Facilitating Community Engagement in a University School of Music: A Self-Evaluation

September 20, 2016


The School of Music (SOM) at a large Midwestern university began a small grants program in 2009 to integrate community engagement into the teaching, research, and service missions of the SOM. To be successful, grant proposers needed to envision shared knowledge, reciprocal planning, and mutual benefits among the university and community partners. The self-evaluation uses functional analysis techniques similar to those used in business management to examine 13 final reports of community engagement projects from the first two years of the grant program. The analysis revealed four roles common to these projects: university partner(s), community partner(s), supporting cast, and audience/recipients. In addition, four functions emerged that are enacted in diverse ways through all projects: knowing/expertise, managing, implementing, and receiving. The functional analysis yielded a spectrum of community engagement activities from a one-way service model to a two-way interactive model of community engagement. While needing further development, the Functional Analysis of Community Engagement in Music (FACEM) model is a viable mechanism for clarifying the purposes, goals, and outcomes of engagement in small grant projects. The functions identified will allow community engagement leaders in the SOM to better facilitate interactive models of community engagement among faculty and graduate student applicants.


“At an advanced level, creative strategies for implementing work into the fabric of the needs of our community is taking the study of the arts into deeper meaning….This can bring an entirely new set of challenges, and begins to uncover the need for an entirely new repertoire of skills and experience from the professional artist/teacher.” (Bobby)1


For most college and university schools of music (CUSOMs), as well as many music departments, one core mission is to prepare and sustain successful career musicians and music leaders for the future. Current students usually learn the requisite knowledge, skills, and standards to develop careers in music and related fields using methods and curricula that were derived from an 18th century perspective of classical music (Williams, 2015). According to Smilde (2009), “Musicians today face major changes in the social-cultural landscape and thus in the music profession, which is also inevitably changing. This rapidly changing cultural life is leading to a shift in the nature of the careers of musicians” (p. 1). What kinds of opportunities should be available to help students develop the skills necessary to have meaningful musical careers in the 21st century? What methods might be used to facilitate among faculty and students the flexibility and adaptability required in a rapidly changing musical landscape?

The communities in which CUSOMs reside may provide knowledge and resources to facilitate meaningful musical career development while providing students and faculty members opportunities to serve community needs. Meaningful collaborations with community organizations may be forged with, for example, hospitals, schools, assisted living facilities, and homeless shelters (Renshaw, 2010; Smilde, 2009). While most CUSOMs have a long history of outreach to the community through presenting, performing, consulting, or adjudicating many of these activities are one-time ventures that provide primarily career development for university participants. These community outreach efforts serve institutional goals and values in that knowledge is transferred through performances and presentations to a willing but often passive audience. The rich and varied music making within the community or the expertise that resides in community organizations receives little recognition. In this one-way outreach model, opportunities to develop new pathways for a creative life in music that add value to the community or address social needs may too often be ignored.

While the outreach model provides a good initial step toward establishing relationships between a CUSOM and its surrounding community, another possible approach to collaborations comes from the community engagement model. In a two-way interactive model of engagement, multiple forms of knowledge are recognized, and community partners participate in project design and implementation to ensure that both university and community goals are addressed and that benefits are shared. How might a CUSOM use a two-way interactive model of community engagement to expand and deepen relationships that provide new opportunities for graduate students and faculty to use their musicianship and creativity to serve community needs and support the values and goals of community organizations?


In Fall 2008, the school of music (SOM) in a large Midwestern university became one of seven academic units in the inaugural Engaged Department Grant Program , sponsored by the university’s Office for Public Engagement. Over an 18-month period, teams worked through sessions on building and establishing engagement at the department or unit level, using the university’s definition of public engagement (Public Engagement Definition, n.d.):

Public engagement is the partnership of university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good.

This definition is derived from the Carnegie Foundation’s Elective Community Engagement Classification, but the Carnegie Foundation goes one step further in describing community engagement as “collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity” (Carnegie Engagement Classification, n.d.).

