Love Trumps Hate

In the midst of today’s extremely serious and tragic social, political, racial, gendered, and other conflicts, can amateur and professional music makers and school and community music programs contribute to positive social and community transformations?

Yes. To demonstrate our solidarity with and support for all those who are suffering, we’ll post one example of active music making for positive social transformations every day from today (08/16/2017) until the American Labor Day holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.

If an important part of positive social transformations includes exposing social injustices and preparing future music makers to “put their music to work” for human betterment—as many classical, pop, rock, and hip-hop performers and composers (and others) are doing now and have done for decades—then we begin to see the potential of what we and others call “artistic citizenship education.”
So artistic citizenship goes beyond academic talking and writing about social justice because it emphasizes actions for transformation. “Intellectualizing”—reading, writing, and discussing—do not by themselves move people to take meaningful embodied and social actions for social change. This point is extremely important for educating our students’ dispositions to participate (now or in the future) for social change. To motivate people to join a social movement of any kind, small or large, it is essential that they engage in some kind of action. For example, students in school and university music classrooms can learn to compose, perform, and record songs, or create musicals and/or other kinds of musical events that challenge a wide range of social injustices.

Engaging in some kind of action is essential because “people’s personal identities transform as they become socially active, and actions for social justice create new categories of participants, and political groups: identities modify in the course of social interaction” (McAdam, Tarrow, & Tilly, 126). As Jean Anyon (2005) says, “One develops a political identity and commitment … from walking, marching, singing, attempting to vote, sitting in, or otherwise demonstrating with others” (142).

Musical actions of all kinds, small and large, often rise to the level of what Stephen Duncombe calls “ethical spectacles.” An ethical spectacle is a “dream” imagined (“I have a dream,” said Martin Luther King) that is made concrete when members of social movements of all kinds—including music makers of all ages and levels—participate democratically in creating the spectacle. Their political aims are expressed in their means of protest. (171). Duncombe cites the example of the civil rights movement in which leaders often modeled their interracial “beloved community” in the ways they actually organized and carried out their protests, which included singing and playing music. In these cases, music was not an escape; it was not usually a “staged” performance but participatory music making (Turino 2008). Its meaning was in the actions of transforming the oppressors and the oppressed.

A musical-ethical spectacle “demonstrates” against oppressions. Ethical spectacles help to disrupt cultural hierarchies, build safe communities, promote diversity, and engage with reality while asking what new realities might be possible (Duncombe, 126).

Our students can—we believe they should learn to think critically about and, we suggest, be prepared to—engage in music making to create small and large ethical spectacles in/for their schools and communities.

Crucially, if we conceive “music” not as a noun with rigidly encoded power relationships, but, instead, as a process of mutual music making, shared musical-ethical responsibilities, and reciprocal musical power sharing toward a joint social project involving sympathy and empathy, then we might find a major path to reconciliations through groups that make musics together. This is already happening in many schools worldwide.

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.

5 Examples of Music for Humane Values

Music and music education can yield a wide variety of humane values, including the following:

1. Brass for Africa: Music can engage, empower, and repair.

2. The North Jersey Home School Association Chorale is an award-winning chorus directed by Beth Prins. Prins teaches music as a vehicle for “doing good” in the world. For example, as part of their schedule of events when touring France one summer, they performed at special-needs schools, private boarding schools, juvenile detention centers, homeless shelters, and gave two charity concerts to raise money for the victims of a recent earthquake in Haiti. According to their personal testimonies, the singers make music for “civic goods.” In their minds, their voices embody their personal and collective sense of mutual care, community, and spirituality.

3. Jahmir Wallace and his trumpet provide a moving example of helping a person to make a life of personal and communal significance and meaningfulness.

4.  After graduating from the University of Toronto in the late 1990s, Mary Piercey chose to become a school and community music teacher in a small Inuit community on the western shore of Hudson Bay, in the Region of Canada called Nunavut. When Piercey arrived in Arviat, it was an impoverished, hopeless, drug-infested wasteland.  To make a long story short, and largely because of Piercey’s skillful and imaginative use of musics in the service of social activism and artistic citizenship, the people and the traditional culture of Arviat and the surrounding region began to heal and blossom.

5. Performing, composing, and improvising music—among other musical engagements—can assist people with physical, psychological, neurological, emotional, behavioral, and social challenges. One example of music making for well-being is found at the 30th Street Men’s Shelter at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital. In any given music therapy session at the 30th Street Men’s Shelter there is a revolving number of participants. While the unit usually consists of 30 men, the number of participants in any given session varies, depending on the men’s needs and desires. They are not forced to go to music therapy; they go because they want musical-communal interactions. The sessions focus on musical improvisation. Percussion and string instruments are placed in the center of a session room. When the men walk into a session, they are free to choose whatever instrument appeals to them on that given day. They sit down and, as they wait for the session to begin, they play their chosen instruments, reacquainting themselves with musical materials. Research supports the claim that the men experience transformative communal engagement, and a feeling of power and control over their own lives.

While some people may assume that the values experienced in each of these cases are extra-musical—values such as a sense of community, well-being, social healing, and spirituality—they are not. They are all MUSICAL values because they are products of personal and group music making and listening.

Distinguishing between “musical” and “extra-musical” values makes little sense. The eminent UCBerkeley musicologist Richard Taruskin argues that the musical/extra-musical divide yields more harm than good. He states: “music regarded as set off from the world is still in the world, doing worldly work…musical meaning [arises] out of relation between music and its many contexts.” To characterize these meanings (namely, all results from musical experiences) as “extra-musical” is as illogical as it is pretentious.

Relatedly, music education philosopher Wayne Bowman states that to distinguish between musical and extra-musical value misses the mark entirely. All values, states Bowman, are functions of “the differences they make: the ways they enable people to thrive.” And whether or not music does achieve this potential depends on the ways it is experienced. We agree with Bowman when he says that music does not automatically “make people smarter, or more sensitive, or more perceptive, or better citizens.” It all depends. It depends on so many variables, too numerous to mention here.

Musics are a hub of social, emotional, personal, and worldly interactions. Any values we derive from or experience through music occur because we engage in and feel the results/benefits of music making and listening. In other words, “we make it true” that one or more musical values happen in/to us when we participate in musics.

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.