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What is the State of Music Education in the U.S.?

Hello,

I didn't get enough responses to draw any conclusions, but the information I did receive is quite interesting. Thanks to all of you who responded. Here is my original post followed by a list of responses:

Dear Friends,

I am teaching an Introduction to Music Education course this term and I am planning to discuss the state of music education in America and in the world. I am primarily looking for information about your observations, not necessarily any formal research (if you have done research on the topic, I would love to have that too). I intend for this information to spark my students' interest in the topic and possibly to motivate them to do further research. I am interested in all levels and types of music education (choral, band, elementary, church programs, etc.), and if you would let me know in what part of the world you teach, I would appreciate that too. If you can identify any specific reasons for what you observe, I would love to know what they are. I will happily compile your responses.

Thank you!

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Music Education is strong in Texas. I teach elementary music. I am full time in one building, and I have a classroom not a cart. I see Kindergarten twice a week for 30 minutes, 1st and 2nd grade once a week for 45 minutes, and 3rd-5th grade twice a week for 45 minutes. K-2 attend as single classes. To see the 3rd-5th grade students twice a week I take them as double classes. I also have a choir that meets before school.
I teach in a district that is just about average in financial standing. There are districts with better conditions and lighter classloads than mine. There are also districts where music instruction is less frequent and/or taught in larger sections.

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You need to talk bluntly about the financial end of music ed: what are the students' prospects for getting jobs, where are music programs/curriculum being cut, etc. That's the sad truth in many school districts. (I can't speak for the private schools.) Not a very positive attitude, but if the students are considering a career in music education, they should know the bad with the good. Of course we want teachers who are excited about their field, motivated, patient, and not looking at the bottom line, but if there is NO bottom line that's a problem! Teachers are the most self-sacrificing people on the planet but they still need to pay the rent and put groceries on the table.

Demographics: I speak as the parent of a child who went through a public school system in the greater Boston area; she had excellent
music experiences in band and chorus and theory. Boston is a hotbed
of music, both in education and performing groups, and some of the best public schools in the nation. But even in those "best" schools cuts are made and it hurts.

It's not just the school systems that are affected by cuts I also speak as a lifelong chorister; have been a member of several choruses (select and non-select), almost all of which have struggled to varying degrees to keep their finances in the black. We are affected by funding cuts from arts agencies at the state and local level, fewer contributions from patrons, sponsors, and corporate supporters (e.g. in times of tight economy), compromised performance space (space that is too small or expensive for our budgets, or poorly designed e.g. a church not intended for performances by 100 singers and orchestra), and of course since the area is saturated with music groups, we compete for audiences! And if you were to ask the orchestra members about whether they are getting paid enough, you'd get a whole set of comments there too.

I replied earlier to someone about another topic I think it was the "I can't sing" business in which I lamented the decline of music/singing as a central community activity. My whole life would have been considerably changed without music. Maybe something else would have filled the void but I don't think it would have been as good as music. We all know the benefits of music/singing, but I wish it could become entrenched in our national attitude instead of feeling like an afterthought.

It will be interesting to compare the US to other countries. I lived in the central part of (formerly West) Germany briefly (about 30 years ago), and remember that a small choir of town residents not affiliated with either of the churches rehearsed every week in the common room of my small hotel. The town had probably 2000 or fewer inhabitants. It made quite an impression on me that even this little town had a chorus in addition to whatever church choirs existed.
What I don't know, since I lived there in the summer, is what kind of music education the kids had during the school year, and how music programs are structured at the higher levels.

Yes, we will look forward to your compiliation. Sounds like it could make a good PhD thesis!

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I have taught music (choral) at all levels in several different areas of the US, and it is my opinion that it would be difficult to determine a 'state' of music education.  I think you can discuss the lack of full music programs in some parts of the country (i.e., some places provide very little at the elementary level and orchestras are difficult to find in some cities or rural areas).  Your students' experiences might provide evidence of the state of music education in their home towns and your discussion can go from there.  You might also draw from them what they would ideally like to find in their home town schools.
 
