressive Education philosophy. When American educators no longer subscribed to that style of education, music and most of the other subject areas continued operating under the same principles for lack of a more suitable philosophical base. It eventually became apparent that a search for a new and contemporary philosophy must be undertaken because society had undergone profound changes but education had not. This was in the late 1950s, after Sputnik brought to the American public the awareness that an educational system not based on a strong and realistic philosophy could not produce students of the necessary caliber to maintain America's world leadership role in a technological age. Because of the new emphasis on science and mathematics in the curriculum and the resultant deemphasis of the arts, music educators realized that their search must be pragmatic and must culminate successfully if music was to retain its place in the curriculum.

Between the time of the Progressive Education era and the 1950s, the two major aspects of music education were performance and appreciation. Hindsight tells us that their mutual effect was minimal and that there was little serious attempt to relate either to the true needs of society. Until the developments of the 1960s music education existed to a great extent in its own world, neither needing nor desiring a reason for being other than performance and appreciation. It was in this atmosphere that one of the first major efforts in the search for relevant foundations took place. The Contemporary Music Project, like innovative projects in many other education disciplines, had its roots in the philanthropic generosity of the Ford Foundation. It is significant that the impetus toward effective change in philosophy and practice was provided by an organization whose primary function is not education but the improvement of society. Most educators did not realize at the time that this was a portent for the near future when all education disciplines, including music, would have to justify their existences by relating their philosophies and goals to those of American society.

The Contemporary Music Project was the first significant attempt of national scope to introduce change to the profession. It devised ways to help people become literate in respect to contemporary music, and to close the gap between public taste and current musical styles. This was a departure from the earlier approach of determining needs mainly by soliciting the opinions of music educators only and then trying to meet the needs with traditional classroom approaches.

Needs assessment was also the goal of the Yale Seminar in 1963. Well intentioned though it was, the seminar had little impact on the profession although its findings and recommendations were astute. Its focus was too narrow to have an impact at that point in history because it addressed only two topics: curriculum and materials. Perhaps the most important function of the Yale Seminar was as a catalyst for the Tanglewood Symposium. The Symposium took upon itself the development of a philosophy for music education which would serve a changing society. A major part of the problem in the past had been that the profession gave little recognition to the pluralistic aspect of American society, although that is one of its most unique and obvious characteristics. Because the Symposium involved sociologists, psychologists, industrial and government representatives, as well as musicians and music educators, it was able to establish not only a picture of the society that music educators served, but also attempted to project society's musical needs in the future, during and after the immediate process of change from which it would eventually emerge.

The philosophy that resulted from the Symposium is embodied in the Tanglewood Declaration. The Music Educators National Conference still operates to a degree under the mandates of the Tanglewood Declaration and has served the profession well in doing so. However, only a few years after the Tanglewood Symposium, society took some unforeseen turns and the profession found itself endangered by the economic conditions of the 1970s. Another danger was created by the internal diversification of the profession. Both the extrinsic and intrinsic problems are examples of the nature of change in contemporary society—neither existed in 1967 but both were of a magnitude to pose a threat to the profession by 1975.

The worldwide inflationary spiral begun by the oil interests resulted in increased education costs which were beyond the ability of American taxpayers to support. The effect on music education has been budgetary reductions for personnel, equipment, materials, and supplies. Many music teaching positions have been eliminated and the effectiveness of a significant number of music educators who have retained their positions has been reduced because of diminished budgets. This in turn has reduced the number of college level teaching positions in music education, and even the number of higher education music education programs. The Music Educators National Conference has taken it upon itself to address the problem by attempting to influence legislation in favor of arts education at the federal level, and encourages state music education associations to do so at the state level. Music has joined with other arts education groups (art, theater, dance) to increase the awareness of those who establish education laws of the importance of aesthetic education. This necessary action was proven effective by the physical education profession. Physical educators became political more than a decade before arts educators, and have benefitted greatly from their public relations and lobbying activities.

