Is Education In Music for All Individuals is Every Musician’s Responsibility?

While the above statement may seem simple, nothing could be farther from the truth. For example, what exactly do we mean by “education in music”? Tayloe Harding introduced a second version of that statement, namely “education through music.” How is that different from our original? And are both of these the same as “music education”?


Moreover, what is the definition of “music?” Given that countless writers have spilled gallons of ink on this topic, it is not the purview of this article to answer that question for once and for all. Yet, that does affect our reactions to the statement in question.


Finally, and not to be particularly obstreperous, what does the term “musician” mean? Is that synonymous with “performer?” Does it include “music educator,” “musicologist,” “theorist,” “song-writer,” and, yes, “American Idol”?


Before further discussion of these terms, how we might interpret them, and what this statement means for all of us as CMS members, let me offer some of my opinions of the current state of “music.” Some of these have already been proffered by my colleagues (and none of mine are offered with any kind of statistical data or references to support them). I direct your attention to Morris Berman’s wonderful book, The Twilight of American Culture, where you can read much more on this

same topic.


In educational institutions we are increasingly faced with a dichotomy between “school music” and “student music.” 


We are faced with an increasing number of students who are active in music, but not in school programs (do you live next to a garage band?). 


One can ask a class of first-grade students “who is a musician?” and see most hands raised; asking that of a twelfthgrade class will surely get quizzical looks, but probably only a modest response.


Music programs are likely the first cut during budget crises in K-12 schools.


We have an increasingly large number of students who have missed out on school music experiences (perhaps two generations, according to Robert Weirich).



Secondary school music classes almost always are synonymous with band, orchestra, and chorus. Students in 2005 cannot improvise; nor can they compose, unless, of course, that has been the focus of their educational experiences (unlikely). 




The demand to download music (whether legally or illegally) is skyrocketing. Do our youth NOT care about music? Hardly!




The popular “stars” in the music world are often barely past puberty and are more noted for body parts than musical talent (whatever that is).


The percentage of Americans who cannot read (again, see Robert Weirich's article) probably pales in comparison to the percentage of those who cannot read music.


The United States faces an unprecedented shortage of music teachers.


"No Child Left Behind" really doesn't apply to music or the other arts. In fact, the emphasis on testing has had a deleterious effect on the inclusion of the arts in the K-12 curriculum.

It strikes me that there is a major disconnect at work here. How did this happen? Although a potential future topic, we can probably conclude that turning the tide will take far longer than it took to get us where we are now. Albert Einstein said it much more eloquently than can I, "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."

What is the solution? How do we elevate the level of musical culture in our society? That is the very issue at hand—"Education in music for all individuals is every musician's responsibility." Prior to further response, let us go back to the questions I posed at the beginning. For purposes of this essay "education in music" simply means providing high-quality experiences for all students so that music becomes a part of their everyday lives; "musician" refers to everyone in the academy who
is a faculty member in music; and "music" means organized sounds and silences.

I submit that part of our problem may be that we suffer from an over-emphasis on specialization. We have theorists, historians, educators, performers, composers, and on and on. How many of you, when asked the question, respond with "I teach music"? Instead, I suspect that the majority of us state that we teach the clarinet, or music theory, or singing. Even within our own venerable organization, we find it necessary to have board members for education, for musicology, for theory, for performance, etc. 


Changing the status quo is not simple and it will not happen quickly. I believe, for example, that it will require getting out of our respective comfort zones and teaching all students, regardless of major, and teaching all musics, not just the western canon. Similarly, I believe it will require greater emphasis on the creation of music and not just the re-creation of same. Certainly there are other suggestions. Elevating the musical culture in our country ought to be the goal of each of us, and CMS is uniquely positioned to get started through discussions of this topic. I do not have all the answers, but I am certain that CMS members can begin this change. If not us, who? If not now, when? I look forward with great anticipation to further discussion of this topic at our national conference.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 08/05/2013

John Deal

Dr. John J. Deal is Dean Emeritus (2001-2012) and Professor of Music Education in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Prior to his appointment as Dean, he was the Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs, Director of Graduate Studies in music, and professor of music education at Florida State University from 1994-2000. During the 2000-2001 academic year, he served as Interim Dean of the School of Theatre at Florida State.

Dr. Deal holds the Bachelor of Music degree in music education and the Master of Music degree in instrumental conducting from Bowling Green State University. He earned the Doctor of Philosophy degree in music education from the University of Iowa and did advanced study in conducting at the Aspen Music Festival and in higher education management at Harvard University.

As a conductor, Dr. Deal spent ten years as conductor and music director of the Grand Forks (ND) Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Deal has published in the Journal of Research in Music Education and the Music Educators Journal and has presented sessions on technology and distance learning at conferences of MENC: National Association for Music Education, the College Music Society, the National Association of Schools of Music, Technological Directions in Music Learning, the National Symposium for Music Instructional Technology, the Association for Music Technology, and various state music conferences. He has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Technology in Music Learning, served a three-year term (as Chair of Region VII) on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Schools of Music, and is a past Treasurer of the College Music Society.

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