The Future of Secondary Education CLOUDS AND SUN

Contemporary Music Education: A Foundation for a Vital 21st Century Career

David R. Hornfischer
Berklee College of Music


Many driving forces are shaping the future for secondary music educators. This article examines them from the eyes of Berklee College of Music, the world's largest private college of contemporary music. Secondary music educators need to take these factors into account as they face similar challenges. The article discusses issues such as our national commitment to music and the arts, the impact of new styles of music, the changing musical literacy of today's student shaped by less traditional sources of instruction, the impact of music technology, and diverse cultural student demographics.

Music is one of the primary mediums for understanding among peoples of the world. The roots of contemporary music are embedded deep within American culture from its18th century jazz roots in the deep South migrated from Africa on slave ships, to today's diverse spectrum of music coming from the major recording studios.

And while music on one level is a highly personalized activity, when seen in its macro sense, it takes a massive infrastructure to deliver music to a worldwide audience by a music industry whose annual sales total over thirty billion dollars. There is a resulting demand for education to support careers in the music industry whether it is understanding contemporary music's cultural and historic aspects, developing proficiencies in its performance, or utilizing the full capabilities of tomorrow's music technology. Developing edcational programs to serve that need is a responsibility of educators at all levels but especially at early ages.

Berklee College of Music in Boston is the world's largest contemporary music college. Now celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, and with an enrollment of over 2700 students, 37% of whom come from outside the United States, Berklee is an international "music city." It offers degree programs in every aspect of music including writing, arranging, performing, producing, recording, teacher education, and the business of music.

In order to evaluate the external forces that might impact its future enrollment, Berklee used the technique of scenario planning to aid it in structuring alternative future environments in which the college might operate in the coming decade. In Berklee's scenario analysis, it identified a number of external forces that would significantly impact its future enrollment. Several of those forces relate to secondary education, which is of course the primary source of Berklee students. An appreciation for issues related to those forces will be useful to secondary music educators.

The first of those issues is the need for an overall national commitment to give priority to music and the arts in public secondary education. This was especially a problem during the Bush administration when music and the arts were omitted from national educational goals. Although this has been somewhat reversed in the Clinton administration, recent changes in Washington could very well bode poorly for music instruction. Recent targets for cutbacks have focused on music and arts-related areas such as the National Endowment for the Arts, and Public broadcasting. Secondary music education may not be far behind. This is also true at the local level, as school boards and state leaders, faced with less support from Washington, may be forced to make difficult curricular decisions that could trade off music for other subjects viewed as more basic.

Another issue of concern to music educators involves a change in the nature of music literacy. This concern is largely driven by the music itself, where styles such as rock and jazz are more difficult and less standard to notate. The growth in popularity of instruments such as guitar and drums add to the difficulty.

Compounding the impact has been the source of music instruction. With cutbacks of inschool programs, instruction has often moved from the classroom to a private studio, a backyard garage, or a personal computer, as many of today's aspiring musicians have found alternate sources for their instruction. Student music capabilities/background vary due to years of uneven self instruction and reliance on less formal playing opportunites found in pick-up groups. In the US, stylistically-engaging high school music instruction is replaced by informal home study means of instruction.

The impact of evolving music technology cannot be underestimated. While the music synthesizer, integrated with the personal computer, has made it easier for the music student to compose, arrange, and hear music without the need to assemble a full orchestra, it has imposed new financial and training requirments to acquire and understand the technology itself. To some this will appear to be a distraction from the art of music. To others it will open new avenues of opportunity for creativity. Everyone will be presented with a financial challenge.

With many of these changes has come an accompanying decline in traditional skills such as reading and writing music. Students often are involved with music where sounds rather than symbols are the medium of exchange. This is often noted as "tapes rather than charts." For Berklee, this means that we see a different type of entering student. For secondary music programs, it means a need to restructure programs that fit the interests of today's student if they are to remain relevant and attractive enough to elicit public support.

The music student of the 1990s is often different from counterparts of earlier years. The global teenager of the 1990s has access to music from all over the world provided via a wide and expanding range of communication devices. Often it is easier to simply be entertained than to make music. According to a recent UCLA Higher Education Research Institute survey of college freshmen, the number of graduating high school seniors who report playing a music instrument declined from 51% in 1966 to 37% in the early 1990's.

Students are also increasingly attracted to technologically based music as contrasted with acoustic sounds of earlier years. Many students have also been exposed to and developed interest in more different styles of music such as urban contemporary (rap and punk) whose value is often not recognized in public school music curricula. Compunding the problem is the complexity of this music. While some may point to its harmonic and melodic simpicity, musicians note the difficulty of transcribing a piece that might require up to 16 score lines to notate the numerous sounds. This often happens in the studio, but the result is a highly intricate arrangment of texture and sound that will require a talented and broadminded traditional music educator to disseminate to students with interest in this type of music.

Many of today's students themselves are from non European cultures such as African, Latin, and Asian American. This increasing cultural diversity presents a challenge to faculty to widen their music and cultural horizons. Paul Simon's Graceland album, and Peter Gabriel's efforts with the World Music program WOMAD have introduced sounds and rhythms from other cultures, increaseing understanding and appreciation for non-western cultures, but at the same time making it imperative for secondary choral and band directors to introduce music that reflects the new demographics.

More and more of today's students are career and business focused. While many are passionate about their music, they need to see opportunity for a career in music before making an effort to refine skills. This necessitates making connections between the music recording and equipment industries to support various secondary school programs. Programs such as the Gibson guitar program for elementary school students are needed to foster interest at an early age. Corporate connections can also establish the link between music and a real paying job in a vital industry.

Another strategy may lie in partnerships with higher education. Berklee along with its collegiate partners in the Boston Pro Arts Consortia are helping in the development of a Music and Arts High school. This has already occurred in many cities. One problem this may cause is that while giving greater emphasis to music and arts, it could also be limiting if it means that students in traditional schools will receive less exposure to the arts.

Such developments will impact public secondary music education whose programs must adapt to deal with fewer resources, different musical styles, and a different student. Secondary music educators will need to take these factors into account as they face the challenges of an unkown future, fraught with alternative possibilities. To plan for the future, they must avoid the tendency to develop a single-point forecasts, which could miss the target and result in strategies that are not flexible enough to cover the range of alternative future environments.

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