Texas, where I currently live and have taught for many years (recently retired!!), takes pride in the fact that music is strong in this state with a full range of elementary, choral and instrumental programs offered in most metropolitan areas, but you will also find some small towns where music is limited to the HS band.  TMEA is a very active association with a strong committment to keeping music in the schools at all levels, but there is a reliance on competition in this state.  While these competitive events serve a purpose and provide the local schools with trophies and plaques that are proudly displayed along with the football trophies, there are of course downsides from an educational standpoint.  This would also be a good discussion point with your students.
 
You might assign an internet search for websites of school districts around the country and see what music offerings they find.  I did this with a class at UNT and the results were eye-opening to my students.
 
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We sell products to music educators and to singers. We've seen a growth of popular a cappella singing, first at the college level organized by students without faculty help, but increasingly in high schools (with
faculty) and faculty-led college groups (e.g., the top two finalists at the
2004 International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella were faculty led - a new trend).

Inspired by the ability to take music they know from the radio and sing it, students are learning music theory so they can create their own arrangements.

That's probably all you'd want to say about this in a survey course. ;-)

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It is interesting that I receive your email right when I am undertaking tackling some of the same material here. I am Director of Choral Activities at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in a rural part of Oklahoma north of Dallas. This is strictly my observation, though I am about to have a Master's student do more investigation.

1) Music Education has now become performance education in too many schools. By that I mean that basic music skills are not taught in a sequential curriculum that provides students the opportunity to be literate in music reading and listening. The music is taught too much by rote, with too much dependence on the teacher for all instruction, and learning music skills through rigorous instruction is considered an affront to the delicate sensibilities of the students.

2) In choirs and bands, too much time is spent on two/three pieces of music to be performed at contest. The purpose set forth in music programs now is geared towards making a Superior at contest. With no superior, the program is considered to have no worth. Contests, especially those of the theme park variety, are only too glad to lower standards in order to guarantee that everyone gets a trophy. How much more rewarding would it be to focus on a program that allows for a variety of quality music that is meaningful to the singers, conductor, and community?

3) This is where I personally get myself into too much trouble, but here goes. Show Choir is killing the choral tradition in this country. I am not that old, and do not consider myself a fuddy duddy (who knows), but I have seen first hand the shift from music education to entertainment. What other subject in school would be left in the curriculum under this argument?
Having a group for community functions...great. Having a show choir as your
main singing ensemble....not so great. Proper singing technique is not
taught. Exploring the connection that we have as humans throughout the ages in music expression is not taught. The beautiful marriage of music and text, not taught. Sight reading...not taught. Basic theory...not taught.
Students are excluded because of weight, looks, and personality from being placed in many these groups. Some excluded because they cannot dance, some because the numbers have to be kept low. Some because they cannot afford the costs often associated with show choirs. I have now seen show choirs who do not even sing. They tape themselves, or sometimes use cd's, and
dance to this. The students I am getting in at my university have had
amazingly little experience with basic, age-appropriate choral literature.

4) Music educators are not doing enough to advocate for the art. We have too often forgotten that in our communities, we are the music experts. The school board only understands making a one at contest? Who is the person who first informed them that that was the harbinger of success? A music teacher with a trophy in hand. The community does not appreciate "good music"? Who is the person who has chosen the music heard, and set the context in which it is received? The music teacher. There are ways to educate not only our students, but also the community and administrators.
The problem is that is a difficult and long term commitment. The quick easy fix is too often the first choice. We as music educators need to understand the role we play in setting the parameters of how music instruction is perceived.

5) At the university level, we must do a better job of preparing students to teach. We too can get so caught up in performance, that we lose focus in what our students really need to be successful educators. More time is needed for practical lab experiences for our students, and more podium time is needed.

