Music Education in Historical Perspective: Status, Non-Musicians, and the Role of Women

October 1, 1992

In a fundamental sense, all musicians are educators, whether we acknowledge it or even intend it.1 It is our students and purposes that vary. Consequently, the music education profession traditionally refers to only those individuals who prepare music teachers and administrators for careers in public and private schools, and those individuals who actually provide that musical instruction and leadership; literally college music education teachers and their students. The status of educators has been a prominent issue in the educational community since the 19th century2 and certainly is not unique to music educators.3 However, for music educators, perhaps the two most important factors that have contributed to this phenomenon are our professional identity, and the feminization of the teaching profession.


Status: Position, Expectations, Recognition

Status may be thought of as the social position one holds in a particular society, whether it is that of society in general, the society of musicians, or music educators. In his study of music and social groups, Rumbelow distinguishes between external status (that of a musician in society) and internal status (that of a musician among musicians).4 This distinction may be used to differentiate between the status of a music educator among musicians (external), and the status of a music educator among other music educators (internal).

Incumbents of various status positions are expected to possess specific acquired traits as well as "a complex of auxiliary characteristics,"5 all of which identify them with a particular position. Specific acquired traits, in the instance of occupational status, may include technical skill, education level, and licensing. Degrees and licensing requirements, for example, are used purposefully by members of professions to effectively prevent those lacking these qualifications from gaining recognition as incumbents of the professions. Indeed, they are one of the ways in which professions are defined.6 These acquired traits are believed to be objective, fair, and appropriate. Auxiliary characteristics, however, are social in nature, and include, but are not limited to, race, class, and gender. They are associated with specific stereotypes, some combinations of which "seem more natural and are more acceptable than others,"7 to specific status positions. The degree of their acceptability is a function of the expectations individuals hold regarding the particular status position.

An expectation or combination of expectations associated with either auxiliary characteristics or acquired traits may become so powerful that it determines status recognition of individuals as incumbents of status positions, regardless of other factors. When this occurs, theorists typically refer to the characteristic or trait associated with the expectation as a master status.8 Regarding musicians, Rumbelow refers to this phenomenon when he notes that

a person or group may play out a social role as a musician, . . . but this does not automatically ensure recognition insofar as status is concerned. Other social factors such as color or sex may intervene and prevent status recognition no matter how properly the role is played.9

As a "foundation for both personal identity and the societal division of labor," gender is a particularly powerful master status characteristic of our society.10 It may become salient through differentiating between women and men incumbents of a status position, or by being relevant to the performance of the position. However, even when it is irrelevant to the position, gender affects the performance expectations of women as compared to men, suggesting that men will be generally more competent than women—except, of course, in those positions traditionally associated with women.11 In its capacity as a master status, gender reinforces expectations regarding status positions, and also contributes to denial of status recognition because it "significantly affect[s] social interaction by limiting the opportunities for performance.12

Status recognition, then, is acquired not only by meeting the expectations associated with a particular position, but also by having the opportunity to perform the position for others; that is, by interacting as an incumbent of the position. Loss of opportunity to interact necessarily results in denial of status recognition. To be regarded as a band director, (as an incumbent of the status position band director), for instance, an individual must perform that position. In addition, the performance must be successful. Unsuccessful performance of the position of band director will eventually result in loss of status recognition as a band director even though the individual meets the expectations associated with the position. Individuals also may be denied status recognition as the result of interacting—or performing a position—in a situation that is controlled to their disadvantage.

Interaction that is restricted or controlled on the basis of social characteristics such as race, class, or gender is an extremely subtle form of gatekeeping in professions. Kanter13 notes that individuals in power, dependent on the trust and loyalty of those with whom they work, "reproduce" themselves by hiring and promoting individuals with social characteristics like their own. These social characteristics become

the basis of the colleague-group's definition of its common interests, of its informal code, and of selection of those who become the inner fraternity—three aspects of occupational life so closely related that few people separate them in thought or talk.14

This has been described as a "pervasive and persistent social phenomenon that can be found in every profession and occupation,"15 and is particularly striking among teachers. Not only are educators typically recruited from essentially the same social groups, those groups have a generally positive, conservative predisposition toward education.16


