The State of Music Education

The State of Music Education

A random post I read on the ICA Facebook page inspired this rant. I wanted to clip my comment and post it here as a way of starting a broader conversation. Here we go — fire away.

I think most people know my opinion, but I'll add a few words here. If we think of conservatories as "trade schools" (like where you would go to learn to be an auto mechanic or repair a refrigerator -- thanks Tom), we are teaching our students the equivalent of learning to repair a car from 1940. Is that a carburetor? No? Well, I only know how to work on carburetors, not fuel-injection systems. And what's a Hybrid?

Yes, schools are primarily interested in protecting their own viability. They are a business after all, with budgets, halls to maintain, faculty to support (who need and deserve raises), cafeterias to manage, etc, etc. But there is a solution -- the problem is that it is not an incremental solution. Sure, adding a jazz program, or a songwriting program, or forcing everyone to learn to improvise or compose or take a business class, is good and important. But the culture of learning within the walls of the institution must include EVERYONE, not just the students. The FACULTY must continue to hone their skills (not to point fingers, but does your teacher know how to improvise? Or compose? Or play Balkan wedding music? Or release a recording on the Internet? Or create and manage their social media presence? Or play with electronics? Or manage a concert series? Or market their quintet? No?)

But even better, here's what you can do today: you can take control of the situation yourself. Use the schools to do what they do best: USE THEM TO LEARN YOUR CRAFT. Practice your ass off because you don't have to prepare for a physics final. Form a group. Record a CD. Learn Photoshop. Cold-call a presenter. Buy a Jamie Aebersold book and learn to read changes.

Just because you aren't learning that in a class doesn't mean you can't take the initiative. And then, when you are a teacher, you can teach your students these skills. And CONTINUE LEARNING YOURSELF. Stay viable. Move with the changes in the business and the art. Don't sit back and figure "well, I went through my training, and now I have this gig, so I'm just going to teach what I was taught 5, 10, 30 years ago." Who knows what music will be like in 20 years? So prepare yourself for a life of learning, and you'll be ready when that time comes.

To paraphrase a former US president: "nothing is wrong with music education that can't be fixed by what is right about music education" -- or "ask not what music education can do for you; ask what you can do for music education." -- or some such shit. But whatever.

We can fix this. Lord knows I'm trying. What are you doing? Let's do this together.


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