The Staples Singers Will Take You There

In the midst of today’s 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 until the American Labor Day Holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.

Freedom…Don’t Give Up

In the midst of today’s 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 until the American Labor Day Holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.

Take Care of Each Other

In the midst of today’s 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 until the American Labor Day Holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.

Challenge Stereotypes

In the midst of today’s 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 until the American Labor Day Holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.

What We Need Is Love

In the midst of today’s 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 until the American Labor Day Holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.

Gimme Some Truth

In the midst of today’s 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 until the American Labor Day Holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.

What’s Going On?

In the midst of today’s 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—especially today in sympathy with and profound sadness for the many victims of a terrorist attack in Barcelona, Spain—we’ll post one example of active music making for positive social transformations every day until the American Labor Day Holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.

 

Love Trumps Hate

In the midst of today’s 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 social betterment includes exposing all forms of injustice and preparing future music makers to “put their music to work” for positive social transformations—as many classical, pop, rock, and hip-hop performers and composers (and others) are doing and have done for decades—then we begin to see the potential of what we call “artistic citizenship education.”

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 actions for change. To motivate people to join a social movement of any kind, small or large, it’s essential that they engage actively.

For example, in addition to learning to make and understand music, students in school and university music programs might—should?—learn to compose, arrange, perform, and record songs that expose and challenge a wide range of injustices. These are concrete, reflective-musical “doings” that have the potential to develop students’ lifelong dispositions to act positively for change.

Engaging in some kind of action is essential because people’s 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’s made concrete when members/supporters of socially just movements—for example, is there an action-group called “Music(k)ing Educators for Freedom and Justice”?—participate democratically in creating the spectacle. Their actions express their resistance. (171).

Duncombe cites the example of the American civil rights movement in which leaders often modeled their interracial “beloved community” in the ways they organized and carried out their protests, which included singing and playing music in local, regional, and national situations. In these cases, music making and listening were not only emotional escapes and sanctuaries; performances were not usually “staged”; instead, music making, listening, and moving were participatory. The music and social meanings of ethical spectacles are embodied and expressed in the actions of transforming the oppressors and the oppressed.

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

Our school students and future music educators can—we believe they should—learn to think critically about and be prepared to create small and large ethical-musical 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 social projects involving sympathy and empathy, then we might find major pathways to social reconciliations.

Teaching Composing in the Classroom

My own composing efforts began during my middle-school band classes in the early 1960s. Along with many other youngsters, I was given classes with a young composer named R. Murray Schafer, who documented our experiences and conversations in The composer in the classroom (1965). Here is a follow-up documentary of a similar program that Schafer offered in 1969 in a 7th grade classroom in Canada.

Although I was not aware of “democratic teaching-learning principles” then, this is what Schafer modeled (see, too, Schafer’s thoughts from 2006).

But he was not unique, by any means. Composing and arranging projects, with mutual teacher-learner respect, and dialogues, were also regular parts of my secondary school curricula (1963-1967), punctuated with occasional visits by professional composers.

What I valued then, and what I advocate and teach now, is that to learn composing effectively, intelligently, and joyfully, students need continuous opportunities to interact with their peers as fellow music makers and listeners, and to hear their efforts interpreted and performed musically (not merely “produced”).

In addition, Music Matters emphasizes opportunity-finding and formulating, rather than just carrying out musical assignments. By this I mean encouraging students to research and generate their own innovative pieces to perform on their own, or in peer ensembles; generate multiple approaches to interpretive, improvisational, and/or compositional problems; plan innovative interpretations; generate plans and sketches of musical arrangements; edit given compositions or arrangements—all of these in continuous relation to music listening so that students gain understandings of the style frameworks in which they are creating or “crossing over.” All of this can be done in relation to composing pieces about important moral, political, and ethical problems in students’ lives and in our contemporary world. Doing so is common in visual art and English literature classes where students create paintings, poems, and stories for these same reasons. I suggest that all these strategies align with James Mursell’s concept of democratic teaching and teaching for democratic citizenship.

Music education for musical creativity requires sustained periods for students to generate, select ideas, rework, and edit their interpretations and arrangements. During these processes, I state that we need to avoid undermining our students’ motivation, thinking, and enjoyment by gushing-over, hovering-over, or taking-over while students work at producing creative musical results. I state that guiding students toward creative achievements calls for a music teacher-as-coach, advisor, and informed critic; not teacher-as-proud-mother, stern father, or “know-it-all big brother.”

Teaching musical composition and creativity is worth doing for the sake of the self and others. As we say in Music Matters:

The internal goods and values of musicing are not abstractions. Through the progressive development of musical understanding with musical and educative teachers and facilitators, all students can achieve human flourishing, communal well-being, an empathetic sense of self-and-other, as well as a sense of meaningfulness, enjoyment, and a creative way of life.

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.