The past decade of school reform has challenged musicians, music educators and general educators to reconsider music’s role in public schools.
For many musicians, the challenge is not about restoring music to its former presence in schools. It is instead about re-envisioning music’s position at the core of the public school curriculum and culture.
When I participated in public school music programs in the 1950’s through the 1970s I experienced them as ‘one size fits all’ programs entirely focused on continually preparing for large, sometimes massive concert performances and were directed entirely from the point of view of the ensemble conductor. Competition was fierce for the best seats and those who received private lessons always had the advantage over those who were trained only in the school environment. It was as if music was there for large-scale school functions yet these functions usually were designed to showcase only the talented few.
In addition, music that did not fit into the standard band literature or orchestral classics was not condoned. The many hours I spent improvising in my parent’s big band and my friend’s garage bands were entirely under the radar of public education. Music’s connection to learning in other areas of the curriculum? This point of view was never articulated in school, and it seems only my grandfather – an esteemed inventor, electrical engineer, and choral director – considered music as a tool for stimulate problem solving skill in mathematics and physics that depended on abstract reasoning.
Music in the Context of School Accountability
Today the perspective on music’s role in education by the general public and by artists appears to be broadened and deepened by scientific evidence of the impact of music learning on other aspects of learning (see Scripp, Overview of Music and Learning in Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development (aep-arts.org). Perhaps because music was removed from the school curriculum in the 1980s and 1990s, many school communities have a renewed appreciation for music programs due to extensive evidence of the impact of music on various forms of learning critical to the success of schools. And this interest has increased because music programs can be designed to promote learning in music for its own sake and, at the same time, provide important connections to learning in other disciplines in the arts and academics, as well as personal and social development.
Furthermore, because the current era of school accountability, musicians and educators are now accepting the challenge of holding music programs accountable for measuring the impact of music learning on all children’s lives, and not just the talented few. Ten years ago, music teachers told me they were upset that musicians would be responsible in any way for learning in other subject areas. Today, young music teachers are upset by the implication that the way they teach music today does not already reinforce or enhance learning in other subject areas.
Changes in Conservatory Education
At New England Conservatory where I am Chair of the new Music-in-Education Concentration for performance majors, serious students are prepared for a variety of roles in public education as ‘artist-teacher-scholars.” Since almost 90% of NEC alumni report that they teach music after receiving their performance degree, we now understand that almost all musicians will eventually face the challenge of teaching music in a large variety of contexts: as private teachers, as faculty or teaching artists in community and public schools, or as leaders of cultural organizations who provide educational outreach.
The preparation for a musical life as an artist-teacher-scholar at NEC now involves a broad array of rigorous studies in developmental psychology, models of teaching and learning, assessment, curriculum design, and inclusion of cross cultural approaches to music repertoire and learning processes. Guided internships in schools provide entry points into traditional and non-traditional education contexts. A digital portfolio system stimulates student to document and reflect on their learning experiences as musicians and teachers in schools, community centers and in traditional music classrooms.
The Learning Through Music Frameworks
Learning Through Music (LTM) programs were developed at New England Conservatory as a complement to the Music-in-Education Concentration Guided Internship program. LTM is defined by its curriculum and assessment frameworks as described below.
1. In a LTM School Program, music is granted equal status with the academic subjects. A LTM program values music as much as any other subject area and therefore requires students, parents, and teachers to view learning, assessment and professional development from the perspective of music’s contribution to cognitive, aesthetic, social, and personal learning, as well as teaching, assessment, professional development, and school community development.
2. LTM programs are based on Authentic, Comprehensive, and Interdisciplinary Music Programs. By putting standards based music Programs at the Core of the public school curriculum LTM schools require music programs that insist on:
- 1. Authentic, sequential musical instruction that includes high quality performance and listening skills
- 2. A comprehensive range of musical experience, processes, and genres
- 3. The integration of fundamental concepts, skills and processes shared between music and other art forms, academic disciplines, and social emotional development
3. Music serves as a medium and model for highly engaged and intrinsically motivated learning throughout the entire school community. A LTM school values Five Fundamental Processes intrinsic to fully engaged learning in music and any other subject area:
- Listen: Observe, discriminate, decipher, perceive, and describe.
- Create: Invent, transform, improvise, produce, and compose.
- Perform: Demonstrate, interpret, follow through, work with deadlines, memorize, and achieve fluency and mastery of skills.
- Inquire: Question, investigate, analyze, and discover.
- Reflect: Make connections, self assess, establish goals, and revise work
4. Music serves as a medium and model for interdisciplinary learning and teaching. LTM Interdisciplinary Unit Plans and Lessons are designed to help students explore and understand more deeply fundamental concepts and historical contexts shared between music and any other discipline such as:
- Language Arts and Music: Text and music, expression, character, theme, plot, dialogue, vocabulary…
- Math/Logic and Music: Proportion, order, sequence, patterns, hierarchy, systems thinking
- Science and Music: Measurement, inquiry, observation, experimentation, discovery, classification
- History and Music: Timeline, critical social events, social change, culture…
- Movement and Music: Timing, imitation, coordination, gesture
- Visual Art and Music: Composition, color, graphic design
- Personal and Social Development and Music: Collaboration, performance, responsibility for home practice
- Computers and Music: Composition, drill and practice, systems thinking
The Learning Through Music Consulting Group
While the LTM program that originated at New England Conservatory involved local schools, the dissemination of the program has sown deeper now roots in Minneapolis and Chicago.
The Learning Through Music Consulting Group (LTMCG) was formed in order to work with the Ramsey School as a laboratory school for music and arts integration in South Minneapolis.The consulting group, headed by myself and Ken Freed and now including music, academic, and research consultants, – provides curriculum design, professional development, assessment and research services for schools wishing to align themselves to the LTM principles stated above.
LTM and Community Orchestra Residencies
What Ken Freed made clear to the LTMCG is that the process of implementing an LTM program begins best with an orchestra residency. At the Ramsey school the orchestra members volunteered for professional training much like the guided intern program at New England Conservatory. Community orchestra members learned to give lessons, master classes and music outreach concerts in schools in ways that mattered most to the school. Carefully designed curricular units and documentation and rigorously assessed evidence of learning began with musical experiences provided by the orchestra and extended to interdisciplinary units that engaged all teachers at the Ramsey school. As students at the school became pen-pals with orchestra members, cross generational learning experiences became anchored in school orchestra performances.
Now that the LTM program has taken root in Minneapolis, the school performing groups regularly perform with the resident community orchestra, the teachers support music as curriculum in their classrooms, and the music teachers are now busy assessing music learning for evidence of learning transfer between music and academic, personal, and social development. And the LTM Consultants are busy creating digital portfolio systems to capture evidence of music and music-integrate learning achievement aligned with the school community’s standards of excellence and achievement – evidence that will be a part of the Music-in-Education National Consortium’s Laboratory School Network and publications in the coming year.
What’s next for Learning Through Music?
As described below, Frank Babbitt in Chicago has joined the LTMCG and will startup a new LTM program based on the Ramsey model of community music residencies in schools.
From its beginnings as an experimental program in the Boston area, New England Conservatory’s Research Center chooses now to collaborate with professional musician-educators such as Ken Freed and Frank Babbitt to further the LTM program initiatives, Because these entrepreneurs such as Ken and Franks (see separate articles below) represent a new wave of advocacy for music’s essential and evolving role in public education as LTM Consultants and program designers, school parents teachers and administrators can be assured that the timeless education in music for its own sake can contribute also to all children’s experience of learning more about other subjects through music in a manner that will measurably enhance the quality of their public school education over time.