Scholars, such as Holland (2009), establish the challenges of a two-way model in implementing engagement activities at the broad university level:

f engagement relies on partnerships meant to promote mutual benefit and reciprocity, then external voices will be influencing the design of collaborative activities. This two-way model of designing teaching and research projects is new to college and university faculty. (p. 87)

Weerts and Sandmann (2010) specify the importance of an engagement versus a service or outreach model, noting, “Engagement emphasizes a two-way approach in which institutions and community partners collaborate to develop and apply knowledge to address societal needs” (Weerts & Sandmann, 2010, p. 632).

What might this two-way model of engagement look like when applied in music? Renshaw (2010) worked with participants from multiple arts disciplines across the United Kingdom and Europe to explore the definition of quality in community engagement settings. Three of the projects focused on the ways that deep community engagement using music can permeate an entire organization: LSO [London Symphony Orchestra] Discovery, Musical Futures, and Lifelong Learning in Music & the Arts at multiple European Conservatoires. Smilde (2009) interviewed 32 professional musicians in three categories: soloists, music pedagogues and/or educators, and musicians with a portfolio career. Her results demonstrate the many ways in which musicians adapt over a lifetime and the importance of collaboration with communities in sustaining a career. Both Renshaw (2010) and Smilde (2009) illustrate the skills required for musicians and artists in community settings as well as the multiple paths to satisfying artistic careers in the 21st century, but these are careers in European settings. What would be required to adapt these models for use in an American university?

From a theoretical perspective, community engagement fits well into the work of ethnomusicologists and music teacher educators. In her introduction to a special issue of MusiCultures, Ostashewski (2014) describes the increasing interest among ethnomusicologists in community-based and collaborative research. She outlines some of the important considerations in this work such as attending to “both community-defined and private/public sector stakeholder needs as well as institutional academic goals” (p. 1) and “an opportunity to rethink research methods in which communities are not only the focus of study but are also research partners” (p. 1). Burton and Greher (2007) explore the research basis and challenges associated with school-university partnerships in teacher education. While some partnerships tend to benefit primarily the university needs, frameworks are developing to increase reciprocity and to share benefits among all participants.

Using these examples of high quality community engagement as a starting point, the Community Engagement Leadership Team (CELT) within the School of Music developed an action plan that included the following goals:

1. Through examination of exemplary models, presentations by guest speakers, and conversations with potential community partners, create opportunities for faculty, students, and community partners to explore, develop and implement public engagement initiatives.

2. Examine current curriculum opportunities to engage, identify, and create three to five model programs or ways to add value to existing programs through community engagement.

To address these goals, the CELT used the Engaged Department Program funds to offer small grants ($500) to faculty and graduate students to develop their own community engagement projects. The original goal was to fund three to five grants and then evaluate these projects to determine components that led to successful completion and that could serve as models for future projects. Because the grant program stressed a shift away from the one-way outreach model to a two-way interactive model of engagement, the CELT met with each recipient to brainstorm ways to increase shared knowledge, reciprocal planning, and mutual benefits within projects. While the grant recipients developed new ways to increase two-way interaction within projects, the members of CELT learned strategies for facilitating this deeper level of engagement.

During the first two years of the grant program, the School of Music funded more than 30 projects that represented the diverse offerings of the SOM. The focus on expansion resulted in less time to formally evaluate the engagement work, but informal assessment of project reports included the following indicators of success: greater number of grant applications than originally anticipated, enthusiasm and success reported by grant recipients, and increased involvement of new faculty and students in the applicant pool each semester. While these observations were encouraging, the need for a more formal assessment project became apparent.

Purpose/Research Questions

The purposes of this self-evaluation were to determine the ways in which grant applicants incorporated two-way interaction within their projects and to evaluate the effectiveness of the grant program regarding the shift from outreach to engagement. Ultimately, our findings will be used to improve facilitation of future grant projects.

Research Question: To what degree did early program participants in a small grant program incorporate a two-way interactive model of community engagement in their projects?


1. How does program evaluation utilizing a functional analysis reveal two-way interactive engagement within early grant projects?

2. How do the four primary roles in community engagement (university partner, community partner, supporting cast, and recipient) realize these functions in community engagement projects?


To conduct this self-evaluation, we adopted qualitative research techniques to determine how engagement functioned within these small grant projects. Data were derived from 13 final reports submitted to the CELT between January 2010 and December 2011. Graduate students and faculty grant recipients responded to six questions in which they provided narrative accounts regarding their projects.

