Musical Identities

Many kind thanks to Raymond MacDonaldDavid J. Hargreaves, and Dorothy Miell for including us in your recent volume, Handbook of Musical Identities.

There, we argue that explanations of why and how music making and listening contribute to many kinds of identity formation—including musical, personal, social, cultural, gendered, and ethical identity development—should begin with a concept of personhood. In other words, selfhood and personal identity are not identical with personhood, but primary dimensions of it. Part one of our chapter presents an embodied-enactive concept of personhood. Part two provides philosophical arguments that support our concept of personhood and explain the roles of empathy, ethical idealization, and moral communities in the co-construction of personhood, musical identities, and musical experiences. And part three knits parts one and two together by offering reasons why music making, listening, and musical praxes can serve as “affordances” for lifelong experiences of identity formation and “full human flourishing,” or eudaimonia.

 

Inspiration and Joy Through the Arts

Diane Ravitch is an eminent Research Professor of Education at New York University, a prolific author, and one of the strongest voices in the world for the importance of public education. As she’s told David personally, as she’s said in numerous media interviews and speeches, and in her writings, Ravitch fully supports the enormous importance of arts in education, especially music.

Today—Valentine’s Day, 2017—her blog reminds us that, in the midst of stressful and dangerous times, we must find ways to engage our children in joyful and loving experiences. Music can do this! Indeed, thousands of music educators worldwide make this happen, in a wide range of ways, with and for their students.

School lunch and music

Ravitch gives an example. A couple of years ago, the school administrators at a Bucks primary school in the United Kingdom staged a surprise opera “intervention” during the children’s lunch time. Suddenly, the children were being serenaded with the arias of Verdi, Rossini and Puccini!

As a result of this experience, teacher Rozalyn Thomson said: “Mamma Mia! What an experience for the children! They loved the singing, they loved the surprise and they loved the pesto pasta! Next best thing to Covent Garden – they all want to be opera singers now!”

 

Stand Up for Public School Music

Today the US Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as the new Secretary of Education. Many educational experts, teachers, and parents believe, with good reasons, that DeVos represents a serious threat to the future of American public education, and, therefore, a threat to American public school music.

Anya Kamenetz, NPR’s lead education blogger, asks: “Now, the question is: How much will actually change for the nation’s 50 million public school students and 20 million college students? Perhaps her opponents should take a deep breath. The federal role in education policy is limited. Less than 10 percent of funding for K-12 schools comes from the feds, for example.” Then again, says Kamenetz, “DeVos’ department may take a leaf from Arne Duncan‘s book and set up a competitive grant program that encourages states to expand school choice. If so, we’ll likely be hearing more about the benefits of private, virtual, religious and for-profit schools.”

Dr. David E. Kirkland, professor of education at NYU-Steinhardt, says that he fears “she could badly hurt public education across the country and pull resources out of schools in need of federal funding. Her extensive conflicts of interest and record of diverting money away from vulnerable students and into the pockets of the rich make DeVos completely unfit for the position she was just confirmed to.”

What can music educators do? As Diane Ravitch says: “We are many. They are few. We will organize, mobilize and fight their attacks on our children, our educators, and our public schools. Together, we are powerful.” We’re not alone. Note this well: “The senators who opposed DeVos represent 36 million more people than her supporters.

Indeed, anyone who is afraid for the future of music education should do everything possible to RESIST. Public education is a matter of fundamental human and civil rights. We must find the energy to protest and be more proactive than ever! We must keep hope alive for our students, colleagues, and our profession.

Additionally, we must become more informed about daily and long-term efforts on behalf of public education. For example, subscribe to Diane Ravitch’s blog. Join and follow the Badass Teachers Association on Facebook. Join forces with The Network for Public Education (NPE). Follow Truthout for penetrating discussions of why and what is happening. We’re not alone!

Again: As Carol Burris of NPE said today

the opposition that the American public helped generate was so intense, that the Vice President had to step in to break the tie in order for her to be confirmed. Forty-eight senators held the floor throughout the afternoon and night, delaying the vote as long as they could. Your opposition to what DeVos stands for was nothing short of remarkable. Because of you, NPE generated a half million emails to senators. Over 100,000 also accessed our Toolkit and HELP committee lists—making phone calls, sending faxes, and visiting offices. You contacted our office by mail and by phone asking, “What more can I do?”

