Artistic Citizenship From Beyond the Iron Curtain?

In 2000, Russian French horn player Arkady Shikloper and American French horn player Tom Varner joined forces with the Vienna Art Orchestra on tour. Why? It wasn’t only because of an artistic desire to integrate two distinctly different jazz traditions. These musicians shared a commitment to “putting their musical abilities to work” for the advancement of mutual cultural, humanistic, and political understanding.  After the Cold War and the continuation of a “cold” relationship between the United States and Russia, these two jazz musicians and the Vienna Art Orchestra demonstrated in action “what kind of musician is it good to be” both artistically and ethically. In MM2, we call this “artistic citizenship.” There, we raise the following questions: Do music makers (amateurs and professionals; youth and adults) have a social-democratic responsibility to put their music to work for positive community transformation, including taking steps toward peace and political reconciliation? What kind of music maker is it “good” to be in relation to the natures and values of any musical-social praxis? In the vast complexity of, say, US-Russian relations during and after the Cold War, what role did musicians play, or should they have played, in helping to resolve international misunderstandings? Watch this Youtube video and consider these questions for yourself. (Great thanks to French horn player Dan Remme for bringing this group to our attention.)

Can you think of other examples? If so, let us know and we’ll post them on this blog site.

For a further discussion of the nature and values artistic citizenship, see David’s article in the Music Educators Journal and our discussion in MM2 (e.g., pp. 268-270).


Why Does Music Actually, Really, Definitely Matter?

Perhaps you’ve read current music education advocacy claims like these:

“ . . . to improve the reading, science, and math skills of American children . . . we should be providing them with more music education.”—Blake Madden 

“You want higher test scores in math and science? Music education will help. You want children with higher mental faculty? Music education will help.”—Blake Madden

Similar claims are flying everywhere in the blogoshpere. Some school music teachers couldn’t be happier: “Wow! Yes! Now we can relax. Finally, we have hard, indisputable, scientific evidence that music education really counts! No more touchy-feely nonsense.”

This is the first of several blog posts we’ll devote to (a) unpacking incomplete, inaccurate, and “truthy-sounding” advocacy claims about the values of music education, and, more importantly, (b) providing credible evidence about why music definitely matters.

This is not to say that music education advocacy is an unimportant pursuit, or that all advocacy materials lack credible supporting evidence from serious researchers. Not at all. Some do. But many do not. Madden’s blog post is just one among many that make misleading and/or unsupported claims, as we’ll explain in a future post on this site.

For now, let’s make two important points. First, we agree with eminent music education researchers and music psychologists like Dr. Donald Hodges, Director of the Music Research Institute (MRi) at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, who urge music educators to be very thoughtful before accepting “truthy-sounding” claims about possible relationships between music and academic achievement: “I think we would be better off being more honest. What do the data really say? Those on either end of the spectrum—from those who want to hold that music is ‘pure’ and does not have anything to do with other academic subjects to those who feel that ‘music makes you smarter’—would do well to wrestle with the complexities that are being reported in the literature.” (Personal communication to us from Don Hodges, 8/15/2014).

Second, we also agree with Hodges when he argues forcefully that “We should teach music for all the wonderful humanizing benefits that accrue, and if academic achievement is affected positively, that is extra value added.” (Personal communication to us from Don Hodges, 8/15/2014).

But what are some of the “wonderful humanizing benefits that accrue” during and through the processes of effective, educative, and ethical school and community music education? An excellent practical example is demonstrated in a YouTube presentation (see below) by the extraordinary trumpeter Alison Balsom. Balsom explains how musical participation can contribute to personal and community flourishing, which is a fundamental concept at the heart of our praxial philosophy of music education in Music Matters (e.g., pp. 17-21 and 43-52).

After beginning her presentation with a performance of Debussy’s Syrinx at Royal Albert Hall, Balsom explains and illustrates—with real-life examples—how children’s active musical participation can “engage, empower, and repair” their personal, social, and community lives. At one point, she argues that music has the potential to “heal” in numerous ways, a statement that receives considerable support from numerous contemporary researchers in a wide range of fields (*see below).

Toward the end of her presentation, Balsom shows a short film of her work with AfroBrass that focuses on facilitating children’s personal and community flourishing and overall health and well being through active music making and educationally caring relationships between Balsom, her colleagues, and the children. The children’s narratives detail how AfroBrass has made significant differences in their lives.