1. Tell us a bit about your project. (What happened? What went well? What challenges did you have?)

2. Describe the role of your community partners in development of the project. (What did they do? How did you make it work?)

3. What would it take to transform this project into a sustainable program? (Resources, people, time)

4. Evaluate the impact your project had on your development as an artist/scholar, the School of Music, community partners, and audience/community members at large. (Numbers involved or served, evaluation of success, artistic/scholarly development)

5. Bottom line assessment: Would you do this project again? Why or why not?

6. What advice would you give to someone who is planning a similar project?

Given that the six questions elicited specific responses related to logistics, goals, and outcomes, we created a “start list” of codes (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2013, p. 77) that helped identify the strengths and weaknesses of engagement practices within and across projects.

To simplify the complexity of multiple activities into easily understood categories, we borrowed the functional analysis approach that scholars use to describe the jobs of managers (Clement, 1992). In management, classical functions (such as Fayol’s (1949) planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating, and controlling) are used to organize the various activities in which managers engage into “functions” to make it easier to understand complex phenomena (Carroll & Gillen, 1987). Because functions are simplified, they neither represent all the activities that managers do nor do they represent the full complexity of a management job. Functions are most useful when used to introduce beginners to the field of management. Functions of community engagement could provide a simplified model with which to mentor university partners in the project planning process.


“The biggest thing I would suggest is that although you must enter with an idea, some charisma, and a plan, be ready to throw that plan out the window and follow the direction of the participants and their needs.” (Simon)

Research Sub-Question One

In these community engagement projects, four roles were observed that remained constant across projects. These included the university partner, the community partner, the supporting cast, and audience/recipients. The university partners included faculty and graduate students who submitted grant applications in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years. The community partner was the person or organization with whom the university partner collaborates to develop the project. The supporting cast was comprised of performers, guest speakers, experts, technical staff, and others who were necessary for implementing performances and presentations. Audience/Recipients were those who attended or participated in the project. In the projects that we examined, these participant groups were fairly discrete and easily identified (see Table).


Hamann-VuTable 1 

Using a Functional Approach to Community Engagement in Music (FACEM), we grouped all of the activities undertaken by people in these four roles into four functions: knowing/expertise, managing, implementing, and receiving. We are just beginning the process of fleshing out the FACEM model, so the descriptions that follow comprise only those functions evident in these early engagement projects.

Knowing/Expertise Function. In these projects, disciplinary ways of knowing were manifested in individual and small group performances (Joanna, Bobby, and Rita), large ensemble concerts (Frank, Leah, Ruthie, Sean, and Ryan), classroom music (Anna and Dave), composition (Simon and Isaac), and a scholarly lecture (Susanna). We observed in these projects, however, that other kinds of expertise were required for successful implementation. For example, understanding contextual boundaries was important for both Bobby and Anna, who found their community partners helpful in understanding scheduling, organizational politics, limitations, and expectations for their projects.

The ability to understand the people involved in the project emerged in several ways. First came the ability to identify and locate personnel required, (e.g., experts, performers, technicians and staff). In Leah’s case, her community partner chose project participants, while for Anna, the university’s community learning center helped to connect her with a local arts organization. Second, when project leaders needed to identify participant characteristics (i.e., the needs, capabilities, and previous experiences of project participants), the community partner was an excellent resource. Bobby consulted with his community partners who gave him “strategies for getting students interested in the project...and provided a list of topics that they felt the students would benefit from. These included topics that the students had little or no exposure to or topics that teachers were less experienced in.” Simon reached out to his community partner to better understand the needs and interests of homeless adolescents. A third skill involved the development of interpersonal relationships. Bobby gathered tips for motivating students from his partners, while Simon found in one of his community partners “an extremely warm and welcoming personality, which is invaluable in the setting of the homeless youth resource center.”

The Managing Function comprises the activities undertaken in overseeing the project. Specific skills included planning, organizing, and communicating. The importance of planning was evident when Frank counseled, “Plan ahead, be sure the [school name] students have the event on the syllabus at the beginning of the semester, check the [school name] calendar to avoid any potential conflicts with other activities before booking the date.” The challenges of planning collaboratively were evident in Joanna’s project when her partners raised issues about student behavior, the need to include reading and math to compensate for the school’s low testing performance, fear of consuming instructional time, transportation issues, and the need for chaperones. Ultimately, Joanna’s project was not completed, as the planning issues became too cumbersome to resolve.