See and follow the NPE site for answers. Don’t let DeVos win this fight. Protest her agenda.

As music educators, we need to think about our short-term and long-term aims. In the short-term, securing the place of music in public education depends on being able to understand, articulate, and affirm to ourselves and others that MUSICS matter. Many national sources exist to help us. One international source, which may be unfamiliar to US music educators, is here.

The future depends on making music education more musical, socially relevant, inclusive, welcoming, caring, ethical, creative, and “respecting and valuing multiple styles of learning and multiple ways of knowing.” We must continue to explore ways to make all forms of music making and listening, at all levels, more achievable, accessible, and applicable to all students.

In the long-term, we need to mobilize everyone—students, parents, colleagues, administrators, community members, politicians…EVERYONE—to support the many ways public schooling can contribute to the full human flourishing of every student.

Take Away Message

Today, Hannah Arendt’s wisdom takes on new meaning:

Public education is “where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them [via DeVos’ vouchers and charter schools] from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.” ~Hannah Arendt, The Crisis of Education (1954)

9/11 and Musical Artivism

September 11, 2016.

Fifteen years ago today, a great tragedy swept the nation and rippled around the world. We take this occasion to pause and wonder: Can/should music educators, music students, and community musicians put their creativities to work—in small or larger ways—to commemorate this anniversary, inspire hope for a better world, and/or celebrate the valor of those who bravely serve to protect our communities and nations? If so, why? If not, why not? If so, in what ways?

  • Should students perform and listen to musics that have been created to address and resist political/social tragedies
  • Should students compose music—e.g., songs, rap verse, performance/art pieces—that support people’s social rights and challenge wrongs?
  • Should students arrange musics that were specifically composed as tributes to victims of 9/11 and other tragedies past and present—e.g., Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” or “The Empty Sky”; Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You”; The Beastie Boys “An Open Letter to NYC”; and Neil Young’s “Let’s Roll”?

As you weigh these questions, we leave you with a music video that “performs resistance” and may inspire hope among some listeners and music makers. It affirms that people can make music toward change.

The video is based, in part, on Bob Marley’s “War.” Marley composed  the song in 1976. The lyrics are nearly identical to the speech that Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie gave in 1963 at the United Nations General Assembly. It was the first time that a head of state spoke in the name of Africa at the U.N.  Selassie’s speech called for world peace.  Both Marley’s song and this video echo the need for world-wide positive change.

Maybe our music classrooms and musical communities can/should become—at appropriate times—sites of personal and social reflection and what we might call “artivism,” as practiced by amateur and professional artists in every domain.

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! “Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith. In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these. We must use time creatively.”  Thank you, Dr. King.

10 works or composers I can’t live without

I’m not a tech-savvy person, so I don’t know why a tweet—“10 works or composers you never want to hear again”—from October 7, 2014 showed up on my twitter feed today. But it did. Norman Lebrecht, one of England’s most esteemed (and rightly so) music critics, replied with a list of the 10 works or composers he never wanted to hear again.

At first, I laughed. I scrolled down Lebrecht’s choices, and then I read most of the 150 comments. As I did, my laughter slowly morphed into something more distressing.

I started to feel hurt by some people’s choices. I went back to Lebrecht’s selection. How could he not want to hear Tchaikovsky’s music (except the last 3 symphonies and the violin concerto)? What’s wrong with Messiaen’s music? Bernstein’s Mass? And everything that Puccini created post-Bohème? Really? Is it because this music is overplayed? Badly interpreted? Or, in Lebrecht’s estimation, just poorly composed music?

Then I stepped back and asked myself, Why be bothered by this? I sat and thought about this for a while, and then I realized how and why this “game” turned into a stab in my heart. It wasn’t because I’m overly sensitive. It was because many of these pieces and composers are intimately sewn into the fabric of my personal and musical identities.

