2020 GRAMMY Music Educator Award Winner is Mickey Smith, Jr! Great thanks to all the music teachers nominated and to those that weren’t: YOU help all your students be seen, heard, and loved! And for that, we celebrate YOU!
Last post, we raised the previously asked question: Why might music education matter? This is a difficult question, especially when attempting to answer it quickly. Because of this, the entire book, Music Matters, examines many of the answers to this important question.
Still, regardless of how difficult it is to answer this complex question, we need to continue to seek out answers. Because of that, take note of this story:
Why might music education matter? We’ve asked this question before. And it’s a serious question that every music educator should ask and answer multiple times every single day.
So, why might music education matter? In previous blog posts, we have noted that added-value claims like “music makes us smarter” and “music improves tests scores” are problematic for lots of reasons. We won’t go into that again now.
However, what we do know for sure is this: “Happiness” matters! More carefully stated: How you feel impacts how you do! So, it’s not that music makes us smarter. Musical experiences – of many different kinds – can impact students positively in many different ways. Therefore, if/when students are positively “tuned” through active music making and listening, they tend to do more things “better.”
So, what seems to propel students’ improved performance in schools—including the ever-dulling experience of “test taking”—is being in a positive state, which can result from many forms of stimulation during the time it takes to complete cognitive tests. As the eminent researcher, Ellen Winner says:
It turns out that if they [test takers] prefer to listen to a Stephen King story, and you let them listen to a Stephen King story, they also do better and rate themselves as more positively aroused. This is entirely consistent with what many cognitive psychologists have shown: that being in a state of positive arousal [or flow experience] improves performance on cognitive tests.
Logically, then, if students are engaged in something they deem to be positive, they are more likely to want to participate in whatever “it” is, both inside and outside of school. So, it makes perfect sense when Brian Kisida, an assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Missouri’s Truman School, says:
Take away message: Allow students to experience joy of many kinds. And importantly, we don’t teach the arts in schools so students will do better on tests. We teach the arts in schools so students will experience personal, artistic, social, empathetic, and ethical growth and fulfillment; health and well-being for oneself and others; social capital; self-efficacy and self-esteem; happiness for oneself and others; and a means of engaging positively with/for one’s community and the world.
Today is Mother’s Day. As we stated this time last year, that’s reason enough to celebrate some connections between music, mothers, and their children.
Mothers begin their connections to their unborn child while pregnant. Notably, by the last trimester an unborn child has fully functioning hearing. Not only can unborn children recognize a mother’s voice, they can differentiate this voice from any other. As Ruth Fridman explains, singing to an unborn child establishes “a prenatal bond which contains tenderness on the part of the parents to be, a promise of protection, and the wish to see and hold the baby in their arms . . . It is of great significance for babies to hear music . . . during the gestation period. The mother’s emotional expressions benefit both herself and her baby.”
Moreover, parents and other adult caregivers are predisposed to interact with their infants by means of emotionally charged proto-musical vocalizations, or “motherese” (sometimes called baby talk, parentese, and so on). Motherese combines variations of pitch (melodic-type contours), timbre, rhythm, and accents that are the sonic building blocks of more sophisticated adult singing (such as lullabies). Because humans acquire the ability to distinguish changes in pitch and loudness in utero, it’s not surprising that infants learn to match some proto-musical elements after repeated parent-infant interactions.
Caregivers use motherese for all sorts of reasons: to comfort, arouse, communicate, and play in caring and loving ways with and for their pre-linguistic infants. The musical-affective characteristics of adult-infant interactions establish and strengthen emotional bonds between caregivers and infants. Motherese also includes proto-musical play, and proto-musical play gives infants a way of engaging in and acquiring the foundations of social competence and confidence in a safe, risk-free, enjoyable, and participatory context that is fundamental to the development of their social cognition and “domain-general cultural competence.” If such emotional bonding or “primary intersubjectivity” fails to occur via early motherese and proto-musical interactions, infants may suffer.