The alliance of music educators with other arts educators is both logical and necessary, but it is also ironic because despite the close cooperative relationship with outside organizations music educators must face the intrinsic problem—the existence of widely divided loyalties within their own profession. By encouraging pluralistic approaches to teaching methodologies and materials, the Tanglewood Symposium gave impetus to the development and growth of several music education organizations, including the National Association of Jazz Educators, the Organization of American Kodály Educators, the American Orff Schulwerk Association, and others. These organizations serve their members well in promoting their own views of music education, but are somewhat divisive in terms of professional unity. At no time in history has it been more important for music educators to work together for the survival of their profession, but the various organizations have drawn members away from the central one, the Music Educators National Conference. Although many teachers belong to both MENC and another organization, their attention is often focused on their own specialization rather than the profession as a whole. If they attend only one conference in a particular year, it is often that of the specialty organization. Rather than purchasing books that will inform them about the needs and progress of the profession, they invest in materials to help them in their own areas of interest. They are not wrong to do this because by becoming better teachers they not only help their students and themselves, they strengthen the entire profession by improving the quality of music education. Still, the aspect of divisiveness is troublesome because a stronger central organization means a better chance of professional survival. In one sense it is wrong to criticize this state of affairs; music educators should be encouraged to develop their interests and capabilities to the extent that they can afford the time and expense. In another sense, by drawing resources away from MENC the profession is endangered because the central organization needs the greatest commitment possible by music educators in order to work toward a healthier state of affairs for the profession. This is a dilemma that requires solution but which must be handled sensitively since professional organizations are rightfully unwilling to surrender membership and autonomy. Organizational leaders will have to explore means of uniting the profession which will also serve the needs of the individual organizations.



The Tanglewood Symposium provides a model for planning methodology, and those involved in educational planning will do well to analyze the impact of the Symposium on current practices and conditions. There are several points to consider.

1. Within five years of the Tanglewood Symposium, economic conditions took a serious and unforeseen downturn. It seriously affected every aspect of the profession, including many of the Symposium's recommendations which MENC was trying to implement.

2. The Tanglewood Symposium encouraged the use of all kinds of music for school music programs. The resulting plurality of musical materials (ethnic, folk, rock, electronic, and others) which has come into general use needs to be carefully reconsidered. The use of all kinds of music has been justified as educationally sound, but many teachers utilize only one kind of music because that is the kind of music to which their students respond readily. A rather narrow choice of musical genres was utilized in school music programs prior to the Symposium, and the problem that existed before that time was an overbalance of either Western art music or trite "educational music." Now, both overbalance and triteness are often manifested in all kinds of music. A balance needs to be struck so that all children have the opportunity to develop an appreciation for many kinds of music. This is an important way to help people prepare to live in our continually shrinking world. Research is needed to determine the most effective ways for teachers to utilize the various kinds of music so that planners will be able to recommend suitable methods and materials.

3. The plurality of widely accepted methodologies and styles of musical materials attests to a willingness to explore and accept new ways to teach music. The variety of methods and approaches in current use (Kodály, Orff, Manhattanville, Comprehensive Musicianship) indicates that music educators have taken a healthy interest in finding the best ways to do their jobs. Unfortunately the diversity of methods may not be in the best interest of the music education profession until research indicates which methods actually achieve their goals and under what conditions. When local boards of education have determined their instructional goals, administrators and teachers will have some basis upon which to select, adapt, or develop curricula with which the goals can be achieved. Obviously research cannot predict the results of a curriculum when put into practice by different teachers in many school systems; there are too many uncontrolled variables. However, research can tell us the results of the curriculum under one specific set of controlled circumstances, thus providing at least a starting point for educators in search of new or different ways to teach music. An ongoing research program can widen our knowledge of how various curricula can be expected to work under different conditions and circumstances. If this information is used wisely music educators will have a powerful weapon in the battle to maintain music in the curriculum because their methods and materials can be matched (in varying degrees) to the goals of their school systems. It is up to them to make their chosen curricula work.

4. Methodological pluralism indicates a healthy attitude toward approach to teaching, so we should encourage the work of developers. However, once a new method has attracted a group of believers they must maintain an awareness of and sensitivity to the adherents of other approaches. If a society composed of people of many races and religions can achieve reasonably harmonious inner relationships, music educators should do no less. Practitioners of the Orff, Kodály, Manhattanville, traditional, and other approaches, and teachers who rely heavily on the use of classical, jazz, rock, ethnic, or other kinds of music must present a united front, and make public the fact that although methods and materials vary they are all working to develop musicality in children, and are supportive of each other. As economic problems compound the difficulties of the profession, it becomes more important to find inner harmony, adjustment, and strength within the profession. Disagreements between groups of music educators should not be destructive, but should be aired in such a way that they lead to the strengthening of goals and improvement of practices. Human nature being what it is, there will always be disagreement and movements toward change. Indeed, people who are responsible for educating others have an obligation to examine and try new teaching methods. If their attempts are based on careful and thorough analysis, they will probably be successful. They should have the right to fail, however, because the constant search for improvement is based not only on our knowledge of what works but also on what we know does not work. Scientists, industrialists, government and military leaders and others know this to be true, and music educators should keep it in mind too.