The Perception of Music Educators as Non-Musicians

Interaction between musicians and music educators has been limited historically in the United States for several reasons. From the time of the origin of music education in the 18th century, musicians and music educators were drawn from rather discrete social groups. The precursors and teachers of 19th century musicians, as a social group, were other musicians, most of whom were actively involved in giving public performances. Like virtually all musicians, they also supplemented their income by offering lessons on various instruments, both individually and later in private schools.17 The precursors and teachers of nineteenth-century music educators, on the other hand, were singing school masters, many of whom were ministers, and most of whom were actively involved in trades other than music.18 Their musical knowledge and skills were often not appreciably more advanced than those of their students.19

Ethnicity, race, and gender all intervened as master statuses between and within the two groups. While most musicians were European, most music educators were born in the United States. White men have been consistently overrepresented among classically educated musicians, and until shortly after the Civil War, among educators as well. Among musicians, neither women20 nor men of color have been accepted as composers, conductors, or soloists on most instruments. Among educators, women of all races were not accepted as teachers of older children until the last half of the 19th century. Much of this racial and gender stereotyping of both music educators and musicians still persists.21

Although the status level of both musicians and music educators during the 18th century was comparable, that situation changed rather dramatically during the 19th century when musicians' status level became increasingly more elevated as they established their independence of the patronage system. This was manifested in their "[e]conomic independence, individual recognition, [and] increasing mobility and freedom to express [themselves]."22 Exceptional musicians were accorded a place of honor, particularly among the middle class.23 Indeed, by the end of the 19th century, serious (or classical) musicians; that is, composers, soloists, and symphony conductors in particular enjoyed great prestige.24 As a direct result, the social distance between professional musicians and amateurs increased. This distancing has continued into the 20th century, during which musicians have acquired higher status in the academic community as well.25

Music educators, however, historically tend to share the social characteristics of teachers.26 Consequently, as a social group, they have been historically associated with teachers, the status of whom has remained persistently low in this country since the 18th century. Initially part of the ministry, teaching was not considered to be a full time occupation, and was eventually carried out by young men who taught on an itinerant, sporadic basis. Even well into the 19th century, teachers were not expected to retain their positions longer than a year or two. Teaching was "an occupation by default,"27 that is, it was engaged in by men to finance other endeavors. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, singing school teachers were openly disdained by American music critics and historians in the United States.28 As the status of professional musicians was rising, the status of the original professional music educators in this country was declining. The status of music educators by comparison, then, became closer to that of amateurs than professional musicians, thus considerably widening the social distance between professional musicians and music educators, and creating the perception of music educators as non-musicians.

This perception has been reinforced historically through the development of separate curricula for musicians and music teachers that emphasize performance for the former and education for the latter.29 These separate curricula and the specialization associated with them represent very different status levels in the music profession, and continue to limit the interaction of musicians and music educators. As a result, misunderstanding and distrust exists among some university music faculty members,30 although more college music students are enrolled with majors in music education than in any other music degree program.31

Despite their predominance in college music, students in music education tend to disassociate themselves from the profession. Morale among 74 percent of music education students involved in a study at three midwestern universities was found to be uneven or poor.32 Froelich and L'Roy found that undergraduate music education students demonstrated weak commitment to the profession evidenced by both the identification of performers and conductors instead of music educators as their primary reference groups, and the inability to articulate well-defined self-concepts as music educators.33 In a study involving five Canadian universities, Roberts found that students in music education identified themselves as either performers or musicians, depending on their ability as performers.34 Those who were more proficient performers identified themselves as performers, while those who were less proficient identified themselves as musicians. In doing so, they ascribed to themselves the higher status of performer or musician, and distanced themselves from the lower status of teacher, described as a "stigmatized role."35 This self-identification suggests that the role of musician has attained master status in controlling the interaction of music education students. In addition, the students in Roberts' study also had difficulty clarifying the roles of performer, musician, and teacher. The students' confusion was compounded by both the stated goal of many music education college faculty to produce students who are musicians first and teachers second, and music education curricula that combine aspects of conservatory, liberal arts, and teacher preparatory curricula apparently to no one's satisfaction.


