Community Arts Schools and College Music Programs: A Case for Mutual Goals

When I applied for the job of Director of The Hartt School Community Division, I was working as Assistant Director of NASM, so I knew Hartt's Dean, Donald Harris. I called him to say I was interested in the job. He asked, with surprise, "Why would you be interested?" After all, I had worked for ten years in the higher education community through NASM, and it would make more sense for me to seek a higher education job. I told him that I was committed to the concept of Community Schools, that they were the growth industry in music education for the last part of the 20th century, and if we didn't do something to create a next generation of musicians, higher education in the arts wouldn't have anyone to train. Also I told him that Community Schools affiliated with college programs add a whole new dimension to a college music program, and that we could create a special comprehensive model at Hartt.

 It was the eighties, money was flowing, and Donald Harris had the vision to take a risk. We proposed a new budget for the Community School, a new level of commitment to faculty, the development of a comprehensive program, and an education effort within our own building about the role of a community school within a university music conservatory. Most college faculty fall into one of three categories: 1) they haven't thought about community education; 2) they don't like the kids that come into the music building and use the space; or 3) they think the role of college faculty should include the development of the next generation of musicians and music audiences. If you are in categories 1 or 2, please read on. If you are in category 3, most of what follows should coincide with your experience.

 At the very basic level, what is a community school? When the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund supported a grant to analyze community schools, such a school was defined as:

 A specialist, private, nondegree-granting school, offering systematic and sequential instruction by qualified faculty in one or more of the arts disciplines. The instruction is primarily skills based but can include the history and theory of each medium. A community school may be an independent nonprofit institution, or a divisional school (one affiliated with a parent organization such as a university, college, orchestra, etc.). The admissions poicy of community schools is to remain open to all students who are motivated to study, regardless of their age, background, aptitude, or means. Community schools reach out to their communities with financial aid programs to encourage enrollment by the economically disadvantaged.(1)

That is the definition of a community school. But what is one really, and why should colleges work with them, help them develop, and in some cases, start one?

We are in a difficult period for music education. In many ways, more music is available to more people for more time than at any other period in history. On the other hand, fewer and fewer people know how to read music, how to perform music, and how to understand the basic principles upon which music production is based. All of these factors serve to lessen the significance of music in our culture. On the one hand it is omnipresent, and on the other hand it is disappearing.

 The above thesis is not intended to debate types of music. CMS and many other organizations have worked hard to grapple with that issue issue, and it is not my intent to make those judgments in this writing. The distinction made here is between active and passive participation. In past generations, all students, with varying degrees of success, performed music as a part of their public school curriculum: chorus, band, and even orchestra were present in most school districts. Today that situation either is or is fast becoming a thing of the past. In most major cities I repeat, most there is no music instruction taught by full-time music teachers. I am talking about Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco, and any number of other cities. Although the suburbs may be faring better, I suggest that you look carefully at the curriculum in music in the schools in your region the pressures of so many requirements and other priorities have stripped many districts of comprehensive music programs. This is a horrific truth for music education. While we are writing national standards for music in the public schools, some programs are disappearing.

These harsh realities may have fostered some growth in community schools, but let me make it clear at the outset that I am not proposing that privatization of music education occur and that community schools become the providers. In simplest terms, that just couldn't happen. There are too many students, and community schools would need significant funding in order to serve even a good portion of students. We all have to work to maintain the role of public school music education as the place where all youngsters receive basic music education but, whether or not we as a field like it, we will not succeed in getting the old music programs back, and community schools can serve a significant, performance-based need in many regions.

Analyzing a region's music education delivery system will help shape the role of a community school, so programs will vary depending on needs. It is clear though that whether a community school can act like a "prep" school of the old conservatory or can teach music reading classes in an inner-city elementary school that has no music program, this is a call to arms for all who teach music. It is a call particularly to college faculty who have tended to ignore (or treat with disdain) people who taught youngsters about music. The only way to maintain (and maybe even enhance) the music literacy and music skills of our undergraduates is for new initiatives to be undertaken and a new commitment to music education on the part of all of us.

