Aesthetic / Praxial » Music Education

We are at a critical crossroad in the pedagogy and rationale of a diverse and praxial perspective for teaching and learning in the field of music education. It is difficult in this day and age to firmly root ourselves in one, singular philosophy of what music education is. I think that as both practitioners and philosophers we will learn to form a conceptual framework that views phenomenon through a variety of perspectives and theories. Having said that, we may very well need to have an understanding of the aesthetic concept of music education in order for other viewpoints and philosophies to emerge. For the most part, we have taught or been taught in the aesthetic perception, which results in an aesthetic reaction to cause an aesthetic experience (Reimer, 1970, p. 107).

In the August 2019 issue of the Journal of Research in Music Education researchers Kenneth Elpus and Carlos Abril compiled a demographic profile of high school music ensemble students. 24% of the class of 2013 were enrolled in at least one year of a course in band, choir or orchestra. Less than a quarter of an entire school population took a music class; nearly three quarters of that population did not. In that report, the ethnicities of those participating in music is problematic to say the least.

This study is an indication, not the sole indicator, that we simply cannot rationalize the notion of culturally biased, late 19th century/early 20th century aesthetic premise of arts education, that in the 21st century simply does not pique a sense of curiosity of the culturally diverse 21st-century learner. Although as a result of the Tanglewood Symposium we read the adoption of an aesthetic basis for music education resulted in a singular and cohesive philosophy for the profession, it could be argued that its focus was narrow and would ultimately not accommodate shifting social and cultural realities (Mccarthy M, Goble J, 2002, p. 25).

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.