Keeping an open mind about possibilities, we can proceed with our plans for the future of the music education profession. Using the Tanglewood Symposium as a model, a profession-wide congress might be convened at ten-year intervals with the specific charge of examining current philosophy, methods, and materials, offering criticisms, and making recommendations for the next decade. There is very little chance of unanimity of opinion, but a general agreement on major points will offer needed guidance to the profession.

The congress should include representatives from the profession's many diverse groups. It is important that such organizations as the Organization of American Kodály Educators, the American Orff Schulwerk Association, the National Association of Jazz Educators, the American Choral Directors Association, the Music Educators National Conference, and others be represented. The need for a unified voice from the profession to the rest of the education world and the public is great. Each organization serves a specific purpose, but each needs the others to maintain strong music programs in which they can exist. The congress would serve as an umbrella, under which the various professional organizations can communicate and pull together.

As with the Tanglewood Symposium, it will be necessary to relate recent, current, and future developments to society's needs. Therefore, the congress will require the input of social scientists, including sociologists, psychologists, philosophers, and those people known as planners (educational, city, industrial, recreational). The work of the congress will begin with presentations by the above people about present and projected future needs of American society, especially in the arts. Then through the utilization of sub-committees composed of music teachers, philosophers, researchers, professors, school administrators, and organizational representatives, conclusions can be drawn for the following areas: (a) how well the profession has met the needs of society during the past decade; (b) the profession's strengths and weaknesses in philosophy, instruction, growth, development, and self-assessment; (c) and how well the profession has maintained the public's interest and support.

The next task will be for the sub-committees to make recommendations for the coming decade. The recommendations will be based on the statements of the social scientists and planners, the assessments of the previous decade, and the best possible estimate of conditions and needs for the coming decade. This is not easily done, because the American education system consists of thousands of semi-autonomous school districts, each of which determines to a great extent its own philosophy, curriculum, standards, and evaluative procedures. Therefore the recommendations agreed upon by the congress will necessarily be broad and left to the interpretation of the members of the profession and those who exercise control over it (boards of education, superintendents, state departments of education). On the face of it this may appear to be an indefinite solution to a definite problem, but no specific proposals will find universal acceptance in our pluralistic and diverse society and education system. Broad and general areas of agreement will provide guidelines that will serve music education well.

A ten-year interval between the meetings of the congress is suggested because social and economic conditions change at an ever-increasing rate, and it is necessary that that change be addressed at regular intervals. Change occurs less rapidly in school systems than in other institutions, and a period of less than ten years probably would not allow sufficient time for recommendations to be thoroughly considered, implemented, and evaluated. It will also be important to have evaluation sessions between the congress' decennial meetings; these should probably take place in the fourth and eighth years. The evaluation sessions, which should be attended by representatives of the organizations of the congress, will provide data helpful in structuring the work of the congress.

The fourth and eighth year interim meetings should be reported to the profession in the various music education journals, along with a request for reaction from the readers that the representatives can take to the congress. The proceedings of the congress should be published jointly by the constituent organizations. The document will indicate to music educators the process by which the congress arrived at its conclusions and recommendations. The public must also be informed of the results of each decennial congress. This might be done in the form of a book released by a commercial publisher, rather than by a professional organization which normally does not have access to general bookstores. To be of interest to the general public the book will have to make a strong case for music education and will have to be understandable by the public. Whether or not the book is widely read, its availability to the general public is crucially important.

By meeting every ten years the congress will be able continually to reflect, assess, and plan. The groups of music educators who favor various methods and musical materials will have a framework in which to make their plans and the academic community and the public will be kept aware of the goals and attainments of the music education profession. It is to be hoped that public awareness of the importance of music education and how it is practiced will ensure the profession's viability in the future.

Professors of music education have great influence on their profession. Much is to be gained by their exertion of intellectual and political leadership in organizational matters which affect the teaching of music, especially in the difficult process of bringing the pieces of the profession back together so the future problems of the profession will not be those of survival techniques, but of healthy ideological differences.

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