Is it possible that some children do not benefit from participating in AfroBrass? Probably. Must we consider that this film is carefully edited? Yes. Nevertheless, it provides tangible evidence that, for many, this community music program is making a significant difference in the lives of these children. Moreover, as Balsom and her colleagues testify, their own lives and “personhoods” have been transformed deeply through their participation in the AfroBrass program.

Are there more programs like this? There are thousands. Are school music educators carrying out this kind of work? We know many who are. But we’d love to hear more on this topic from readers who are already involved in putting their musical abilities “to work” in their schools and communities for students’ full human development and flourishing.

In a recent article in the Music Educators Journal David explains why Balsom’s kind of music teaching—which is equally possible for school, community, and amateur music educators to carry out in their own schools and communities—might be thought of as “musical citizenship” or “artistic citizenship.” A central tenet of artistic citizenship is original to John Dewey, who argues that we need to “recover the continuity” between the arts and the normal processes and needs of people’s everyday lives. Are there ways we can add social and ethical weight to some of the things we do? Yes, of course. Balsom’s teaching is only one example. Indeed, the term “artistic citizenship” is not restricted to the educational or musical work of professional artists or “stars.” As we explain fully in Music Matters (e.g., pp. 268-270), the concept of “artistic citizenship” can and should apply more broadly to the music that all people (students, teachers, amateurs, and professionals) perform, improvise, compose, arrange, conduct, record, and teach for a wide range of human purposes.

*Contemporary researchers in the neuroscience and neurobiology of music, music psychology, public health, human development, nursing and occupational therapy, emotional development, psychiatry, and so on substantiate Balsom’s claims in Music, Health, and Wellbeing, edited by Raymond MacDonald, Gunter Kreutz, and Laura Mitchel. The 34 chapters in this volume provide more evidence to support the kinds of arguments Balsom discusses.


“Teaching”: What Does it Mean?

When people use the word “teaching” in everyday talk, or when they attempt to define what teaching means, they often overlook some basic facts about the verb “to teach.”

In Chapter 1 of Music Matters, 2nd ed., we explain that “to teach” is a transitive verb. A transitive verb is an action verb; the action “transfers” something from one or more objects, or people, to another, as in “I love you.” In the latter, “I am not just ‘loving’ per se, but I am loving you” (David Blacker, 1978, Dying to Teach, p. 48).

In contexts of formal schooling and informal teaching and learning, where a “teacher,” taken in the broadest sense (e.g., a school teacher, professor, coach, mentor, facilitator, parent, etc.) advances and empowers a person’s understanding of something, or his or her abilities to do something, “teaching” is always transitive.

According to the praxial philosophy of music education we propose, teaching of any kind—e.g., in school or community music settings—always involves at least five inter-dependent dimensions: (1) one or more teachers. . . who engage in (2) acts of teaching, including informal, formal, or any other act of ethical teaching or mentoring . . . (3) something (skills, abilities, concepts, dispositions, critical thinking, creativity, respect for others, etc.) to (4) another person or persons with (5) the conscious intention of developing a person or persons’ abilities, concepts, dispositions (etc.), and empowering learner(s) personal abilities to construct their own thinking-doing abilities from teaching-learning encounters.

As David Blacker (1978) states, “From this perspective, teaching literally makes no sense without the ‘Other’ who is to be taught” (p. 49).

If teachers understand this, says philosopher David Carr (2000), they’ll see why it’s nonsense to say, as slogans often do, that “one teaches children, not subjects (or vice-versa)—for there could hardly be any coherent notion of teaching which did not implicate both learners and something to be learned” (Professionalism and Ethics in Education, p. 5). Carr continues: “In this respect, it is arguable that at least some of the vaunted differences between so-called traditional or ‘subject-centered’ and progressive or ‘child-centered’ educationalists have their source in a simple grammatical error [i.e., the failure to understand that ‘to teach’ is a transitive verb]” (p. 5).

Because this is a very brief note about the verb “to teach,” it’s absolutely necessary to add more inter-dependent dimensions. Obvious conclusion: teaching, which should be educative and ethical, is an extremely complex process. This isn’t news. But with the above in mind, perhaps the complexity of teaching is a little clearer.

Takeaway point #1:

Simplistic dualisms in education (i.e., teaching children and/or subjects) and music education are identifiable by the word “and.” For example, mind and body, thinking and feeling, philosophy and practice, perception and response, performing and listening, skills and understandings. Properly understood, all of these should be conceived as unified processes: mind-body; perceiving-responding; performing-listening; skills-understandings—all of which involve many additional considerations. Unifying “binary oppositions” will go a long way to improving music educators’ conceptual-practical work. So, Down with dualisms; Up with unified thinking-doing, etc.