The values of motherese–both before child’s birth and after–are clear. In a highly social species like ours, an infant’s chances of surviving depend on “fitness” beyond physical fitness, namely, “cultural fitness” and social-emotional fitness. These qualities follow from parent-infant bonding and primary intersubjectivity and anchor an individual’s ability to interact cooperatively with others and contribute to group cohesion.
There are numerous projects world-wide that cherish the early relationships mothers create with their unborn children.
For example, in a women’s prison near Oporto, Portugal, early childhood music specialists help incarcerated mothers learn lullabies they can sing to their infants to promote mother-infant bonding.
Additionally, meet “The Lullaby Project.” According to Carnegie Hall:
The Lullaby Project pairs pregnant women and new mothers with professional artists to write and sing personal lullabies for their babies, supporting maternal health, aiding child development, and strengthening the bond between parent and child. In New York City, the project reaches mothers in hospitals, homeless shelters, schools, and at Rikers Island Correctional Facility. Extending across the country and through several international pilot programs, the Lullaby Project enables partner organizations to support families in their own communities.
Thank you, Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)!
Thank you for Respect, and so much more!
Thank you for your voice. A song is much more than a song. And Franklin tapped into tone, texture, lyrics, and more for all sorts of messages and meanings. As Simon Frith notes, it’s not just what singers sing, “but the way they sing it.” And Franklin’s voice–her Respect–isn’t just a voice, but a voice that embodies self-respect, and therefore demands and commands self-other respect.
Thank you for your spirit. Franklin’s regal-ness shown through each and every appearance, performance, and recording. Yet, her overwhelming joy in life, as expressed through her appearances, performances, and recordings, helped listeners experience the thrill of the moment and beyond; helped listeners understand and appreciate a sense of freedom; helped listeners engage with the values of feminism; helped listeners tap into their sexuality; and helped listeners feel love.
Thank you for your activism. Whether it was to lend support or a song to a cause, you were there.
Franklin’s 76 years on Earth bookended a grand arc of tumult, letdowns, progress, setbacks, terror, and hope in American history. That in itself might not be a remarkable feat so much as a reminder that all black people older than 53 have seen and lived through hell. But Aretha—and that first name is sufficient, as it was in black churches and parlors for half a century—was an architect of a movement as much as a witness to it. She toured with the actors Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier to raise money for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967, when the organization was in dire financial straits and was attempting to embark on a Poor People’s Campaign. She was an activist who strained to keep a movement going even after King’s assassination, and who worked to support the Black Panthers and attempted to post bail to free the activist Angela Davis from jail. She loved black people. In this country, that simple fact was radical enough.
But most importantly, thank you for being YOU!
Ms. Franklin’s respect lasts for two minutes and 28 seconds. That’s all — basically a round of boxing. Nothing that’s over so soon should give you that much strength. But that was Aretha Franklin: a quick trip to the emotional gym.
Music educators, as you start to plan out your school year: How will you celebrate Franklin’s voice, her passion, and her ability to stand up for each and all?
Meet the Killard House School. Located in Donaghadee, North Ireland, the Killiard House School’s motto is: “Together We Can.” The school is dedicated to providing for special needs students with moderate learning difficulties, speech language difficulties, and those on the autistic spectrum. The teachers, staff, administrators, and community work together as a team—or “family,” as the school states—to meet the diverse needs of their students.
In December, 2016, the school’s choir programmed Leonard Coen’s “Hallelujah” with Christmas-themed lyrics. The soloist, then 10-year old Kaylee Rogers, is a Killard House School student and a member of the school’s choir. About her performance, the Principal of Killard House School Collin Miller stated: “For a child who came in and wouldn’t really talk, wouldn’t really read out in class, to stand and perform in front of an audience is amazing.” Music education can transform lives. This performance is just one example.
On August 16, 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. stated these prophetic words:
What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.