Organizing included the management of resources such as time, space, finances, and personnel. For Anna, the time required to complete various tasks remained a persistent issue throughout the project:

Graduate students have spent endless hours typing up information they gathered during fieldwork before analyzing the data by hand. HyperResearch will reduce the amount of time spent shuffling paper analyzing the data by hand, reduce frustration and dramatically increase opportunities to engage in thoughtful ethical analysis.

Further, Anna described the length of time required to submit and approve human subjects paperwork that ultimately reduced the time available for observations. Time management was a challenge for Bobby, who needed to predict and schedule realistic event and travel times, and Ruthie, who needed more time to pursue additional financial support. In terms of space management, a scheduling conflict at the Synagogue resulted in the cancellation of Sean’s final performance. For Isaac, lack of access to the rehearsal space and sound system prior to the performance was problematic. Travel challenges impacted scheduling as well as rehearsal and set-up times at each of Bobby’s remote sites. Financial issues, including mileage reimbursement, supply purchases, stipends, honoraria, and food for receptions, required some university partners to seek additional funding for their projects. Ryan investigated funding from a registration fee and sponsorships from music vendors to allow future events to be self-supporting. Isaac spent personal funds to supplement the stipend he received in addition to grant funds.

Effective communication was the final element of managing evident in these projects. The following quote from Isaac illustrates the broad range of communication challenges that can occur within a project:

I now know to ask different sorts of questions (how long should the piece be? What do you mean by innovative? how much access will I have to the performance space for rehearsals) and not to assume anything, such as taking for granted that space would be available for rehearsals, or that technicians would be readily available when needed.

Email was the most frequently used avenue of communication. While email often worked effectively, challenges arose such as response times, distance, and cultural contexts. For Ruthie response times became problematic with her international partner due to the differences in time zones and the need to schedule conversations through a staff person, while her emails to the local partner were always answered promptly. When Sean’s partners did not respond to emails, a scheduling conflict arose which resulted in the cancellation of the planned performance. Bobby stressed the importance of being proactive in crafting emails to promote interest and noted, “My constant enthusiasm, flexibility, and willingness to make the events work under any conditions were all powerful tools.”

Beyond email, project leaders used a variety of means to communicate with participants. Ruthie created a Facebook page. Joanna met personally with prospective partners. Church bulletins were used to recruit singers for Rita’s project. Leah worked through her music teacher/partners in communication with students. These illustrate just a few of the strategies that can be employed to improve communication among participants.

Although we were able to identify three components that comprise the managing function, additional research will allow us to further refine these components. Because we used the final report from the university partners as our sole data gathering mechanism and the fact that we neglected to ask a direct question about management, our ability to draw further conclusions about shared management among these projects is limited. Observations, interviews, and focus groups with both university partners AND their community partners would be required to develop a deeper understanding of the managing function in community engagement.

Implementing: The implementing function includes activities related to the delivery of the project: performing, guiding/leading, presenting, and evaluating. Performing comprises large ensemble settings such as choir, wind ensemble, and jazz ensemble concerts; chamber performances; and solo recitals. A guiding/leading element such as the master classes led by Frank and Bobby or rehearsal experiences with community experts as in projects led by Ryan and Sean added value to some performances. Additional guiding/leading activities included composition lessons with homeless youth, arts integration projects in local schools, and private and small group voice lessons. Note that while guiding/leading activities are often associated with school contexts, the three settings here were a school, a homeless shelter, and a church; participants included children, adolescents, and adults. For Susanna’s project the primary activities involved a presentation by a musicologist and a panel discussion with local clergy. These projects represented a variety of presentation formats and sites for music engagement in community settings.

