Philosophy of Music Education
Music has a unique way of fostering human connection, compassion, aesthetic appreciation, and social responsibility. For this alone, music’s place in our educational system is vital. But as educators, we know that music also elicits brain development, critical thinking abilities, and higher-order thinking skills; not to mention discipline, confidence, self-worth, and a connection to the school environment. I find immense joy in sharing all of these elements with young people as they navigate their way through their education. Clearly the benefits of music education are vast, but the ones I value most – benefits I have experienced in my own life and seen in countless students - are listed below.
Music teaches social responsibility and compassion for others. More and more, as technology and social media seep into our lives at every turn, we are interacting with each other on a semi-anonymous way. Folks often do not fully contemplate the consequences of words and actions when not physically present with the people impacted. Participating in a musical ensemble forces us to leave our screens behind and interact with real people. As a conductor, I feel that it is my job to help students embrace this meaningful work we do together. Our goal is to create artistry and beauty that we can share with the world. When we are successful, this in turn makes each ensemble member feel accomplished and proud. Each student can realize his/her impact on how the ensemble grows and progresses toward our goal when this idea is brought to the forefront of the process. It is rewarding to see them work hard on behalf of the friends and acquaintances they have come to appreciate. The nature of our art also allows us to explore the spectrum of human emotion and honor human culture. Therefore it is the perfect place to teach social responsibility and compassion for others.
Music teaches and reinforces higher order thinking skills. One would be hard-pressed to find research that does not link serious music study to increased academic performance. I know this to be true in my own life. Once I started studying music seriously, I literally felt myself getting smarter! I have benefited from working with professors and educators who have done brain development research, and I have employed their methods in my classroom with great success. Most notable of these educators is Phyllis Weikart who studied the effect of movement on the academic and social development of children. I find that using movement in the choral rehearsal is crucial since music study lends itself to educating the body as much as the brain. In turn, the body informs the brain to help it understand high-level concepts such as the analysis of regular and irregular meters, intervals, patterns and form, and vocal technique. Additionally, I teach in a way that facilitates transfer tasks by including warm-ups and sight-reading exercises designed to prepare a concept thereby giving students the tools they need to succeed as they learn their repertoire. As a facilitator, I ask students to figure out their music on their own – never spoon-feeding their pitches and rhythms. By using this process, my hope is not only to encourage independent musicians, but also to train their brains to transfer knowledge into new situations and analyze musical examples through concepts we have studied.
Music ensembles create a family in the school environment. Students frequently use the term “my choir family.” How wonderful to have a second (or in some cases, a first) family to visit each day in the school environment! In class, I like to include activities that encourage bonding and appreciation of others. Fun icebreaker games, gratitude circles, and impact discussions comprise a regular part of our rehearsals. My mantra has become, “When you walk through our classroom door, know that you are appreciated and loved for being who you truly are.” I have found that students respond to this feeling, and because they are happy to be in the music room, they work hard and make beautiful music. Their spirits are nurtured, and they gain confidence and self-assuredness. That, in turn, makes the school a beautiful place to be.
Music makes beauty. The world needs more beauty. The minute we stop caring about creating beauty in our world is the minute we lose our connection to humanity. Young people innately understand this as art, role-play, and music comprise a large part of their play. As a school system, we can capitalize on this by incorporating more art into every student’s daily life. Students will then grow to be great supporters of the arts in our communities.