 Many areas already have community schools, and some of them are branches or divisions of colleges and universities. If one exists on your campus, please support it and make it better. Of course, it takes up space, and it brings too many young and noisy kids into your building, and of course some of the teachers don't have your qualitative stamp of approval. But the programs improve if the college faculty gets behind them. Please look at your participation in the program as your community service focus.

 If there is no community school affiliated with your university, please help start one. What will it do and what won't it do? It will not be a "cash cow" and financial savior for your department, although it might help with some equipment purchases and other basic expenses. It will not be a place to put unproductive faculty to fill their loads. Let's face it, chances are quite good that if they can't work with advanced students they will be disastrous with beginners. It will not replace public schools in your region.

What will it do? It will help to enhance the role of your music department in the regional arts community. It will allow your school to enhance the contracts of many adjunct faculty and some full-time faculty. It will provide a base of support for the public school music programs in your region. It will help recruit college students. This is an interesting plus it may not be successful locally, but if your community school becomes active in the National Guild of Community Schools, your college becomes known to pre-college programs (over 250) throughout the country. Even if a good pre-college student from your community school goes to Hartt, the reputation of your college will be enhanced so that a good pre-college student at Hartt may someday choose your college because of the strength of the community school network.

 It will break down the artificial barrier of age 18 as the magic moment at which a student becomes serious (or is seen to become serious) about music study. In a careful way, the community school will become an observation and learning tool for your college students. A caution here be careful about letting undergraduates teach in unsupervised settings. This will not accomplish the goal of high quality music training in a consistent way. However, the use of observations and a careful introduction to teaching like what occurs in music education student teaching models is appropriate. Mentoring programs and extra practice sessions led by undergraduates are good further possibilities. It is quite reasonable in fact important, that the community school curriculum reflect the strengths of the college program. For example, ideally, applied faculty should be hired with the concurrence of the college faculty, although the college faculty needs to adopt the right reasons for hiring these people: not just hiring former students, but to make sure the teachers are good with youngsters. Another example is the burgeoning field of early childhood music education, which is a logical tie-in to the music education department.

 It will be a place to organize and prmmote continuing education classes for adults in music. These programs can generate some much-needed revenue. Also, they can help tie the university music program more directly to the older population of the area people who will also come to concerts and who may even be able to financially support the music program (or someday leave a bequest). Hartt is lucky to have one CEO's wife taking piano lessons, the local large TV station owner's granddaughter studying harp, etc. These are examples of well-connected people who might not have another affiliation with the school. In addition, many community schools provide music instruction and concerts in retirement homes.

 The Community School on campus will also help concert attendance by young families. Some of us have thought about requiring on-campus concert attendance by all pre-college students as an important listening component in addition to private lessons. What works about this is that it not only brings young students to concerts, it also brings at least one parent.

 Outreach is a major area. Many funders who simply will not support college training programs will fund pre-college music programs for needy youngsters. This is an especially important part of all community schools to provide instruction for students with potential who cannot afford to participate in the programs of a community school. This is a great way to identify inner-city or rural students who might be trained to make it into college music programs. This is one of the strongest cases to be made for a community school as part of a college program. Outreach is an important and legitimate function of both a university and a community school.

 There are many other benefits that will be specific to a community but, in general, developing these kinds of divisional community schools requires careful planning and an acknowledgement of their place within the university structure. In most cases, they should be part of the university music department. (Some universities use the continuing education department as the organizer. The only problem with this model is that some continuing education departments set high expectations of profit for the programs). Within the music department, I encourage that the Director of the Community School be a staff member at a salary equivalent of Assistant Professor to start, and that community school adjunct faculty have the same rights and responsibilities as college adjunct faculty. It is reasonable to set a budget for the division that incorporates its direct expenses and allous for the sharing of facilities costs.

Community schools have an important place within the context of college programs. I encourage you to help build your community school or to consider starting one. The National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts is a good resource for doing either of these things. They may be contacted at 40 North Van Brunt Street, Suite 32, Englewood, NJ 07631. Telephone: (201) 871-3337.

 (1) Evans, Richard and Howard Klein, Too Intrinsic for Renown: A Study of the Members of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts (Howard Klein and Associates, Front Royal, VA, 1992), p. 5.

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Last modified on Thursday, 02/05/2013

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