Receiving Function: Understanding the nature of the audience and the context of the performance allowed university partners to tailor experiences for their specific participants. For example, Isaac invited members of the Nigerian community as well as his church community to join fellow students and drop-ins from the Museum to the performance of his composition. For her sacred music workshop, Rita intentionally included people from multiple faith backgrounds, and she noted with disappointment that only Christian traditions were represented. Susanna attracted scholars, music students, and members of the choir to the presentation and panel discussion on anti-Semitism in works of the Baroque era. Susanna was disappointed, however, when she realized that the performance was scheduled on a Friday evening, the start of the Jewish Sabbath, so “therefore we did not get any Jewish audience.” Leah described how better understanding the learners with whom she worked impacted her own learning:

I also learned about the successes and challenges that come with teaching high school singers a major classical work. Some tasks were very difficult: helping students get a handle on the diction and some of the transitions between movements, for example. Others came more easily than I expected: students latched on immediately to the harmonies, intricate rhythms, and mood of the piece.

Simon delved deeply, discussing how getting to better know the homeless youth affected him: “I feel this project has humbled me in terms of showing me that although I may have studied music and singing for many years, I am an expert in such a small niche of the music field.”

Once planners consider the nature of the audience, they can work to increase audience engagement in appropriate ways. Listening and observing are relatively passive activities, though audience members do bring focused attention and previous knowledge to this role. A more active role among audience and learners was evident through interacting, which included questioning, learning, and participating. For Isaac’s project the audience moved from listening to interaction in the Q & A that followed the performance. In Simon’s setting, “The youth were engaged in the songwriting process, and we also explored some improvisatory exercises as a method of composing.”

The four roles and four functions that have emerged so far through the FACEM approach provide tools for deepening engagement in a variety of ways (see Figure). Analyzing additional projects will be helpful in further fleshing out the approach, but it is also important that future projects include the perspectives of all participant roles in order for shared knowledge, reciprocal planning, and mutual benefit to be fully realized.


Hamann-VuFigure 1

 Research Sub-Question Two

To investigate the second sub-question, we investigated how role partners enact functions. Some participants performed only one function; for example, Sean reported that most of his work involved scheduling issues (managing) for the African Shabbat service, which was cancelled due to the lack of facilities. Frank noted his responsibility for conducting jazz clinics (knowing/expertise) and indicated that his community partner, the host teacher, was largely responsible for planning and communicating (managing). In both situations, the university partners reported that individuals enacted single functions rather than two or more.

Ten university partners reported that role partners performed multiple functions. Ruthie indicated responsibility for managing functions such as planning and communicating with her community partner as well as providing music teaching and conducting expertise to the project. Bobby reported that his “community partners or ‘hosts’ helped on several levels,” indicating that they provided support and advice as well as teaching expertise to his duet tour project. Dancers, musicians, and museum staff in Isaac’s project provided assistance both in implementing and managing functions, while Isaac was responsible for planning, communicating, and composing music for the event (managing and knowing/expertise functions). These projects demonstrate how sharing responsibilities might be considered collaborative, but they do not necessarily indicate two-way interactive approaches (Weerts & Sandmann, 2008).

While sharing responsibilities leads to deeper engagement, a closer examination of roles and functions led to the discovery of something more complex, more collaborative, which occurred in some projects. On a deeper level than performing multiple tasks is the idea that tasks or functions are shared among partners. In Anna’s project, community partners and supporting cast each contributed to knowing/expertise functions of teaching, advising, and presenting materials to graduate students in her qualitative research course. Schoolteachers, graduate students, and Professor Dave shared managing and knowing/expertise functions in order to enrich music teaching and learning in grade-level classrooms. Rita shared a robust model whereby many hands make light work: university partner, community partner, and supporting cast each participated in managing functions of supporting and planning their multi-faith choir clinics and recital. Sharing responsibilities moves projects further along the spectrum toward deep engagement, but are still not necessarily indicative of a two-way interactive approach required at the highest levels of engagement (Weerts & Sandmann, 2008).

Two-way interactive engagement was most evident in Anna’s, Dave’s, and Bobby’s projects when when participants shared the knowing/expertise function. Anna, her community partners, and supporting cast members shared expertise by providing graduate students with the tools to consider and apply research skills in a community setting. Graduate students’ and schoolteachers’ knowledge sets were leveraged to build grade-level music lessons in public schools via Dave’s project. Bobby, his duet partner, and band directors from Minnesota and Wisconsin schools and universities each contributed to the teaching, presenting, and advising of the tour project. In these projects, it is the shared knowing/expertise function that sets them apart from the rest of our sample and leads us to believe that the CELT must emphasize the importance of sharing multiple knowledge forms to facilitate the highest levels of community engagement in future projects.


