New Book Explores the Tapestry Music Weaves in the Life Experience

Jody L. Kerchner                                 

About three years ago music educator Jody L. Kerchner attended a conference that explored the concept of narrative inquiry. The experience “got me thinking about people’s stories and how we all interact with music, inside the classroom, outside, at various ages, the whole spectrum of lifelong music learning,” she recalled.

Carlos R. Abril

Kerchner’s musings led her to ask fellow college professor Carlos R. Abril to join her in putting together a new book, Musical Experience in Our Lives: Things We Learn and Meanings We Make, copublished by MENC and Rowman & Littlefield Education (RLE).

The editors said the work will be valuable for preservice as well as in-service teachers. Written by leading experts who examine music teaching and learning, chapters are arranged from infancy and early childhood through adult and older adulthood and use various qualitative research methodologies. Kerchner said the contributions represent the real-life experiences of the various music educators who wrote them.

Abril wrote a chapter titled “Pulling the Curtain Back on Performance in the Elementary School,” while Kerchner wrote “Drawing Middle-Schoolers’ Attention to Music.”

Other chapters include:

  • “From the Teacher’s View: Observations of Toddler’s Musical Development” by Wendy Valerio
  • “Composing in the Classroom: The Journey of Five Children” by Betty Anne Younker
  • “The Violin and the Fiddle: Narratives of Music and Musician in a High-School Setting,” by Matthew D. Thibeault
  • “At-Risk Teens: Making Sense of Life through Music Composition,” by Maud Hickey
  • “Voices of Experience: Lessons from Older Adult Amateur Musicians,” by 
Don D. Coffman

Abril said as he and Kerchner edited the book they considered all of the ways in which music plays a part in the human experience: “We wanted to get music educators to think beyond borders, all kinds of borders. What does it really mean in our lives? What, for example makes some students pack up their clarinet after 12th grade, and others continue to make music the rest of their lives?”

The editors note the book offers a North American view of the musical experience but they wanted the book to explore diversity on a number of levels, from ethnicity to various age groups and music disciplines.

Below are some additional questions and answers from the two editors.

 Discuss the origins of this project. What led to the creation of this book?
Kerchner—“I attended a narrative inquiry conference about three years ago and it got me thinking about people’s stories, how people interact with music. I wanted to look at the lifelong music education spectrum music—making music inside and outside classroom. I wanted to look at students, parents, how communities engage with music. I asked Carlos to come on board because I enjoyed his writing and thought he would bring an interesting point of view.”
Abril—“I got excited when we started to discuss the project. We both agreed that we wanted to frame the material in a certain way because we wanted to make music education scholarship come alive.”
Kerchner—“Right. We wanted to collect the data and then present it in such a way that wouldn’t overwhelm the reader. A strong feature of the book is that we are combining research, qualitative methodologies, with actual accounts from people’s lives.”

Were subjects assigned to authors? Or did authors suggest their topics?
Abril—“After we decided to do the book we discussed a structure. We decided to convey all of the ways in which people can be musical—how children listen, movement and performance at different ages.”
Kerchner— We looked at who was doing research in a particular approach, decided their particular style of writing worked for us, and then we contacted writers. We wanted people who had real stories to tell, people like Lori A. Custodero, who wrote “Musical Portraits, Musical Pathways: Stories of Meaning Making in the Lives of Six Families.” These are people who actually work in the community, not just those in ivory towers.”

Your book is titled Musical Experience in Our Lives: Things We Learn and Meanings We Make. What did you learn personally in editing the various chapters?
Kerchner— “A confirmation that music educators are very honest, giving people. It is obvious that our authors have already established trusting relationships with those they work with.
Abril—“The book gives voice to some who don’t always have a voice. We don’t always see how our students live, don’t go to their homes. These examples offer that glimpse.”

The editors hope readers come away with a sense of “what it means to be musical, because everyone is an expert of their own music, whether they are three years young, or 97 years old.”

Kerchner is professor and director of music education at the Oberlin (Ohio) Conservatory of Music where she is the secondary school music and choral music education specialist. Her research focuses on music listening and cognitive processing, portfolio assessment, college-public school collaboration, and music teacher identity.

Abril is assistant professor of music education at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, where he teaches courses in general music, multiculturalism, and philosophy. His research focuses on the sociocultural dimensions of the music teaching and learning process, music perception, and the elementary music curriculum.

The book is $39.95; MENC members receive a 25 % discount off the list price. Visit the Rowman Education Web site for  for ordering information.

Photos courtesy of Kerchner and Abril

Roz Fehr, May 13, 2009. © MENC: The National Association for Music Education