The Role of Women

The status of any occupation is at least partially determined by the status of its typical incumbents, and of course the status of individuals is at least partially determined by their social characteristics.36 In the United States, the characteristics with which "social status historically has been identified"37 are race, class, and gender. Because teaching became so feminized in the late 19th century and early 20th century, gender is often cited as a master status when considering the social position of teachers.38 It is used to explain teachers' low pay, their unusually close supervision by administrators and members of the communities in which they teach, and why they have not advanced in the professional hierarchy.39

Music education reflected the overall feminization of the teaching profession during the latter part of the 19th century when most public school music was taught by elementary classroom teachers, most of whom were women, and supervised by music specialists, most of whom originally were men.40 A picture taken in 1884 of what is believed to be the first summer school session for music supervisors depicts forty-one participants, of whom nineteen, or 46 percent, are women.41 Within ten years, however, and continuing into the 20th century, the proportion of women to men had changed dramatically. This is demonstrated in three pictures: two taken of summer school sessions for music teachers, and one taken of the banquet at a meeting of the Music Supervisors National Conference. The picture of the Emma Thomas National Summer School session of 1892 depicts 112 participants, of whom eighty-seven, or 81 percent are women,42 while the picture of the first Weaver Summer School session of 1900 depicts twenty-three participants, of whom sixteen or 70 percent are women.43 The banquet picture, taken in 1915, depicts 166 participants, of which 123 or 73 percent are women.44 Significantly, every individual in every picture appears to be white.

Inasmuch as substantial numbers of women of most races and ethnicities eventually became teachers in this country, it should also be noted that

women's advances in . . . the teaching profession took place within the context of a sex-segregated labor market and under the specter of profound discrimination in terms of race, religion, social class, and ethnicity, as well as gender.45

Black women, for instance, became teachers formally later than white women as a result of discrimination in attaining their own education. They were originally allowed to teach only in segregated schools in both the North and the South,46 where they earned just one-half to two-thirds of the salary of white teachers.47 Consequently, they were often forced to take other work to support themselves.48 Described as the "earliest educators of the race"49 in this country, black women teachers have been consistently underrepresented as a proportion of the population.50

Perhaps the most important consequence of the feminization of teaching is that the profession became stratified and hierarchical. Elementary teaching was constructed as the lowest position in the educational hierarchy, with administrators and college education teachers occupying the highest position.51 While women were placed in positions with the lowest status, women of color in the lowest positions of all, men were retained in an "affirmative action program"52 as supervisors of women teachers. The professionalization that resulted from the stratification of teaching occurred at the expense of classroom teachers. Indeed, it has been described as their "betrayal."53 Their practical knowledge was regarded as "unimportant,"54 because teachers were typically young, therefore immature; transient, therefore incompetent,55 and women, therefore emotional and unprofessional.56 Consequently, women in education, most of whom were/are classroom teachers, have been excluded from the community of professionals in a profession in which, for at least the last 100 years, they have constituted no less than two-thirds of all incumbents.

The stratification of music education that occurred at the end of the 19th century is demonstrated in Heller's description of Kansas grade school music from 1870 to 1900.57 In his study, Heller quotes nineteen different individuals involved with music, nine women and ten men. While all of the women who are quoted are identified as or inferred to be public school teachers, only one man who is quoted is identified as a public school teacher. Unlike the women, however, he is addressed by the title of professor. Two-thirds of the men who are quoted are identified as or inferred to be college teachers or public school administrators. The occupations of the remaining men who are quoted are not specified.

Music education remains stratified through the racial and gender segregation of music education occupations.58 Currently, most instrumental, secondary, and college music teachers are men.59 College teaching has been cited specifically as having particularly high status.60 Indeed, in 1986, men accounted for 83.4 percent of all college administrators in music education, and 68.1 percent of all college teachers in music education.61 Of the latter positions, women accounted for 75.1 percent of all college teachers in early childhood music education, and 61 percent of all college teachers in elementary music education.62 Among all college instructors in secondary music education, however, women accounted for only 10.7 percent.63



The status position of music educators may be viewed as the result of a historically-based lack of interaction between music educators and musicians. This lack of interaction was caused by our membership in separate social groups, as well as our separate musical education. Consequently, music educators have been denied status recognition. Further compounding this has been the association of music educators with teachers, the status of whom has remained pervasively low in this country, and is perpetuated in large part by the feminization of the teaching profession.