Because the primary goal of this project was to conduct a self-evaluation of early small grant projects to determine how the CELT might better facilitate the deepening of a two-way interactive model of engagement among grant applicants, the first step was to determine how well these early projects exemplified a two-way interactive model of engagement. Through the analysis, a spectrum of engagement activities was revealed that included: 1) Single functions, where each function was enacted by a one of the partners; 2) Shared functions, in which managing, implementing, and receiving functions were enacted among role partners; and 3) Shared knowledge, where multiple ways of knowing/expertise moved among participant roles. Single functions align with a unidirectional outreach model of community service; for example, knowing/expertise remained with the university partner, while the community partner provided contributions to managing or implementing. In those few projects where community experts presented as experts such as in Susanna’s project on anti-Semitism in the St. John Passion of Bach, the community partner was the expert while the university partner facilitated the project through the managing function. While honoring community expertise is an important step on the pathway to engagement, this kind of divided responsibility does not yet reflect a two-way interactive model of engagement. Another important step toward two-way engagement occurs when implementing and managing functions are shared. These joint responsibilities provide partners with an opportunity to build the relationships and trust necessary for bilateral engagement and provide a mechanism for the construction of knowledge (Weerts & Sandmann, 2008).

But reaching a two-way interactive model of engagement requires the sharing of knowing/expertise. Both community partners and university partners must recognize the many forms of knowledge that occur within projects. For these projects, ways of knowing included disciplinary knowledge, knowledge of participants, knowledge of the personnel required to implement the project, understanding of contextual boundaries and structural limitations, and the ability to facilitate relationships among participants. When multiple ways of knowing are recognized among participants, it becomes easier to see knowledge not as residing within the person but within groups of people (Weerts & Sandmann, 2008). An opportunity to share knowing/expertise may come within projects in which roles shift during implementation. For example, in Rita’s project the graduate students who provided vocal coaching, a pedagogical expertise, became recipients when their students were given the opportunity to share more about their faith journeys (disciplinary knowledge). Another level of shared knowledge came in Bobby’s project through his work with community partners to better understand the needs of the targeted recipients (knowledge of participants). Shared knowledge was most richly exemplified in Anna’s project where the university partner, community partner, and graduate student participants all contributed to the design and evaluation of the project.

Though the FACEM model is not yet fully developed, functional analysis proved useful for gaining insight into opportunities for shared knowledge, reciprocal planning, and mutual benefits. Most of the projects we evaluated were initial attempts at community engagement, so project proposers were inexperienced. The analysis showed clearly the multiple kinds of knowledge and management skills needed in early projects and allowed us to identify ways to further facilitate a two-way interaction model of engagement in future grant projects. Additional analysis of projects will allow us to further flesh out the portions of the model that are especially important for deepening engagement in the community.

Future Research

Self-evaluation revealed areas for considering further how the CELT promotes engagement activities among faculty, graduate students, and community partners. How do graduate music students and faculty learn about community engagement, initiate projects, find collaborators, and evaluate their work? How do graduate students balance degree requirements with the time required to build new relationships in order to develop engagement portfolios beyond graduation? As a faculty members develop engagement portfolios, how do their efforts align with, counter, or advance a CUSOM’s mission? How do engagement research and creative activity contribute to faculty promotion and tenure?

The greatest need for future research lies in the realm of community participation. For engagement to be truly bilateral, community and university partners must work together to determine the development, scope, and evaluation of community-based projects (Stroebel & Tryon, 2009). Our final reports, however, only gathered the voices of university partners. While some of the university partners deliberately included other voices in their reports, it is impossible to understand community perspective without direct reports from community partners. Gathering multiple perspectives could allow researchers to better share knowledge, employ reciprocal planning, and ensure mutual benefits.


1Participant quotes are cited throughout using a first name pseudonym. We have chosen not to correct or highlight grammar issues within these quotes to honor the voices of our participants.


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