In 2013, I accepted the position as the Busey Chair of Music Education at Oklahoma City University and Director of Teacher Support for El Sistema Oklahoma, an instrumental music and social reform program serving 200 under-resourced students in central Oklahoma City. Prior to my appointment at OCU, I taught in higher education (Oklahoma State University; University of Oklahoma) for 16 years and was a public school band director (St. Louis, Missouri; Broken Arrow, Oklahoma) for 13 years. All of my teaching experience has been in the southwestern division.
Music education is currently facing challenges related to relevancy and value within the total school curriculum. While this is not new, these challenges will grow in the coming years as competition for curricular space increases. These challenges are particularly evident at secondary levels when music becomes an elective course. Challenges in underserved and under-resourced populations only compound these issues particularly in urban and rural settings. National enrollment statistics reveal that average enrollment in secondary music classes is at most, 18% of the total school population. It is difficult to support a case for music education as ‘core’ curriculum when music educators interact with such a small percentage of the school population. As long as music education is considered nonessential rather than part of every child’s education, we risk further marginalization for both our subject and our teachers.
Different from some who claim that secondary music curricula focused on large performance ensembles are to blame for music education’s lack of relevancy, I believe that we may be hitting our mark with 18% enrollment in these offerings. That is likely the percentage of students who will thrive in band, orchestra, choir and jazz ensembles that provide them means to grow as musical human beings. Additionally, these ensembles serve as vehicles for school and community identity. They are important parts of the social fabric within many schools. To the credit of many excellent teachers in these classrooms, performing ensembles within American schools are widely considered to set achievement standards internationally. These attributes all positively contribute to the value of secondary music education. However, secondary music educators can no longer afford to limit their visions of meaningful musical learning to only include experiences in large performance ensembles. We must engage the other 82% of the population.
This is not a new cry, but our effective responses have never been in greater need. The need is not simply for our profession, but for the many students whose lives would benefit from developing meaningful and insightful relationships with their worlds as music makers. These music makers come in many different types, create music in any number of ways, and are only limited by the resources, including qualified music educators, they have at their disposal. NAfME is in a unique position to have significant impact the development and disbursement of such resources, particularly at the divisional level.
Three elements contribute to this impact, including legislative support, effective research-based professional development for in-service music teachers, and quality music teacher education. The challenge facing NAfME is not, to be the ‘provider’ in each of these three areas, but to coordinate contextually appropriate responses by those with the specific expertise that addresses needs as they exist in each of the diverse communities served within the division. Much of the knowledge and skills needed to help music educators develop greater relevancy and value in school music education already exists, but rarely is it shared in ways that have lasting impact.
Addressing this challenge requires that NAfME leadership develop effective communication capacity connecting communities and music educators with resources. Advocacy efforts at the national level have never been stronger and with the formation of Advocacy Leadership Force that will connect efforts at divisional, state, and local levels, a mechanism exists to coordinate legislative support that is contextual to local constituencies. The Councils could be an exceptional means for collaboration and communication of in-service professional development resources. Divisional council members could contextualize existing resources so that music educators find them relevant to their particular settings. Additionally, they could connect local providers to connect resources with needs. Finally, the societies for research and music teacher education abound with resources for all concerns, but are particularly effective for preservice music teacher education. Through the many resources within both societies, divisional leadership can help connect local music teacher educators with research-based practice and pedagogy appropriate for the demands placed upon music educators within the division.
If elected, I look forward to facilitating this process.