Setting the Stage
A New Year’s Resolution for Music Educators in 2019
By Mike Blakeslee, NAfME CEO and Executive Director
It’s that time of year again. It’s time for New Year’s resolutions.
My wife, kids, and of course doctors have a long list for me; a list that somehow centers on what not to eat and what exercise to do. And all the ads, advertorials, and other annoyances thrown at me focus on what I should buy—right now. Maybe the shape of these demands is the reason that most resolutions last only a week or two.
It seems to me that resolutions for all of us in the music education profession need to be paced to last the entire year—and to set the stage for years to come. Planning for long-term growth, after all, is what music teachers do all the time. Probably more than any other teachers in school, music teachers maintain contact with students for years. General music teachers work with the same children through the entire elementary sequence. Secondary ensemble teachers don’t teach just one grade level, but introduce students to performance, guide them to proficiency, and sometimes help them work at a truly advanced level. College and University professors help prepare budding professionals to dive into this all-encompassing world of school music, keeping the cycle of music education turning over for another generation.
That long-term contact with students gives us, as individuals and as an Association, a chance to extend our plans for the growth of each individual student and each program to planning for growth in the profession. The single biggest available area for that growth is in diversity and inclusion.
Perhaps we need to explore a resolution to pursue strategies that help us include all students.
We know that our programs benefit students musically, socially, and emotionally. But the programs can’t benefit students who aren’t there—so perhaps we need to explore a resolution to pursue strategies that help us include all students.
That’s a resolution that might seem to be what we’re already doing—and indeed we’re doing a lot in this area. But what’s needed is twofold: first, focused attention on the issue of diversity and inclusion over the entire time span of our collective impact on schools and students. Second, and even more important, is focused attention and action on the many strategies that we can use to truly achieve our goals in this area. There’s never going to be just one solution, but rather a community of solutions shared by our community of educators.
So, what are a few of the things we can do?
- Build on existing success with curriculum and repertoire in ways that intentionally invite new students. A good place to start is looking at the standards as a challenge to renewing the tried-and-true with a view to approaches that might excite and involve a new set of students. The recent All-National Honor Ensembles might present a model: They not only included our first-ever guitar ensemble, they involved each of the conductors of the “traditional” ensembles in standards-based rehearsal techniques designed to keep the young musicians more involved on more levels.
- Reach out intentionally to those students who have not been part of the program. This outreach could be to get them involved in our ensembles—or it could be to encourage students of all backgrounds to consider a career in music education.
- Commit to acting on advocacy. If we succeed in getting more students involved, we’ll have the wonderful problem of making certain that those students have open-ended pathways forward, with scheduling, facilities, and curriculum to match.
We can indeed resolve to set the stage for a future that includes music education for all students. But the image of setting the stage implies the actual physical work of moving chairs and stands as the culmination of a long process of planning and rehearsal. At least, we’ll get our exercise.
NAfME CEO & Executive Director, Mike Blakeslee