Historical Rationales for Music and Music Education

Last week was considered Week 1 of my first doctoral class through BU, Foundations of Music Education I: Philosophy and History. My first thoughts were, “Wow! I have not had to read like this in a long time!” Let me tell you a little bit about how it is all setup.

The courses are all hosted on Blackboard’s Learning Management System. For this particular course, the professor has set up lecture modules of course content and assigned several journal articles each week for reading. Each module is one “week” long that goes from Tuesday-Monday. We are required once a week to post a 200-250 word discussion that responds to a prompt and demonstrates our understanding of the readings. We are also required to respond to two classmates’ discussion posts. Four times throughout the term (September 4-October 29), we will have a Live Classroom discussion using Zoom, an online video communication tool. Our first one is this week, so I’ll talk about that in my next post.

The topic for Week 1 was Historical Rationales for Music and Music Education. The overarching theme from the lecture modules, aside from introducing us to the course, revolved around history as a narrative. Who is telling the narrative? How does their experience inform that narrative? What is missing from that narrative? Our journal articles included:

We have access to these journal articles through Boston University’s Libraries. From my wife’s recommendation, I am collecting the PDFs and citations of these articles in Mendeley, a tool for organizing, reading, and annotating all of my articles. It also helps inputting citations when I finally start writing my dissertation. There is an iOS app so I can sync all of my PDFs and annotations across devices.

We have been split into groups of 12 students. My group of 12 have jobs that cover the gamut: orchestra, collegiate level, general music, band, lead music teachers, music technology, marching band, jazz, drama, music theory, private teaching, chamber music, and guitar. The class is for both Masters and Doctoral students, and my classmates hail from, literally, all over the globe:

Generated by bU using students’ zip codes

The prompt for this week’s discussion was:

Share your current relationship to this week's readings. How do you see yourself as a part of the story of music education of years past, present, and possibly future? What are your musings about the aims of music education as you enact music education in your school or studio?

My first post

I definitely agree with Shute, Frost, and Laffey (1933) that my education, both how I teach and how I was taught, is the reconstruction of my experiences (p. 18). Those experiences included blurred boundaries between composing, performing, and listening (Jorgensen, 2002, p. 33), expectations of acting like professional musicians (p. 34), and a combination of “aesthetic formalism” and “aesthetic cognitivism” (Alperson, 1994, pp. 220, 227). My secondary music education consisted of learning concepts through band literature, consistent with Alperson’s idea of “an explanation of what there is to be learned about musical practice in its widest sense” (p. 218). My own teaching and learning life have encompassed the other two aspects: “how such things are learned, and how they might be taught” (p. 218).

Where I struggle is the realization that my educational experiences, again both as a teacher and a learner, have occurred solely in the context of traditional band programs of upper middle class communities in the Midwest. I would describe these experiences as “traditional” in the sense that McCarthy defines them: “a ‘facts and acts’ approach” (p. 123). My experiences rarely included perspectives from Howe’s alternate canons (p. 100). It was during discussions with colleagues during my Masters degree that I began to think more about what was missing from my educational experiences. I still wrestle with how I could incorporate more into my philosophy of music education as described by Howe, McCarthy or Jorgensen that wouldn’t detract from my primary area of interest, the wind band.

In my response to one of my peers’ posts, I brought up my experiences with philosophies of music education. My first introduction to the concept was in Iowa State’s sophomore music education class where we worked through Bennet Reimer’s A Philosophy of Music Education. The end product was our own philosophy that, in my opinion, attempted to justify the existence of our imagined program, rather than discussed what we saw as important components of music education. In the following junior and senior music education classes, we continued to refine our philosophy statements to eventually include as part of our portfolio. My Masters program at VanderCook did not include any discussions of philosophy, but that might have been because I chose to take a course on Instructional Design instead of Curriculum and Administration (see the Course Catalog for 17-18 for descriptions). In my first job, my new colleague and I inherited a program with a rich competitive history. As we began tweaking the program, I found myself processing through writing a new philosophy of music education based on the things I wanted to see included as important components. This philosophy evolved more as my first district went through a redesign of their 5-12 music programs.

As our learning in this course progresses, we will conclude with writing a paper that includes:

  • a very brief description of your teaching context, including grade or age level, demographics, nature of the learning environment, and nature of the community (no longer than 100 words)

  • a description of what you consider the short and long-term benefits and challenges of your current teaching practices (about 1000 words)

  • a description of how you will consider or re-consider your teaching practices now that you've taken ME741 (about 1000 words)

So rather than posting my current philosophy of music education now, I will wait and post that final paper towards the end of October. There is also advocacy within our readings that a philosophy of music education is not a noun, but a verb, the actions we take as we teach. To take more from our final paper assignment:

The point of this exercise is not to produce a "philosophy of music education" — something antithetical to the spirit of this class (which is much more about philosophy as a verb), but rather, to provide a well-reasoned argument (a thesis) that demonstrates you understand the merits and pitfalls of various practices—the possible implications for individuals and for society by engaging in this rather than that, especially as these relate to the particulars of your own learning and teaching context.

Another peer’s post stirred my thinking along music education as a whole. This was a similar line of thinking that began during my Masters program at VanderCook. Here is some of what I shared in my response:

The past few years, I have wrestled with how limited the music education experience I provide is. As a secondary band director, I reached a small segment of the school's population, and only in the paradigms of concert band and jazz band. I reached a few more students in music theory courses, but most of them were also choral students. The handful of non-traditional music students in each music theory course typically struggled beyond basic note, rhythm, and chord recognition. What does the non-traditional music student need from a music education? Do we provide students outside of our typical large ensembles with some kind of general music course? After this week's readings, I'm torn whether such a course should provide basic musicianship skills or focus more along the lines of music appreciation. On a broader sense, do we attempt to provide a music education across all of the different strands identified by the National Core Arts Standards? Are the National Core Arts Standards the way we should attempt to evaluate our curricula?

And this is where I am in my thinking right now. I am enjoying the rigor of going through these readings each week, and I plan on continuing to process my thoughts on this blog without the confines of the writing prompts and citation requirements.


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.