Takeaway point #2:

It’s obvious to any teacher reading this very brief discussion that we’ve omitted a huge number of the most difficult, real-world, everyday challenges of what “to teach” actually means and involves, which we could summarize, for now, as “contextual” factors.” More about the incredible importance of “contexts” in future blogs.

For now, it’s worth reading one everyday, pop media source. Yep, it’s simplistic, especially because it omits the unique challenges surrounding music teaching. Nevertheless, it serves to make a point that the general public usually doesn’t understand, let alone value: that teaching is among THE most difficult and stressful of all professions.

“Most teachers deal with lots of job stress. They have to be well prepared every day, and they get very little down time—none, really, while students are present. Many people think that teachers have good working schedules, but teachers take a lot more of their work home with them than other professionals. There are always lessons to plan, papers to grade and records to keep. In addition, the pay isn’t much, compared to professions with similar educational requirements. Increasingly, public school teachers face additional problems of lack of respect from students, and even from students’ parents and the general public. Because they’re paid with tax dollars, public school teachers are always under scrutiny. Few professionals are judged as closely as teachers are. Emphasis on test scores finds teachers held accountable if their students don’t improve each year—even if the students may be hampered by factors outside the classroom.”—Linda C. Brinson (2006). 10 Most Stressful Jobs in America. Retrieved from:

Talent or Practice? Both and Much More

As most music educators know, there’s a longstanding debate about whether the ability to perform music at an expert level is due more to talent or practice. A recent article in the NY Times (July 14, 2014) discusses a paper in Psychological Science on whether talent or practice is more important for achieving an elite level of performance. Based on a meta-analysis of 88 studies across several domains (i.e., music, sports, games, etc.), the paper claims “deliberate practice” explains only about 20-25 percent of the difference between elite and amateur levels of music performance. In other words, says the Psych Science paper, talent is the key. Contrary to the Psych Science paper, however, seminal research by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson (1993) argues that practice explains about 80 percent of the difference between elite performers and committed amateurs. Are both right, or wrong? Do talent and practice account for different percentages? Or is there significantly more to developing performance abilities than these and similar studies claim?

Before offering some perspectives, we must emphasize that because we’re writing this blog from the viewpoint of our praxial philosophy of music and music education, as explained in Music Matters: A Philosophy of Music Education 2nd ed., we are not primarily concerned with developing students’ ability to perform at an elite—“Gotta get to Carnegie Hall!”—level of ability. We’re centrally concerned, as we think public school music education and community music programs should be, with fostering lifelong music making of all kinds; with enabling and empowering students’ musical understanding—musicianship + listenership—toward joyful and meaningful “amateuring” through performing and all other forms of music making, as well as listening. Of course, our philosophical stance and practical guidelines don’t rule out teaching students to develop their performing abilities to the highest levels they wish to attain. But again, this isn’t our primary concern in discussing the nature and role of performance in music education. Now back to the research studies in question.

First, it’s important to consider that all domains of research are vulnerable to objections from the outset because researchers’ methods and the central concepts they investigate (e.g., talent, practice, creativity, expressiveness) are inevitably limited by the ways they define the concepts they investigate and the specific training, methods, and assumptions they use in their research. So a serious first question we need to ask about any “talent vs. practice study” is this: How carefully, logically, and comprehensively does researcher X explain what he or she means by talent and practice, or deliberate practice? Which brings us to the next point: Taken together, there’s still no consensus among scholars in psychology, music psychology, music philosophy, and the neuroscience of music about what “musical talent” actually is. And there’s no consensus on what musical aptitude is, or how best to “measure” it, if that’s even possible. For example, it’s easy to determine when someone is playing in tune, with rhythmic accuracy, and so on. It’s quite another thing to “measure” whether a musician is performing expressively, let alone creatively. Surely “elite” performing has a lot to do with a musician’s ability to interpret and perform a score expressively and creatively. But discussions of talent and practice rarely examine these aspects of performance.

Second, a meta-analysis of only 88 studies—88 studies across several domains!—can’t possibly provide a solid basis for answering the question, “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?” or the Blue Note Jazz Club (NYC), or the 9:30 Rock Club in Washington, D.C. Thus, argues Ericsson in the NY Times article, “if you throw all these kinds of practice into one big soup, of course you are going to reduce the effect of deliberate practice.”