There’s a large amount of social and psychological research that examines why and how music and identity are deeply intertwined (see MM2, Chapters 3 and 5).

So part of my hurtful response to this “little game” has to do with my personal attachments and lifelong musical experiences with pieces, styles, and composers that are part of my-and most people’s- emotional, everyday, and autobiographical narratives.

By way of an olive branch, and because I don’t want to seem like a “bad sport,” let’s change the game. I’ll start. Here’s my list of the “10 works or composers I can’t live without”—at least for today. Ask me tomorrow and my list might change.

  1. Mahler’s Song of the earth
  2. Debussy
  3. Bill Evans’s “Some Other Time”
  4. Van Morrison
  5. Prokofiev’s Cinderella
  6. Brahms Ballades Op. 10
  7. While not a composer or specific work, EVERYTHING Jordi Savall performs
  8. Cole Porter
  9. Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” (Headhunters)
  10. Schubert’s “Swan song”

What’s your list of the 10 works or composers you can’t live without?

9 important questions every music teacher should ask

While I was browsing my bookshelf yesterday, I found my old copy of Teaching as a Subversive Activity (Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, 1969). Before becoming professors in New York City, both men had been elementary and secondary schoolteachers for many years.

I’d read the book about 15 years ago. As soon as I saw the big red apple on the cover, I was reminded of the book’s impact on me in 2000, and the many reasons why it was so influential in the 1970s, 1980s, and thereafter.

When I mentioned Subversive Activity to David, he told me he’d read it in 1975, just after he started teaching in the music education department at the University of Toronto. He said:

It made me question all the ways I was teaching my music education students way back  then. Some things I remember clearly are how it emphasizes democratic teaching and learning, the reasons why teachers and students need to develop critical thinking, good “crap detectors,” and a healthy skepticism about assumptions. It was especially important because it explains “ecological classrooms,” and “mind-ing.” Am I right? I remember thinking at the time that, even though these ideas go back to Plato, Aristotle, and all the way up to Dewey and others, the way they [Postman and Weingartner] explained these “new” ideas so clearly meant a lot to many teachers, including me and my students, in the ‘70s.

As I revisited Teaching as a Subversive Activity, I arrived at Chapter 5: “What’s Worth Knowing?” Even though I’d asked myself the same question many times in the past—and even though David and I ask this question on page 1 of MM2, and many other times in our book—I knew immediately that I had to redouble my efforts to help my music education majors think carefully about and practice “minding” two questions: “What’s worth knowing?” and “What’s worth knowing musically?” These questions go right to the heart of the nature(s) and values of music education, community music, and lifelong musical participation.

Postman and Weingartner suggest that to decide whether any question should be asked and answered—by ourselves and/or our students—we should begin by asking questions of the question itself, and continue doing this before and after we teach.

For example, teachers in every subject area would be wise to ask themselves:

1. Will my questions increase learners’ passion for learning?

2. Will they increase their capacity to learn?

3. Will they boost their confidence in their ability to learn?

4. Will they motivate them to ask deeper follow-up questions that require alternative modes of inquiry?

5. Will they inspire learners to search for alternative interpretations of the material they’re learning?

6. Are my questions likely to increase students’ feelings of self-worth, persistence, and resilience?

7. Are they likely to produce different answers if/when learners ask them again at different stages of their educational development? Are they likely to develop students’ critical thinking, “crap detection” abilities, and a healthy skepticism about common sense assumptions?

8. Will students’ participation in “minding” empower them to develop thoughtful answers, and become more collaborative and creative?

These questions are extremely important to ask and think about, because to ask them is to take major steps toward achieving a central aim of all forms of education: developing students’ abilities to find meaning in the world:

There is no learning without a learner. And there is no meaning without a meaning maker. In order to survive in a world of rapid change there is nothing more worth knowing, for any of us, than the continuing process of how to make viable meanings. (Postman and Weingartner, 1969)

How can we connect these questions to music teaching and learning? If we tweak these eight questions in relation to some (but certainly not all) issues involved in teaching music in some localities, regions, and/or nations, we might ask:

1. Will this style of music and/or this type of musicing (e.g., singing, playing instruments, composing with new music technologies) increase learners’ joy in and passion for learning?

