Ancestors of American Music

Although the tenets & findings of the Yale Seminar on music education in 1963 or the Tanglewood Symposium in 1967 paint a portrait of the foundational philosophies that shaped and formed a justification for music education for roughly the past 100 years, it is difficult to isolate the cultural and social milieu of any particular era of the United States from a recursive idea about the role of music education in schools and society.

Is it unimaginable to consider that music education was made available to predominantly middle class, suburban communities? What socially affluent demographic household had the opportunity and resources to gather around the radio and experience the NBC Music Appreciation Hour of Walter Damrosch? Perhaps, these groups of people who might identify and feel a connection to the music composed of primarily European composers of the classical and romantic periods of the western canonic repertoire. Interestingly, In the MENC Tanglewood Symposium declaration titled Music in American Society, proclamation 6 states that “the music education profession must contribute its skills, proficiencies, and insights toward assisting in the solution of urgent social problems as in the “inner city” or other areas with culturally deprived individuals (Choate, Fowler, Brown, Wersen, 1967, p. 2). Should we take this aim to mean that culturally deprived individuals were devoid of an Italian opera or one of the nine classic Beethoven symphonies?

Quite possibly in these “culturally deprived” communities “you have black musicians thinking about how to move not only music forward, but American culture forward. Thinking about how [these] instruments can do other things besides make what we think of as Western European classical music” (Morris, 2019). Over fifty years after the Tanglewood Symposium an essay by Randall Allsup’s “begins with the seemingly innocuous claim that music is a reflection of the culture that produces it, but by examining two strongly contrasting American musical practices he asks us, in effect, “Of what kind of culture is America’s music a record?” (Bowman, 2009, p. 7).


Morris, W. (Presenter) & Mills, A, Brown, A (Producer). (2019, September 6). The Birth of American Music [Podcast]. Retrieved from

Situating myself in Curricular Inquiry

In the educational landscape of maker spaces, personalized and project-based learning, and an ever increasingly connected classroom, I have the sense that the opportunity to allow students to explore and create music has never been more attainable in the field of music education. In all aspects of Education, the distinction between teacher and learner is recalibrating from a knowledge reservoir of the instructor and a roomful of passive student receptacles typically thought of as the students. In contrast, as a community of learners, further learning should be perceived as meanings negotiated amongst learners as well as between learners and their teachers (Burnard, p. 21).

Interestingly enough, below the crest that signifies my undergraduate alma mater, San Francisco State University, is the Latin phrase experientia docet (“Experience teaches”).  This statement has continued to reveal its relevance throughout my professional experiences and teaching career. I feel that one of the most important functions of an educator in an academic setting is to provide and create the capacity for students to be engaged in valuable and authentic learning experiences. To Dewey, experiences were moving forces that aroused curiosity, strengthened initiative, and set up desires and purposes. Experiences go on inside a person but also change the conditions under which future experiences occur (Dorfman, p. 39). He wrote, “In a certain sense every experience should do something to prepare a person for later experiences of a deeper and more expansive quality. This is the very meaning of growth, continuity, reconstruction of experience” (Dewey, 1938/1969, p. 47).

Having spent more than half my career as a choral music educator I am well versed in the notion of teaching from the ensemble perspective, although did not matriculate through a tradition music education program and sequence or tract. I often wonder if this integral thread in our university music education programs was in part choice or part by design? In the Role of Music in General Education, Broudy points out that “somehow, he (Thomson) notes, whenever the three functions are combined, performance and the performer always seem to come out at the top of the heap. In this, the arts differ from the standard repertoire of disciplines usually offered as fulfilling the institution’s requirements for general education. For in the more usual hierarchy, scholarship and the proof of it by way of research is at the top; performance is second; and the pedagogy is at the bottom” (Broudy, p. 35).

Is creativity a musical aim? Can student centered learning experiences serve as a focal point when designing activities for both performance based and other contexts in our music curriculum? Some of my favorite experiences as a music educator came from providing the opportunity for students to explore possibilities in the language that is unique to music.