I am sorry to be so long with this, it just struck a chord with me. I love what I do, love the choral art, and I hate to see the direction that it is taking in too places.

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Perhaps it's not an issue in Florida, but the sate of the budget in California has created a severe crisis in this state. As it was in the 70's and early 80's when severe budget cuts destroyed music programs around the country, California is doing it again. The arts always seem to be the first to be cut. Then, when we realize what we've done, we reinstate them and agonize for several years until they've been rebuilt. Then, we start the cycle all over again. In Fresno, for example, the entire elementary music program has been cut. This has had several effects. One is that, since many elementary music teachers have greater seniority than those in the high schools, the high school teachers are being released and the elementary teachers are taking their places. Trouble is that the elementary teachers don't necessarily want to teach high school. In addition, without an elementary program the high school program will soon have no experienced students coming into those programs, making them weaker.

Another concern I have is the quality of the feeder programs. I teach choral music near Yosemite National Park, in California. This is a beautiful area, but also a very rural one. My feeder programs, such as they are, are scattered through three different districts. There is no sense of uniformity regarding what is taught in the middle schools. Developing some expectations at that level is something I hope to accomplish over the next few years.

>From my perspective, our culture has lost a sense of the importance of the arts. Even commercials tend to place athletics above academics or the arts.
Until our society again embraces the value of true art, I fear that this trend will continue and become worse.

I hope your Music Ed. students will find something in all of that to spark additional research.

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   In response to your request re info. I have taught a number of similar type courses at Acadia University in Nova Scotia and I used a lot of the information from the"Mayday Group", headed up by Tom Regelski. All of this info can be accessed via their web site. "The Mayday Group".  This approach is critical of our current approach to music education and I have found most students find a great amount of sympathy with what they are saying.  Good luck.

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I'm not sure if this is what you are looking for, but we have an interesting situation happening here in the central valley of California. The Fresno Unified school district just cut its elementary music program. Those teachers that had tenure or more years in the district were then shuffled around to the still existing jobs of middle schools and high schools - displacing those with fewer years in the district. It is a fiasco, and how long will there be any music programs at the upper levels when the base has been wiped out? In contrast, Clovis Unifed (next door neighbors to Fresno), offers music to every child from 1st grade on through the high school level. Every elementary student receives weekly general music lessons with 5th and 6th graders having the opportunity to participate in band, choir and orchestra. The district purchased a class set of music textbooks with accompanying materialss for every school and all grade levels 1 - 6. Needless to say the middle school and high school programs are outstanding. Clovis is feeling the budget crunch too - have you heard about California's woes? and there are some cutbacks to the overall music program - loss of coordinator being one of them, but still a good district supported program.

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My observations are based on 15 years of experience in Elem. music and a year as a high school chorus teacher.
The growth in Florida has been difficult on music education. The class size amendment in Elem. schools are helpful to academic classes but music classes are over crowded and money is being used on the required classroom teachers.
At the high school level we are faced with standards that are difficult to meet because our students are not prepared because of lack of programs in the elem. and middle schools. I have 9th graders who can't read music at
all.....and students who have never sung in a choir. I have to teach them
to match pitch before we can even sing anything.
When I taught elem. school I started with 320 students. The year I left the school I was teaching 1200 students and I was the lone music teacher seeing students every 7 weeks for a WEEK. There is no way that I could have given them the skills and the education they should receive.
I know many counties are cutting music in elem. and middle school choral programs. These same counties expect excellence in the high school choral and band programs.
I would like to see a study/ correlation on students who have elem. and middle school music on a REGULAR basis and their success level in music at the high school level. ( some districts still follow through with this and I am willing to bet they have a more superior choir and band programs)


Cory Alexander
Director of Choral Activities
Central Florida Community College
PO Box 1388
Ocala, FL 34478
352-854-2322 x. 1231
alexandc(a)cf.edu