2. Will this style of music and/or musicing increase their capacity to learn how to make music and listen to music and find personal and musical meaning in the world now and in the future?

3. Will this form of musicing boost their confidence in their ability to learn how to perform, improvise, compose (etc.) more expressively?

4. Will this kind of musicing motivate them to ask important questions about how to make music more effectively and creatively, which will require alternative modes of thinking and feeling?

5. Will this type of music and musicing inspire learners to develop alternative interpretations of the music they’re performing, improvising, composing, etc?

6. Is it likely that my music teaching strategies will increase learners’ sense of self-worth?

7. Will my ways of teaching music motivate learners to continue making music after their elementary or secondary school years are over?

8. Will my ways of teaching music and musicing enable students to become more thoughtful, sensitive, collaborative, and creative music makers now and in the future?

And there’s one more very important question:

9. Will my ways of teaching music motivate my students to pursue the lifelong goal of full human flourishing, which includes happiness for themselves and others, fellowship, health and well-being, a sense of personal significance, and other “arts of personhood, which include individual and shared capacities and dispositions to act justly toward others” (MM2, p. 52).

Empathy and Music Education

The emotional significance of music has been a topic of scholarship for centuries. For example, Plato and Aristotle believed that happy-sounding music has the power to make people feel happy; sad-sounding music tends to make people sad.

But is this plausible? Yes. Research in the last 15 to 20 years by today’s top music psychologists—including David Huron, Patrik Juslin, and many others—affirm that musical sounds can arouse and express a wide range of emotions. Indeed, today’s top neuroscientists, sociologists, and music philosophers make the same arguments—but with broader and deeper explanations—about many kinds of musical emotions and relationships (see MM2, Chapters 5 and 9).

Skeptics (who tend to ignore current research) usually argue that when people listen to the sounds of instrumental music, there’s nothing to be happy or sad about, because nothing of human consequence has happened in the musical sounds that would cause listeners to feel happy or sad, or any emotion. But skeptics are wrong, because old, simplistic stimulus-response theories and abstract cognitive notions of the nature of emotions and emotional arousal have been replaced by more sophisticated understandings of the relationships between music, emotion, and personhood (see MM2, Chapter 5).

Part of what’s going on is related to the importance of empathy. Empathy is not the same as sympathy, pity, or feeling sorry for another person, or agreeing with someone to make them feel good. Empathy implies that we adopt (consciously or non-consciously) the perspectives or emotional dispositions of another person in an effort to understand and respond compassionately, responsibly, and ethically. Without empathy, people would be strongly inclined to act selfishly, and group cohesion and collaborations would be unlikely, if not impossible; and, at worst, psychopathologies would be common. Thus, many neuroscientists argue that human beings are hard-wired for empathy.

Experts in developmental affective neuroscience tell us that there’s increasing evidence that human infants are born with unified body-brain-mind systems that underpin our ability to develop naturally, informally, and formally the dispositions and abilities to respond empathetically to and for the benefit of others. So, empathy seems to be an innate human propensity. Why else would most parents automatically love and care for their babies, or bond together in families and groups?

In MM2, we discuss the importance of empathy in music teaching and learning. Why? Because in the big picture, music can make huge positive transformations in people’s lives and communities. “Senseless” violence (e.g., the recent mass murder of nine people in a South Carolina church), racism, and other inhuman acts are not “causeless.” These acts can be prevented partly, if not largely, through education. So, we should pause and consider whether we’re “doing fully and rightly by/for” our students and their worlds. Is it enough for kids to learn how to perform accurately, play iPad music, or improvise jazz? We suggest that all of us can and should being doing more.

Education(s) of all kinds, rightly understood, is the constant consideration of the persons in our care. If we truly care about our students and their worlds, if we educate our students towards respect and understanding, then we’d be better situated to help them develop and sustain a socially just commitment to others (see MM2, Chapter 4 and, for example, pp. 268-270).

