The following is an example when I asked myself and my students how we might enhance school culture through music:
The 2014-15 SI Pep Band became a highlight of the varsity football and basketball seasons, culminating in a performance at halftime of the Bruce-Mahoney basketball game in January 2015. The band got to have 3 minutes of playing time, center court, directly in front of about 300 cheering students, families, and friends.
What started out as a conversation with several administrators in the Athletic department turned into a group of students that would ultimately direct and rehearse themselves for the school community. For the most part, they practiced on their own and ran rehearsals, figuring out new songs to play and arranging them for this unique ensemble. Even though their gifts were in service of sporting events, their contribution to the culture and climate in the school community was an important thread, bringing together athletes and the student-body through music.
One day after practice, the head coach and I arranged for the Varsity football team to come into a rehearsal hall, directly from the field, to record Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline for a school commercial to encourage students to come to the big-game against cross-town rivals that Friday night. In all my years of teaching, I had never witnessed a room full of students engaged in music making with as much power and passion as I experienced that afternoon. The song Sweet Caroline had become a sort of an anthem for when the team had won the game and elicited crowd participation during pep rallies at school.
By the time this half-time performance came around, they simply have become bigger than anything I could have imagined. It was a kernel of an idea with a heavy dose of encouragement, being there for everything at the beginning, communicating with the adults in the building, buying pizza, and setting an example about how to pour energy into a musical project. As a music educator, it is the delicate balance between teachers doing and facilitating, particularly in the field of music education.
In this example, I wondered how my experiences as a student and musician might relate to student-centered activities. By this point, I had come to realize that I no longer wanted to teach from the master-apprentice model (Allsup, 2016). I preferred to support the work of my students and found more satisfaction in learning how to facilitate creative encounters in ways similar to those I engaged with when I was their age. In a few instances across my teaching career, these are the moments that I felt success as a teacher.
And again, it is the result of these key ingredients: student-centered learning, creating, and Eddie Van Halen.
Allsup, R. E. (2016). Remixing the classroom: Toward an open philosophy of music education.
Indiana University Press. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1d9npqk