Music Education

IMG_3203As the primary focus of my musical career has been as a performer, I viewed the area of music education as the domain of specially trained teachers and, therefore, not my area of expertise. But after stints as a professor of music in a number of institutions, and as a conductor of numerous vocal and instrumental ensembles, I have more recently been drawn to the legacy of music instruction throughout history. As a result of this interest, I have been investigating educational theories and practices, and music’s role in the general education of all students. This blog contains my thoughts and ideas on what might be done to re-envision music and its place in education. I would enjoy a dynamic discussion of this area of study and look forward to comments by those of you who share my interest in this topic. I should add that much of my focus will be on music education as it relates to my work as a teacher in China.

Don’t miss the Music History lectures — a series of PowerPoint presentations — available in the Downloads section of this website:
Music History Lectures

Music as its own pedagogical platform

Recently, I have been giving some thought as to how music might play a larger role in education – not just as a stand alone subject to be taught alongside math and science, but its potential role as a pedagogical tool itself, a platform for teaching everything from language to driving a car. I will admit that I am a musician, that I teach music, and so there is no lack of bias in my desire to make music more relevant, and more pervasive in schools. Personal prejudices aside, I do think that music can be much more than just another subject to be studied, and every day I see more and more evidence to support my position. Music is experiencing a renaissance, especially in its connection to the exploding digital world. Music plays a prominent role in so much of today’s technology – one just has to observe people on public transportation, hunched over their smart phones, and other electronic devices. Music is there as they communicate, play games, troll social media and, listen for pleasure.

Music’s use as a mnemonic device is well known, and there have been attempts to develop methods based on it’s application as a learning tool. In my own experience, I have yet to find a method that is a satisfactory to use as a means of instruction, but I have recently begun adapting the grammar of music, and then applying it to the instruction of English language, and have found enough useful evidence to continue to experiment with the idea.

Music has been called a “universal” language, but there is debate as to whether or not this is true. Music certainly conveys emotional content – it tells us how we should feel. Sometimes music can be destructive, rebellious, foment other kinds of dissent, or help us to think differently. This is perhaps why throughout history, governments, leaders, ideologues, dictators, and institutions such as the Catholic Church, have sought to regulate and control it. Even the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, warned of the negative impact that music could have on the listener. But do the suggestive qualities of music really translate into it being tantamount to language?

Music seems to have been a part of human culture dating back many thousands of years, likely to the time when we still lived in caves. As a device for communication, it has been suggested by some that music – or perhaps more accurately defined – musical sounds (as opposed to words), predated spoken language or, at least, developed along with language. But it has also been suggested that perhaps music came later, the byproduct of language. This is known as a spandrel.IMG_1439
Neanderthal – Smithsonian Institution

The organ in China

Under the government led by Mao Tse Tung, the pipe organ was banned in China, as it was the musical symbol of Western Religion’s ideology and dogma. So even though there are some large Western style churches remaining in China, … Continue reading