Music Literacy: Our Challenge for the Future

October 31, 1996

Over the next decade, university music schools will be affected by many factors. Changes in funding sources and processes, shifting demographics, unstable technology, and fluctuating enrollments and job markets are important issues. According to a recent article in the New York Times, audiences for symphonies, opera, and drama are graying, while younger people are attending museums and ballet. We must attract younger audiences and more active participants and supporters for all of the arts to ensure a bright future. It can be done. As Lee Iacocca said, "Create a quality product, deliver it to the marketplace, and make sure you let everyone know about it." However, if it were that simple, there would be no problem. How to proceed is the issue.

A SOLUTION: There is one practical, yet long term, solution to addressing funding, political support, and audience development for the arts, and its control rests in our hands_the hands of individual artists in universities, arts centers, and school systems throughout the country, indeed, throughout the world. Develop arts literacy in every citizen. Accomplishing universal literacy in the arts can build the audience base and financial underpinning to enable the arts of the future to flourish. Expand Arts Literacy.

What is literacy in the arts? Literacy in terms of educational reform refers to fluency with language -- the written and spoken word used to communicate what we think and feel. However, human communication is both verbal and nonverbal. Music is a powerful medium of expression to which children naturally respond in play and discovery. It is essential for children to maintain and develop the important forms of nonverbal communication, both as senders and receivers, and for adults to do the same. In a position paper on arts education standards, the International Council of Fine Arts Deans urges that students should develop understanding and experience with the pragmatic functions of music, the ability to use the tools to create or communicate music, knowledge of the development of music in varying cultures and contexts, and an aesthetic understanding of music and the ability to respond perceptively as well as emotionally.

What are the benefits of global literacy in music and the other arts? Communication across cultures and languages, enhanced quality of life, self-discipline and long-term commitment, development of skill and self-esteem, discovering alternative ways of looking at problems and the world.

Reflect on: Hopper and light, Beethoven and emotions, Balan-chine and elegance, Marsalis and imagination, Shakespeare and humanity. These are artists whose works reflect the world in universal yet personal ways. They change our lives.

Additionally, the benefits and importance of music have been recognized nationally through music's inclusion in the core curriculum standards of many states and the national standards, Goals 2000: Educate America Act. Alongside math, writing, and science, expectations in music education have been clearly stated. These important standards belong in the forefront of university music programs in the education of majors and nonmajors, in teacher training, and in community outreach.

What can we do NOW to make every citizen literate in music? I suggest that we, as individuals, consider and commit to implementing six steps to action:

1. Develop music literacy for university elementary education majors and practicing K-12 teachers. This is essential to achieve the music literacy of K-12 students. While our failure to develop music literacy in all students perpetuates itself, future generations can be positively affected when universities make this commitment to change.

Pragmatic solutions include implementing a university hands-on music course for all education majors to provide basic philosophies and fundamental resources for their own future personal development, as well as for that of their students. Offering hands-on continuing education and in-service workshops in music literacy for current teachers provides opportunities to influence multitudes of students.

Hands-on. A study conducted by the U. S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare reported that learners retain 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they see and hear, 70% of what they say, 90% of what they say and do. Hands-on is key.

2. Transform every nonarts major into an arts advocate. I believe universities have the responsibility to transform every nonmajor into a music advocate or an arts advocate by teaching students to recognize and experience the creative process and the pragmatic roles of the arts in their lives. Although some course revision may be necessary in liberal arts general education courses, the resulting long-term benefits in support of the arts can be significant.

3. Expand outreach to the community by developing talented artists of all ages in after-school community arts programs with the goal of developing music/arts literacy in every citizen. Although the arts require significant development of talent before students enter the university, many K-12 students are inadequately prepared in even one discipline. Universities must define and implement their plans for effective arts education to produce literacy in the arts for all citizens, pre-K through adult. Essential by-products will be the development of new audiences and patrons/donors for the arts and the resulting improvement of political support and increased funding.

4. Support assessible standards in music by developing cooperative relationships with K-12 teachers, establishing collaborations to provide in-service and summer teacher training and grant partnerships, and lobbying for increased contact time and curricular reform in music in K-12 education with the goal of making the commitment to music and the other arts comparable to that of mathematics and science. The students of today are tomorrow's artists and supporters of the arts.

5. Relate university music admission standards to goals stated in local/state standards and/or Goals 2000 and clearly communicate that commitment to quality to schools and prospective students.

6. Practice arts advocacy through collaboration with state and national arts organizations to accomplish the goals stated above.

These are some of the actions we can take now. Through discussion on campuses across the country, action plans can be developed and implemented. Person to person, like ripples in a pond, the ever-widening pool of musically literate citizens will develop new advocates for the art we cherish.

What is the future of music? We, as individuals, working one-on-one, are the future of our art. Thomas Carlyle said, "Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand." We must act with determination to deliver music literacy and ensure that future.

3375 Last modified on May 2, 2013
Login to post comments