The Importance of Music Education in a University/Collegiate Setting

When asked recently by friends, "Why is music education important in higher education?" I looked at them as if they had just come from the most recently discovered planet. Having completed seven years of teaching at a university which ranks third in the United States in the preparation of teachers, I was initially bewildered that the question would be raised at all. Training music teachers for the 21st century is a primary reason for the existence of music education in higher education. At the undergraduate level, it consists of the preparation of general music, band, chorus, and orchestra personnel for public school teaching. At the graduate level, music education includes reflection on and extension of the undergraduate and public school teaching experience, as well as the preparation of future researchers and teachers of teachers. Moreover, given the status of music in many school districts, it is not uncommon to find music education instructors responsible for music education "service" courses-music methods for special education, elementary, and early childhood education majors. Defining "music education equals public school teaching equals teacher education" simply as the preparation of teachers of music for public schools seems, however, to do an injustice to both music and education.

Who, in fact, are music educators in higher education? An astute music theory professor stated it succinctly: All of us involved in the education of musicians are music educators. This is a simple yet profound insight, particularly since many college and uni versity music faculty would never describe themselves as music educators and since there exist institutions of higher learning where the more narrow definition of music education relegates its professional status to that of the "lesser sibling." Studio teachers, music therapists, music history/theory/composition instructors, directors of ensembles -- all are music educators in the best sense. All are charged with teaching, with the preparation of a future generation of musicians and musical consumers (and decision-makers!). Ideally, then, music education is the raison d'etre of any college, school, conservatory, or department of music in a university/collegiate setting.

If music education in higher education includes all music faculty in such environments, what does this imply? Music faculty are trained to know what to do in the rehearsal, studio, school, or clinic, and so we go about our "doing" more or less effectively. The adage "We teach as we were taught" usually elicits groans from educators. On another level, though, if music students could look to their college music teachers as effective role models, would "teaching as they were taught" then evoke a negative response? I think not. Social psychologists tell us that the modeling of behavior is a powerful educational tool. Certainly, to model a proper turn of the phrase, a technique for using music to alter behavior, a historically informed interpretation of a musical score, or the logical progression of a lesson in the teaching of general music concepts, i.e., the "doing" aspect of teaching, is a critical component of effective teaching.

We know, too, that so-called negative modeling can have its place. One of the worst lessons ever observed was a doctoral student teaching a music methods class for elementary education majors. Through a series of mishaps the AV equipment did not work adequately, the listening activities did not follow in the prescribed order, and, predictably, the faculty supervisor was present for the graduate assistant's semester evaluation. The graduate assistant later asked whether students could learn anything from negative modeling, from having observed and participated in a poorly taught lesson. Indeed, students can learn to evaluate teaching both critically and constructively and critically and to learn from observing both effective and ineffective teaching. They can benefit from what teachers do and don't do. The college teacher, then, is a role model for the "doing" of teaching.

Perhaps the deeper question is "What are we called to be for our students?" What kind of role model does being a college-level music educator in the global sense call forth? Of what importance is "being" to music education in the university/collegiate setting? I propose that what we are called to be is essential to the education process.

Who is this person the student encounters? As music educators, do we claim to strive for excellence and at the same time allow ourselves and our students to be satisfied with less than excellence? Can we admit to being wrong? Can we genuinely care for students, and how do we show them that we genuinely care? How do we use power and control in dealing with students? Can we teach for independence rather than dependence? Do we truly respect the students or resort to belittling them? Can we be secure enough in who and what we are to allow students appropriately to know both our good and bad days? Are we secure enough to encourage students to try a variety of educational experiences and to support, for example, participation in different ensembles at different times as contrasted with all ensembles all of the time, or to try a major different from music without feeling that our turf is threatened? Do we help facilitate the student's progress through academia, or do we set up roadblocks at every turn? Can we maintain a balance among walking in front as leader, wailing beside as colleague on the journey, and walking behind as one who nudges students on their way? As adult men and women, what image of "man" or "woman" do we show to our students? In many ways, being the right kind of role model in a music education setting is very difficult. And yet, is it not true that ultimately we will be remembered more for who and what we were than for what we did?

And so we return to the original question: Why is music education important in a university/collegiate setting? I have suggested that music education in its broad sense is what all music faculty do in higher education. I have also suggested that, in perhaps a more significant sense, the importance of music education rests in who we are as music educators. Maybe in raising the original question my friends had not just come from the most recently discovered planet after all!

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Last modified on Saturday, 04/05/2013

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