This situation may change if musicians adopt the values of music educators and acknowledge their status as educators, while music educators adopt the values of musicians and treat teaching as a performance art. However, these suggestions are unrealistic and ultimately unsound. Faunce notes that status only becomes an issue "as a result of the frequency with which one is reminded" of it.64 Perhaps, then, what music educators need to do most is clarify our purpose as music educators, and demonstrate the value of our contributions to the music profession. As educators, we are compelled to provide the leadership necessary to integrate women of all races and men of color into all facets of the music profession through the elimination of gender and racial stereotyping in music educational materials, curricula, musical instruments, teacher behaviors and training, and music occupations.65 Clearly, our most important goal is to create a profession that is musically and educationally responsible as well as socially inclusive, and is based on our own education and experience as teachers in music.

1John Dewey, Experience and Education (Kappa Delta Pi, 1938; reprint, New York: Collier Books, 1963), 48.

2Paul H. Mattingly, The Classless Profession: American Schoolmen in the Nineteenth Century (New York: New York University Press, 1975).

3James B. Conant, The Education of American Teachers (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963).

4A. Stuart Rumbelow, "Music and Social Groups: An Interactionist Approach to the Sociology of Music" (Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1969), 143.

5Everett C. Hughes, The Sociological Eye: Selected Papers (Chicago: Aldine Atherton, 1971), 142.

6Two sources that address this issue are T. Leggett, "Teaching as a Profession," in Professions and Professionalization, ed. John A. Jackson (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 153-177, and Ronald M. Pavalko, Sociology of Occupations and Professions, 2d ed. (Itasca, IL: F. E. Peacock Publishers, 1988).

7Hughes, The Sociological Eye, 142.

8This concept is demonstrated in relationship to race by Hughes, The Sociological Eye, 141-150, 220-28; and in relationship to gender by Margaret W. Rossiter, Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), 215-16.

9Rumbelow, "Music and Social Groups," 175.

10Cecelia L. Ridgeway, ed., Gender, Interaction, and Equality (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1992), ix.

11Brian Powell and Jerry A. Jacobs, "The Prestige Gap: Differential Evaluations of Male and Female Workers," Work and Occupations 11 (1984), 283-308; Cecelia L. Ridgeway and David Diekema, "Are Gender Differences Status Differences?" in Gender, Interaction, ed. C. L. Ridgeway (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1992), 157-180.

12Judith Lorber, Women Physicians: Careers, Status, and Power (New York: Tavistock Publications, 1984), 4.

13Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Men and Women of the Corporation (New York: Basic Books, 1977), 47-68.

14Hughes, The Sociological Eye, 144.

15Lorber, Women Physicians, 7.

16Howard G. White, "The Professional Role and Status of Music Educators in the United States," Journal of Research in Music Education, 15 (1967): 3-10; Dan Lortie, Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975).

17James Keene, A History of Music Education in the United States (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1982).

18See, for instance, Howard G. White, "The Professional Role and Status of the School Music Teacher in American Society" (Ph.D. diss., University of Kansas, 1964); Keene, A History of Music Education; and Allen P. Britton, "The How and Why of Teaching Singing Schools in Eighteenth Century America," Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education no. 99 (1989): 23-41.

19Allen P. Britton, "Music Education: An American Specialty," in One Hundred Years of Music in America, ed. P. H. Lang (New York: G. Schirmer, 1961; reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1985), 213 (page references are to reprint edition).

20This is not to suggest that women of all races share identical experiences regarding the gender stereotyping of musicians and music educators.

