College Music Educators: Their Current Concerns

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Concerns which face music educators in the nation's schools are varied. Most stem from the impact of change as it relates to education. Some are recurring problems, such as the relatively low priority accorded arts education in the mass education system, or shrinking career opportunities for musicians. Others are the result of current innovations in education in general, including open classroom approaches, competency-based teacher certification, or the inclusion of electronic and other technological hardware in school equipment. Still other problems arise from societal changes such as increased urbanization and the trend toward pursuing undergraduate degrees on a part-time, long-term basis, interspersing studies with work.

Justifying music programs in the school is a perennial problem. As recently as 1972, the Chicago Board of Education moved to eliminate over three hundred music teaching positions in an attempt to balance the budget. Quick mobilization of parents, students, and professionals in the field averted this elimination, but the present economic squeeze could conceivably spawn a similar crisis in arts education in other cities. It has often been pointed out that this nation gives lip service to the arts until budgets do not balance. Then, "frills" are cut to save funds. Present deficits in city budgets may mean cuts in school personnel. Music educators fear that specialist teachers may become victims in a program cutback. Schools in Columbia, South Carolina, and in Chicago reported in a recent MENC newsletter that their music staffs were already so meager that any further cutback seems unlikely. With only one choral teacher in a high school of 3,000 students, or one vocal music consultant for the entire Chicago school system, a problem of adequate staffing is certainly evident.1

In some states the evaluation of teaching performance is being mandated. The problem of identifying the appropriate behaviors and characteristics of a competent music teacher is a complex one. The future teacher must have a mastery of the subject matter and must possess a certain amount of music performance skill. In addition, it is imperative that he or she understand the learning modes of young students, and grasp the significance played by an appropriate environment and suitable materials in a successful learning setting. Since teaching is a skill requiring extended practice, music educators are concerned with the problem of providing more and earlier field-based experiences. In addition, students need to identify their teaching strengths and weaknesses as early as possible in order to profit suitably from all aspects of their college music study, i.e., Performance, Theory, Literature and Methodology. Because new pedagogical needs could cause conflicts with existing curricula, music educators look for greater flexibility and inter-disciplinary communication.

A trend toward individualization in learning, continuous progress programs, flexible scheduling, and similar concepts identified with open education presents unique problems for music educators. College students in music readily identify with large performance groups such as the bands, orchestras, and choruses in which they themselves participated in their own elementary and secondary school years. After their teacher training preparation, however, they find themselves returning to schools that have adopted open space learning styles. Scheduling for large group instruction, such as performance group rehearsals, is in frequent conflict with other scheduling demands. New teachers may be called upon to adapt to learning situations calling for short term courses of eight to ten weeks. Preparing for performances under these conditions challenges the creativity of the music teacher. Music Education professors in college are concerned that their students be alerted to the shift from their traditional experiences, and have adequate exposure to appropriate ensemble literature which provides for small groups and for short-term performance goals. They need, as well, exposure to similar flexible learning styles in their own college programs.

Innovations in secondary schools include music laboratories where improvisation, composition and electronic sound sources are possible. These become popular electives for the musically gifted high school student, but they require a teacher who has been prepared with skills in improvisation and contemporary compositional techniques. In many college situations, the Music Education faculty is concerned about the inordinate amount of time frequently spent on traditional theoretical practices which provide only part of the training needed to teach in an innovative secondary school music laboratory. Music educators see the need for more comprehensive experiences within individual college music courses to prepare the student for contemporary teaching needs.

A majority of music students in urban university settings work at least as much as they attend classes. In this way, college students integrate work and community experience into their college years. This integration results in more options for exploring different career opportunities. University music departments are looking toward the provision of programs for alternating work and study in order to facilitate this exploration. A combination of action (work) and reflection (study) allows students to mature in a more integrated manner. Presently the undergraduate curriculum sometimes obscures rather than illuminates the nature of the musical world outside the college classroom. By and large, the music of radio, television, films, and contemporary recordings is not studied. In addition, the available training in musical performance may bear scant relation to the actual music job market, and students usually pursue this study on their own. It concerns music educators that the college music department may tend to isolate young musicians from the musical world they are about to enter, and thereby serve only a custodial function.

Furthermore, there is a growing challenge to introduce inter-disciplinary programs into the college music curriculum. Currently, there are many vocational opportunities that would reflect such programs. Among them are record engineering, publishing, wholesale and retail merchandising, film and television scoring, performing in night clubs and churches, working as therapists and librarians. These careers call for course work in economics, sociology, marketing, psychology, speech, sound synthesis, special education, as well as course work in music theory and literature.

The shifting sands of career opportunities in music and music-related jobs is of major concern to thoughtful music educators today. Articles are continually appearing in music education journals and other educational publications calling for attention to the functional and human needs of students. The solution of problems derived from these concerns is formidable and requires the cooperative planning of all faculty members within a college music department. Let us base our future curriculum on the increased understanding which will be the fruit born of real, concerned communication among all of us.


1Music Power, Vol. 4, No. 1, Oct., 1975 (Reston, Va.: MENC).

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