Yes, power without love IS abusive. As hopeless as things may seem at any given point in time, we should turn, again, to Dr. King who urged: “Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. … Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.”
Can Music Help?
As we state in Music Matters, music making and listening can contribute to a sense of cooperation, bonding, and interrelatedness. The Playing for Change organization knows this well, and takes this even further. By uniting diverse musical communities through song, the group also values and appreciates the integrity and diversity of the musical fabrics of various musical communities.
As the organization states: “Playing For Change is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music. The idea for this project came from a common belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people.” The organization travels the globe “filming musicians in their natural environments … spreading peace through music … creating Songs Around the World, and building a global family.”
What might the world look like if we all honored and celebrated each other through song?
We have faith in the future; most of all, we have faith in all the peoples of the world. So, in celebration of each and all, we hope “Gimme Shelter” will further inspire faith.
“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” ~ Irish Proverb
Given that it’s the holiday season, we thought it important to ask, again: Why engage in music education? One answer is that music education potentially paves the way to a “good life” — a life of happiness, creativity, fellowship, personal meaningfulness, self-knowledge, care for oneself and others, ethical relationships, and other values that occur at the intersection of music making and human life. In combination, these values make up the ancient Greek concept of “eudaimonia.” Music education philosopher Wayne Bowman puts it this way:
Music, and therefore education in it, is crucial to human flourishing, or eudaimonia as the ancient Greeks called it. Music teaches us things about our common humanity that are worth knowing, and renders us less vulnerable to forces that subvert or compromise human well-being. Studying and making music changes who we are and what we expect from life.
Do we know examples of music education that can lead to eudaimonia for every person? Yes. There are many. Here’s one.
Music and a “Good Life”
Meet music educator Adam Goldberg. Goldberg teaches at PS 177 in Queens, NY, a school that serves exceptional children. The mission of the school is based on its “new core standards” or CARE: Communicating, Applauding, Researching, and Educating. All these “standards” are, frankly, what good teaching-and-learning should do: harness the potential of the entire community to help students be their most complete selves, both now and for the future. Goldberg sees music making as a fundamental means for achieving this important lifelong goal.
Through active music making, Goldberg’s students not only achieve musical understanding. They achieve a pathway to eudaimonia, and a shared engagement with/for others through music.
Thank you, Adam Goldberg!
Thank you to all music educators who care for others and their communities…
Excited to join the Rhode Island Music Education Association at their Conference: Music for Every Child: Diversity and Social Consciousness in Music Education. There, we’ll be speaking on: Advancing Social Justice through Music Education.
Common sense notions of “social justice” imply the uncovering of injustices, imbalances, and untruths in order to support and promote a more equitable social order. Beyond conventional wisdom, what is “social justice” and can we conceive of social justice and “artivism” for music teaching and learning in concrete ways? Our presentation will focus primarily on philosophical underpinnings for advancing social justice through music education. But we will provide practical examples and strategies for justice-ing music teaching and learning.
Come join us!!!!
PROVIDENCE, RI – On Saturday January 13, 2018, the Rhode Island College Department of Music, Theater, and Dance, the Rhode Island College School of Social Work, and the Rhode Island Music Education Association will co-sponsor a conference titled “Music for Every Child: Diversity and Social Consciousness in Music Education” in the John Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, 600 Mount Pleasant Ave., Providence, Rhode Island. Designed for music educators at all levels, this conference will combine national, regional, and local experts in the fields of music education, social work, and community-driven arts programs to explore how to meet the musical and social needs of the diversity of students in southeast New England.
Topics will include social justice, behavioral supports and resources, and social and emotional learning, among others.
For more information, a detailed list of sessions and speakers, and to register for the event, please visit www.rimea.org/pd. The $40 registration fee includes lunch. College students may register for a reduced price of $15.
To learn more about this event, please contact: Dr. Robert Franzblau, Professor of Music, Rhode Island College; 600 Mt. Pleasant Ave., Providence, RI 02908; Office: 401-456-9514; [email protected]