Third, most examinations of talent vs. practice fail to consider carefully the many kinds of “musical thinking and knowing” that constitute “musical understanding,” viewed holistically. In chapter 6 of MM2 (pp. 206-231), we provide a detailed explanation of our concept of the 16 kinds of musical thinking and knowing (MTKs) that music performers and other music makers acquire (if educated properly) and require to perform competently, proficiently, or expertly. These MTKs range from action skills (techniques, routines, etc.) to verbal and nonverbal experiential and intuitive understandings, to interpretive abilities, and so on, all of which must be absorbed into one’s actions as a performer.

Fourth, developing students’ performance abilities most likely includes establishing and/or facilitating many types of music teaching-learning conditions including (but not limited to): continuous experiences of joyful and meaningful practice sessions related to an excellent teacher’s coaching and formative assessments of progress; sustained motivation; repeated opportunities to apply the results of one’s practicing in satisfying “flow” experiences of musicing with others; teaching and performing contexts that build students’ individual perseverance, resilience, and sense of self-worth—qualities that are essential for overcoming personal and professional frustrations and failures; encouragement from significant and supportive others; positive teacher-student bonding; access to inspirational musical models—inspirational musicians/teachers often ignite student’s musical aspirations; opportunities to perform for various audiences in different venues; and teaching that encourages students’ expressive interpretations and performances of scores.

Bottom line: It seems fair to say that music educators at all levels should be reasonably skeptical about studies of any musical topic; research is not always as “right” as it may seem. Yes, researchers of all kinds have made HUGE contributions to music education, the development of musical expertise, etc. But many studies are weakened by their methodological inability or failure to take holistic views of the people, topics, and problems they study.


1. “Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions A Meta-Analysis

2. “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Talent”

3. “It Takes Talent, Determination, Good Teachers, and Deliberate Practice”

Music Matters: A Philosophy of Music Education is now available

We are excited and proud to announce that the second edition of Music Matters: A Philosophy of Music Education has been released and is now available for purchase.

New to this Edition:

  • Expanded introductory chapters, and new chapters on education, personhood, musical understanding, musical processes and products, and musical emotions
  • Additional principles and examples for implementing the authors’ praxial approach
  • Cutting-edge research in music philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and curriculum

Buy the book now from Amazon.

Music Matters Section Summary, Part Three: Music and-as-in Education

The second edition of Music Matters: A Philosophy of Music Education is divided into three parts (see the Table of Contents). Over the last few days, we have posted summaries of the first two parts.  This is the third (and final) summary before the book’s release on June 23, 2014.  The first two parts are linked below:

Part Three: Music and-as-in Education

In Part Three of this book, we explain why conventional forms of curriculum development are inappropriate for music teaching and learning. We argue that music educators and CM facilitators require a systematic, flexible, and interactive way of organizing music curricula to accommodate the natures and values of music, musical understanding, and musical processes and products. On the basis of the philosophy of music and music education developed in Part Two, and a concept of curriculum commonplaces, we propose a four-stage approach to music curriculum making that attempts to explain why and how music curricula ought to be organized and carried out as reflective musical practicums.

Clearly, the values of MUSICS and MUSICS education are several and profound. And they are unique to musicing, music listening, and the multidimensional nature of musical products. And if this is so, then there can be no doubt that MUSICS education has a significant contribution to make to society in general and the education of school and community music participants in particular.

Read the summaries of all three parts of Music Matters:

You can also view the complete the Table of Contents and buy the book

Music Matters Section Summary, Part Two: Musical Processes and Products in Contexts

The second edition of Music Matters: A Philosophy of Music Education is divided into three parts (see the Table of Contents). In the coming days, as we build to our release date, we will be posting a summary of each of these sections.  These will offer you a preview of the ideas and theories that we explore in the book.

Part Two: Musical Processes and Products in Contexts

In Part Two, we consider the natures and values of musical understanding, musical processes, musical products, musical experiences, creativity, and musical values. Among other proposals, we suggest that musical understanding depends on two inter-related and mutually supportive categories of embodied musical knowing: musicianship and listenership. The sixteen interrelated types of musical thinking and knowing that make up the musicianship and listenership of each musical praxis and each form of musical understanding allow musicers and listeners to perform, create, and express many kinds of praxis-specific musical products (compositions, arrangements, improvisations, performances of each and all, etc.).

From our praxial perspective, musical products can embody and communicate a wide variety of meanings, including artistic-structural, emotional, representational, cultural-ideological, narrative, autobiographical, and ethical meanings. Of course, what and how musical products embody and convey their meanings depends on the socially situated nature of the musical people, processes, products, and contexts involved. From this viewpoint, musical products offer musicers and listeners numerous ways of expressing, responding to, and making musical, personal, social, political, gendered, and other meanings during musical experiences and events.