21For statistics, see Eileen Southern, "A Partial Report on Black Women in College Music Teaching, in The Status of Women in College Music: Preliminary Studies, ed. Carol Neuls-Bates (Manhattan, KS: Ag Press, 1976), 22-25; and Adrienne Fried Block, "The Status of Women in College Music, 1986-1987," in Women's Studies/Women's Status, ed. Nancy B. Reich (Boulder, CO: College Music Society, 1988), 79-158.

22Rumbelow, "Music and Social Groups," 170.

23Walter Salmen, "Social Obligations of the Emancipated Musician in the 19th Century," in The Social Status of the Professional Musician from the Middle Ages to the 19th Century, ed. W. Salmen (New York: Pendragon Press, 1983), 267-68.

24Lawrence W. Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 137.

25Max Kaplan, Foundations and Frontiers of Music Education (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1966), 77.

26White, "The Professional Role and Status of the School Music Teacher," 365-66.

27Mattingly, The Classless Profession, 29.

28Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow, 143.

29For a discussion of a history-theory curriculum for music scholars developed in response to university-mandated scholarship and research by musicians, in addition to performance and education curricula, see Robert W. John, "Degrees, Titles, and College Music Teaching," Music Educators Journal 66, no. 2 (1979): 58-59.

30Harry R. Wilson, "What I have Learned about Administration," Music Educators Journal 50, no. 4 (1964): 39-41.

31James W. Pruett and Pamela Bristah, "Education in Music: Higher Education," in H. Wiley Hitchcock and Stanley Sadie, eds., vol. 2, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music (London: Macmillan Press, 1986), 17-21.

32Martin J. Bergee, "Certain Attitudes toward Occupational Status Held by Music Education Majors," Journal of Research in Music Education 40 (1992): 108.

33Hildegard Froelich and DiAnn L'Roy, "An Investigation of Occupancy Identity in Undergraduate Music Education Majors," Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education no. 85 (1985): 68-69.

34Brian Roberts, Teacher Education as Identity Construction. Music: A Case Study, 19-20. An earlier version of the paper presented at the Conference of Atlantic Educators, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, 1990, ERIC, ED 328531.

35Ibid., 11.

36A few of the many sources dealing with this issue are Max Kaplan, "The Musician in America: A Study of His [sic] Social Roles" (Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois, 1951); White, "The Professional Role and Status of the School Music Teacher;" Leggatt, "Teaching As a Profession;" Jerry A. Jacobs and Brian Powell, "Occupational Prestige: A Sex-Neutral Concept?" Sex Roles 12 (1985):1061-1071; John L. Rury, "Who Became Teachers? The Social Characteristics of Teachers in American History," in American Teachers: Histories of a Profession at Work, ed. Donald Warren (New York: Macmillan, 1989), 9-48; and David Tyack, "The Future of the Past: What Do We Know about the History of Teaching?" in American Teachers, ed. Donald Warren (New York: Macmillan, 1989), 408-421.

37Rury, "Who Became Teachers?", 9.

38In 1870, 66 percent of all public school teachers were women. By 1920, this had increased to 85 percent. For complete statistics, see Patricia Schmuck, Women as Educators: Employees of Schools in the U.S.A. Paper presented at the second meeting of the International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women, Groningin, The Netherlands, April 1984, ERIC, ED 245 332. For an early account of the backlash to the feminization of education, see Thomas Woody, A History of Women's Education in the United States, 2 vols. (New York: The Science Press, 1929).

39Tyack, "The Future of the Past," 417.

40Edward Bailey Birge, History of Public School Music in the United States (Boston: Oliver Ditson Company, 1928); Don D. Coffman, "Vocal Music Instruction and the Classroom Teacher," Journal of Research in Music Education 35 (1987), 92-102; Julia Eklund Koza, "Music Instruction in the Nineteenth Century: Views from 'Godey's Lady's Book', 1830-77," Journal of Research in Music Education 38 (1990): 245-257.

41Birge, History of Public School Music, plate following 130.

42Ibid., plate following 86.

43Ibid., plate following 108.

44Bruce Wilson and Charles Gary, "Music in Our Schools: The First 150 Years," Music Educators Journal vol. 74, no. 5 (1988): 48-49.

