TV Singing: What You Think 2011

Glee and American Idol are great for sparking interest in singing. The trick is to get kids to look for the musical aspects, not the star quality.” — MENC choral member

More than150 members responded to the January choral poll on TV singing shows. The majority believe these shows are both good and not so good for music education. Scripted shows (like Glee) are seen slightly more favorably than non-scripted music reality shows (e.g., American Idol). Your negative impressions of these shows outweigh two to one your positive impressions.

Negatives: the shows…….
• Showcase unhealthy vocalization styles/technique;
• Portray unflattering stereotypes of people, music programs;
• Convey an incomplete/poor image of music education;
• Set up unrealistic expectations about what can and cannot be achieved in school music;
• Show unrealistic models of what it takes to become a successful performer;
• Represent (for the most part) a limited scope of vocal repertoire;
• Omit the real effort required to learn and perform music well;
• Promote overly dramatized, superficial, often inappropriate content that is long on style, short on substance.

Positives: the shows……
• Produce excitement about music, and spark interest in music education among students who might not ordinarily express such an interest;
• Bring attention to music education with the general public;
• Sometimes serve as a teaching tool.

Here are a few of your comments:

The more music (in general) that teachers and students can SHARE and be excited about inside AND outside school, the more beneficial it will certainly be to music education.

The Sing Off is outstanding – although the judges are pop artists, they use actual musical terms when they give competitors feedback (e.g. dynamics, intonation, etc.). The show allows the participating vocal groups to demonstrate how much work goes into getting the performance just right.

Primarily I use these shows to demonstrate what NOT to do, or what is NOT feasible at our middle school level. The shows engage students in conversation about performances, and they challenge me to make the more classical elements of singing interesting for my students.

I’d like to see a show that takes a group of very talented students and works with them over a period of time before entering the competition arena. It would be much more uplifting and encouraging.

The Sing Off is great. Acapella music on prime time TV, incredible! You can understand the words that are being sung. The groups demonstrate beautiful harmony, and enthusiasm for performing your best; this is a role model for high school students in particular. Also many of the groups are male. I like the positive and constructive nature of the judges’ feedback.

Kids do not get to see the actual work (real time) that goes into the final product. My (non-music) colleagues believe it’s “so great” and “exciting”, without understanding the behind-the-scenes work involved. They also tend to think that that’s what every music program should be — loud singing, belted into microphones.

Too many kids think that they can easily be the next “American Idol”, and that becoming one doesn’t require hard work and study. I would like these reality shows to give more credit to the teachers and vocal coaches involved in the singing! I know that they are there – they just don’t get the recognition!

My first reaction to Glee was that anything that got choral music more publicity was a good thing. However, I have been disappointed in the story lines of the show. I am not comfortable recommending it for students of middle and high school. American Idol gets publicity for singers, but gives kids a totally unrealistic impression of what their careers might be. None of them identify with the losers. They all seem to think that they would be the winner if only given the right judges! The Sing Off featured some very good choral groups. In my opinion that show has done the most to give choral music a boost.

Any show that promotes music in our schools is good. Any show that promotes boys or men singing as “cool” is good for our music programs.

–Sue Rarus, February 8, 2011, © National Association for Music Education