What does this mean for music education? Being an educative and ethical music teacher includes engaging our students—though all forms of musical engagement—in situations where they can learn and feel reciprocal processes of self-other growth, and the ways their emotions are affected positively and negatively by specific performers, composers, (etc).

Sometimes musical emotions and memories ignite students’ energy, and/or make them feel sad, embarrassed, alienated, or disrespected. In the processes of music making and listening, students and teachers should discuss—from time to time, but never moving music from the center of music education—their musical emotions and the possible causes. The point—which is absolutely NOT about reaching a consensus about what emotions a specific piece of music may arouse or express—is partly about learning how and why musicing environments should be conceived as musical-ethical communities where everyone receives and enjoys respect, acceptance, and personal fulfillment in and through music making.

To build and maintain sustainable and resilient learning environments—to support and enhance students’ confidence, intrinsic motivation, and persistence—an understanding of holistic personhood (MM2, Chapter 5) is an essential part of knowing how, when, where, and how much to teach at any given time. And the key to unlocking these sustainable and resilient learning environments is compassion and empathy through musicing and listening (MM2, Chapter 9).

How? Listeners can, and often do, empathize (consciously and/or nonconsciously) with musical sounds. This occurs because individual listeners mirror, respond to, and simulate internally what they feel a composer and/or performer(s) might be attempting to express emotionally, visually, and so on (MM2, Chapter 9). Through empathizing, listeners may/can feel “as if” they are experiencing the same feelings as the composer/performer(s) themselves. Feeling “as if” may be bodily: for example, synchronizing to/with musical rhythms/feels propels this phenomenon. Sometimes, listeners imagine via empathy what the performer feels when performing and moving with the music (e.g., audiences at a jazz, hip hop, or Taylor Swift concert); sometimes a listener imagines via empathy what a composer in Western classical music or jazz seems to have felt when composing. Performers often experience the same musical emotions for the same reasons. These emotions may be real or imagined; such connections may be felt while we listen or after. In short, affective connections between self and music (whether as a listener or performer) are relational and are imbued with empathy.

In line with contemporary care ethics, empathy is receptive; it’s a non-cognitive assessment of another’s feelings, a state of being and feeling what another may be feeling.

Understanding empathy as an integrated response process of body-brain-mind, cognition, and emotion (and more) is important for education generally and music education specifically. Helping students reflect on why and how they empathize, or not, with various examples of music is a way of helping them to understand their emotional selves. Musically, self-other reflection helps students learn to “read” each other’s expressive musical actions (phrasing, slight deviations in tempi, etc.) in order to collaboratively interpret a piece of music. In jazz, for example, this would be called feeling and creating the “groove” together. When students are alert to each other’s musical contributions through empathy, this often leads to expressive and joyful music making.

Our concept of empathy in music education is a transactional concept of musical emotions, and music teaching-learning, that socially situates students’ efforts to “construct” their awareness (emotional, intuitive, bodily, reflective), as well as numerous musical skills, understandings, dispositions of compassion and empathy, habits of mind and heart, and ethical behavior in and through ecological relationships with their environmental circumstances—personal, familial, historical, social, cultural, technological, racial, gendered, economic, political, spiritual, and many other dimensions of life, whether inside or outside schools.

Because music has enormous powers and potencies for “capturing” us physically, psychologically, socially, cooperatively, and more, shouldn’t music educators teach-for these potentials by teaching empathy in and through musicing and listening?

A must-see for all music educators. Sir Ken Robinson gets it!

The great enemy of schooling today is standardization and all its offshoots—narrow curricula, high stakes testing, and a move to explain the value of the arts in terms of math, literacy, and other so-called “academic” subjects. Robinson explains why this kind of “reform” does not and will not improve the quality of education. He argues that education should be personalized and humanized, not standardized and measured. As we also say in Music Matters, the arts, and specifically creativity as developed through active making in the arts, should be at the center of education. It’s not enough to simply celebrate the fact that music is officially part of the Common Core, because this policy has no teeth. There is nothing in the Common Core policy that obliges administrators to offer the arts in schools. Robinson explains why society ignores the arts at the expense of our future in his new book, Creative Schools.