45Schwager, "Educating Women," 355.

46For accounts of music education in two of these school systems see Thomas J. Elward, "Pioneer Music Educators in the Nation's Capitol: They Made Black History," Music Educators Journal 67, no. 6 (1980): 35-38; and Reginald T. Buckner, "A History of Music Education in the Black Community of Kansas City, Kansas, 1905-1954," Journal of Research in Music Education 30 (1982): 91-106.

47Linda M. Perkins, "The History of Blacks in Teaching: Growth and Decline within the Profession," in American Teachers: Histories of a Profession at Work, ed. Donald Warren (New York: Macmillan, 1989), 344-369.

48Gerda Lerner, ed., Black Women in White America: A Documentary History (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), 99.

49Schwager, "Educating Women," 356.

50Rury, "Who Became Teachers?", 20.

51Jurgen Herbst, "Teacher Preparation in the Nineteenth Century," in American Teachers: Histories of a Profession at Work, ed. Donald Warren (New York: Macmillan, 1989), 232; and Barbara Finkelstein, "Conveying Messages to Women: Higher Education and the Teaching Profession," American Behavioral Scientist 32 (1989): 694-95.

52Elizabeth Hansot and David Tyack, "Gender in American Public Schools: Thinking Institutionally," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 13 (1988): 756.

53Jurgen Herbst, And Sadly Teach: Teacher Education and Professionalization in American Culture (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 161.

54William R. Johnson, "Teachers and Teacher Training in the Twentieth Century," in American Teachers: Histories of a Profession at Work, ed. Donald Warren (New York: Macmillan, 1989), 251.

55Rury, "Who Became Teachers?", 11.

56K. Casey and Michael Apple, "Gender and the Conditions of Teachers' Work: The Development of Understanding in America," in Teachers, Gender, and Careers, ed. Sandra Acker (New York: The Falmer Press, 1989), 174.

57George N. Heller, "Music in Kansas Grade Schools from 1870 to 1900: A Study of Organization and Growth," American Music 3 (1985): 460-66.

58Regrettably, of the three reports regarding the status of women in college music published by The College Music Society, Carol Neuls-Bates, ed., The Status of Women in College Music: Preliminary Studies (Manhattan, KS: Ag Press, 1976); Barbara Hampton Renton, The Status of Women in College Music, 1976-1977: A Statistical Study (Boulder, CO: The College Music Society, 1980); and Nancy B. Reich, ed., Women's Studies/Women's Status (Boulder, CO: The College Music Society, 1988), only the earliest, consisting solely of preliminary studies, addresses the issue of race.

59In addition to The College Music Society studies, see Staff, "You Won't Have 'Lady Musicians' to Kick Around Much Longer," Music Educators Journal 59, no. 1 (1972): n.p.; N. J. Gray, "Music in Music Education," The School Musician, Director, and Teacher vol.47, no. 4(1975): 54-55, 59; Carol Ann Feather, "Women Band Directors in American Higher Education," in The Musical Woman: An International Perspective, [Vol. 2 (1984-1985)], ed. Judith L. Zaimont, Catherine Overhauser, and Jane Gottlieb (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1987), 388-410; and Elizabeth S. Gould, "Occupational Sex Segregation: Wyoming High School Band Directors, 1973-1988" (Master's thesis, University of Wyoming, 1988).

60Mary Anne Rees, Music Faculty and the Achievement of Status in the University Environment. Paper presented at the 29th Annual Meeting of The College Music Society, 1986, ERIC, ED 294-476.

61Block, "The Status of Women," 119.

62Ibid., 121, 123.

63Ibid., 125. The gender, and presumably racial, segregation of music education occupations supports the argument that professionals also derive some of their status from the clients they serve. See Leggatt, "Teaching as a Profession," 169-171.

64William A. Faunce, "Occupational Status-Assignment Systems: The Effect of Status on Self Esteem," American Journal of Sociology 95 (1989): 379. Emphasis in original.

65Donna Pucciani, "Sexism in Music Education: Survey of the Literature, 1972-1982," Music Educators Journal 70, no. 1 (1983): 49-51, 68-73.

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