I had the privilege of addressing the Society for Music Teacher Education (SMTE) Symposium at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro recently. Representing CMS, I began this address with an assertion: that while the reason we were gathered there was to develop action plans to solve the problem of music teacher shortages in the United States, we have a bigger crisis in American culture and that this crisis must be addressed by the music community.
While those remarks and this column are admittedly unscientific, I think it is safe to say that we all know that our American cultural landscape is not well. Our real crisis is not that we have shortages of qualified music teachers, it is that America’s
cultural life is not well, perhaps we can even call it diseased. Because we know of music’s ability to affect humans profoundly and because we in higher education are our art’s most significant stewards, we can choose to work hard to do something about the nation’s decline in cultural literacy or we can let it further deteriorate. In The Twilight of the American Culture, Morris Berman describes a “cultural monastery” in which the stewards of art and music watch the complete collapse of the culture so they can give it new birth, much like a 21st century middle ages and resulting renaissance. As none of the current membership of The College Music Society will be alive to scroll away in the musical monasteries of our late century, the Society at large has chosen to address immediately our cultural illness.
The shortage of qualified teachers in music, as well as in other areas concerned with educating as much about feeling as about thinking, is a symptom of the American cultural disease. Fewer young people are choosing to become music teachers for many reasons, chief among them changing societal expectations for music’s role in American lives. Fewer teachers, teacher flight, and teacher retirement comprise the dismal picture we see now and were in Greensboro to address. We must do more to find out why this is and challenge it through meaningful action.
The College Music Society will help launch major efforts to stay on the battlefield and off the monastery grounds. CMS is a collection of nearly 10,000 music faculty and aspiring faculty who pursue music composition, scholarship, and performance in the broadest sense. CMS serves as a forum where members present their work in publications and at conferences, and where communities of composers, scholars, and performers engage in dialogue about their specialties, their opportunities, and their challenges. This engagement inspires creative new directions and often provokes meaningful action.
Concern for music in our culture has materialized through the shared vision of CMS members. While our mission remains devoted to making music and to music study, it also includes, to an increasingly sophisticated degree, the identification of (1) issues of concern to the profession, and (2) the implementation of actions to address those concerns. CMS is now working to Establish a Culture of Living In And Through Music To Improve The Lives Of Americans.
We are committed to pursuing four main objectives that will help us improve Americans' lives by doing more to foster opportunities for our fellow citizens to live in and through music. We must all find ways to help all American's learn to listen and
make music so that they can at least live through music, while we endeavor also to achieve a community where more can live in music as well. Naturally, this requires not only great school music teaching, but also great community music teaching.
We have published these four objectives and annotations on each, so I will mention the first three only as reminders. They are:
- To sustain and improve the environment for the serious study of music in higher education, by both music majors and general college students.
- To maintain the highest quality, integrity, and standards in all aspects of our discipline: creation (composition), presentation (performance), listening (concert attendance), scholarship, and teaching.
- To create partnerships to accomplish what we cannot do alone, which is considerable.
But the most profound of the objectives is the fourth one and the one that will require the most change – change manifested in how we build our schools, how we structure our curricula, how we recruit our students, and most especially how we train tomorrow's faculty. The music professoriate must lead an effort to foster profession-wide commitments to advancing education in music as every musician's responsibility.
The College Music Society can provide leadership through formal connections with the Society for Music Teacher Education, the National Association for Music Education, and the National Association of Schools of Music on behalf of music
teacher education. CMS will hold a participatory plenary session at the national conference in Quebec City this month. The session will provide opportunity to reflect on ways to educate students and audiences both through and in music. Information from this session will form the basis of recommended actions that, from February through April, will be reviewed and further shaped by the memberships of the ten Regional Chapters of the Society at their annual conferences.
The Society and The CMS Fund have developed a CMS Outreach and Engagement Project through which national conference presenters from all music specialties share their presentations in public schools, community centers, houses of worship, public libraries, retirement communities, music stores, and other venues. This pilot project is real action on behalf of education in music. CMS is now exploring the idea of carrying this forward in other ways throughout the country.
In the coming months, the Society and The CMS Fund will partner to develop official recognitions for various types of best practices by both schools and individuals. Successful efforts to identify, prepare, and support highly qualified music teachers, as well as professional musicians who have delivered education through and in music, will be honored. Once we are up and running with this program, it would certainly be enhanced by help from our colleague organizations. This would further the effort to affect a cultural shift on our campuses, one that might make collaborative advancement of education in music even more comprehensive.
I closed my remarks at the SMTE Symposium proposing that CMS and other organizations launch a strategic plan for action to address the crisis in American culture and its symptoms. Together we could engage in the same strategic planning
exercises that so many of our institutions use. The help of professionals whose job it is to facilitate change may be required. I think this is important because, without expert help from outside the profession, I am not sure we are capable of forging the paths that may be necessary to make the change we desire. We are capable, however, of deciding what we want American culture to look like on the other side of change, and I believe it is our entire profession, not just those of one association or another, that should define what change should achieve. As my immediate predecessor, CMS President Robert Weirich, reminded us in 2004, change experts Howard Prince and John Kotter have suggested processes of change are working when a guiding coalition can "imagine a future together." I sense we are getting close. Collaborative strategic planning for actualizing change appears to me to be the next appropriate step.