Following our considerations of musical understanding and musical products, we focus specifically on the nature and values of musical-emotional experiences, musical values, and musical creativity.

Altogether, Part Two suggests that when school music teachers and CM facilitators engage with learners educatively and ethically—when we teach in, about, and through music—musicers and listeners of all ages, everywhere, gain multiple ways of pursuing their needs and desires for full human flourishing, or “eudaimonia,” which includes (but is not limited to) personal, artistic, social, empathetic, and ethical growth and fulfillment; lifelong and lifewide musical “particip-action” with and for others; health and well-being for oneself and others; social capital; self-efficacy and self-esteem; happiness for oneself and others; and a means of serving one’s community as an artistic citizen committed to acting artistically for social justice. In this view, participating in musical praxes is an exquisite way of growing, thriving, experiencing, and contributing constructively to one’s worlds.

In addition to these values and “goods” of musical praxes, musicing, listening, and musical products extend the range of people’s expressive, responsive, and creative powers. When music education and CM are carried out educatively and ethically, with care and respect, people have opportunities to formulate personal-musical expressions of their deepest feelings and cherished beliefs and give artistic-cultural form to their powers of thinking, knowing, and valuing.

Given the profound richness of musicing and listening, this praxial philosophy argues that musicing and listening are also significant insofar as musical products play an important role in establishing, defining, delineating, and preserving a sense of community and self-identity within social groups. Musical praxes constitute and are constituted by their cultural contexts and the social bonding that occurs in and through acts of musicing and listening of all kinds.

Additionally, teaching and learning a variety of Musics comprehensively, as music cultures (through a praxial approach), amounts to an important form of socially inclusive, democratic education. Entering into unfamiliar musical cultures activates self-examination and opens possibilities for self-growth and the transformation of one’s relationships, assumptions, and preferences. During ethical processes of intercultural music education, guided by practical wisdom, or phronesis, teachers and learners can confront and reflect critically on their prejudices (musical, personal, social, cultural, political, and gendered) and face the possibility that what they believe to be universal is not. In the process of welcoming learners into unfamiliar musics, music educators and CM facilitators link the primary values of musics and music education to the broader goals of democratic-humanistic education.


Read the summaries of all three parts of Music Matters:

You can also view the complete the Table of Contents and buy the book

Music Matters Section Summary, Part One: Foundational Matters

The second edition of Music Matters: A Philosophy of Music Education is divided into three parts (see the Table of Contents). In the coming days, as we build to our release date, we will be posting a summary of each of these sections.  These will offer you a preview of the ideas and theories that we explore in the book.

Part One: Foundational Matters

In Part One of this book, we propose that school music educators and community musicians should consider the interrelationships between music, education, and personhood. Because music is made with and for people, people are at the core of all musical transactions. Hence, we are against foundational thinking that conceives of music narrowly—as nothing more than pieces or “works” of music alone. Musics result when persons engage in critically reflective actions and active reflection within musical praxes, at specific times within specific cultures. And depending on those times and cultures, musical praxes refine and redefine themselves in relation to the people they are made and created for. Indeed, musics are embedded in and derive their nature and significance from their contexts of production and use. Even the structural properties of musics owe their characteristic features to the reflections of practitioners and theorists who work at particular times in the history of their music-cultural belongingness. Accordingly, musics are thoroughly artistic-social constructions. MUSICS, considered globally, are the diverse human praxes of making diverse kinds of musics for different kinds of participants and listeners. And EDUCATIONS, considered globally and carried out as praxes, refers to all possible instances, forms, and transactions of educative and ethical teaching and learning.


Read the summaries of all three parts of Music Matters:

You can also view the complete the Table of Contents and buy the book

Diane Ravitch’s Grand Synthesis Explains the Collapse of Test-Driven School Reform

This spring, once again, Diane Ravitch nailed the spirit of our education age. Addressing the Network for Public Education (NPE) conference, Ravitch came with an uplifting message. Corporate reform has failed. A new era of school improvement is dawning. Many of its leaders come from today’s youth. They are the new “Greatest Generation.” Today’s young people, having endured the brunt of test, sort, and punish, are not going to silently take it any longer. They demand schools worthy of our democracy.

Welcome to the Music Matters Website!

This website is a companion piece to the Music Matters: A Philosophy of Music Education 2nd Edition published by Oxford University Press.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posting updates, an online glossary of Music Education, links to additional resources, and much more.

Thank you so much for visiting our website and for your interest in our book.  We look forward to an exciting dialog with our peers and the entire Music Education community.

David J. Elliott and Marissa Silverman