Another Music In Our Schools Month®

According to NAfME, March is Music In Our Schools Month® (MIOSM®). Because of this, let’s revisit some of the values of music. And know the values of music have become increasingly clear. Why now and how so?

During pandemic-based online classes last Fall, one of my graduate students announced: “I’m so grateful to have a job; but I hate teaching music online. I miss seeing my kids’ faces; I miss being with them; I miss making actual music in an actual room with one another.”

Another said: “Nothing, no online virtual choir, can take the place of feeling-through live music making together.”

Another said, in tears, “I’m trying so hard to be positive, but I found myself crying after teaching chorus online today… music is a human art. Not connecting with students through music makes me feel like a part of me is missing…”

Beyond hearing from teachers in NJ, I visited a kindergarten music class online this time last year. I won’t go into the entire class’s musical happenings. But at the very end of the class, one student refused to leave the class’s online “room.” The teacher said: “But class is over. It’s time for you to go to your next class.” The student said, “Yeah but I’ve created a song for you. Don’t you want to hear it?” How could the teacher not have allowed her to perform her song? So on the spot—it was quite clear she just didn’t want to leave, and did what she could to keep their time together going—this student proceeded to make up a “song” and sing, “Mr. Wallington, I love you, and I love music class, and I want to sing and sing and sing all day long…”

So, why were music teachers crying? Why was this kindergarten student doing everything in her power to stay in music class?

The real question is: Why does music matter related to one’s education? Or, stated differently, Why does music matter for one’s life? Here are 3 values. They aren’t the most comprehensive. Still, they’re potential values to all kinds of music making and sharing.

  1. Self-other understanding. Experiencing and expressing oneself through music and accepting and receiving an other through music. This understanding depends and is contingent upon many factors. When I experience and express myself through music—when I compose a pop song, perform in an ensemble, or dance through, say, West African drumming, singing, and dancing—I gain a sense of self-knowledge (and self-other knowledge), self-growth (and self-other growth), and self-esteem I couldn’t gain otherwise. Why? When musical challenges meet (or slightly enhance) my abilities, I experience flow (also known as optimal experience). “Flow” describes a kind of experience that’s so engaging that it’s worth doing for the doing itself. The arts and sports are typical sources of flow. What sets musics apart from all other sources of flow and self-other understandings is the unique materials and requirements of musics, namely sonic-musical events created and shared by and for others at specific times and places.
  2. Community. A key value of music, music sharing, and music education is community. Music connects us to those we engage with musically. There are numerous reasons for this. First, music making can be emotionally engaging and arousing. When I’m emotionally engaged, I’m likely to connect with those who are part of this emotional engagement. Also, I become in-sync with others. Being in-sync connects me to others I wouldn’t otherwise be connected with. Relationships form because of musical experiences, and a community is born. With that can come trust, care, commitment, fellowship, well-being, and so on. The value of community yields exponential dividends. However, this isn’t the only kind of community that music education yields. By engaging with musics written by and for others—for example, Mahler’s 1st Symphony, the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Snow (Hey, Oh),” “Siyahamba,” or Ellington’s Black, Brown, and Beige—I can connect to people, places, and times far removed from my own here and now. That kind of time/space travel and communality is greatly rewarding.
  3. Happiness. A key value of musical engagement is happiness, or, stated differently, Aristotle’s notion of “human flourishing.” While some may think that happiness is a “soft” value like “fun,” it’s not. Happiness is the pursuit of a life well lived. Living well isn’t simplistic or easily achieved. So, when engaged in music making and sharing, we contribute to our life’s happiness. What more can be said about music and happiness? Perhaps it’s something only to be felt and experienced. So, listen, make, and engage – with, in, and through music.

So, to celebrate MIOSM®, allow yourself to know and feel that music education matters. Our profession matters when things in the world seem to be going smoothly. However, our profession matters even more when things in the world seem to be difficult and challenging. Indeed, when we engage in the teaching and learning of music, we provide avenues and pathways that can help our students to understand themselves and one another.

Great music making and listening provide important reminders for why we need to “show up” for each other each and every day. Let’s harness this world’s uncertainty and remember what’s important: Being present for each other. And music making, listening, and sharing can help us get there; we just need to be open to its numerous benefits.

Women in Music

Suzanne Cusick, Susan McClary, and Lydia Goehr; to name only a few of my favorite feminist musicologists, theorists, and philosophers. Prior to the pandemic, I was thrilled when I’d suddenly find myself riding in an elevator with Cusick (though I was too shy to introduce myself); I was equally grateful to have given Goehr a ride back to her Columbia University apartment from my own institution; and, while I have not yet met McClary, I can likely quote from her brilliant book, Conventional Wisdom, as I’ve read and re-read it so many times. Needless to say when I saw the call for papers for the Feminist Theory and Music (FT&M) 2022 Conference, I was scared, excited, anxious, and filled with a “why not throw your hat in the ring” attitude. Because I’m not a trained musicologist, nor a theorist, I couldn’t have imagined they’d allow me to present. Long story short: They did!

According to the FT&M’s mission statement, “The study of music from the perspective of feminist theory raises significant questions that transcend the methodologies of any one subdiscipline of music. Feminist Theory and Music (FT&M) has met biennially since 1991 to provide an international, transdisciplinary forum for scholarly thought about music in relation to gender and sexuality, as well as for performances that present such thought in sound and embodied action.”

So, in addition to some amazing thinkers, movers, and shakers within music history, music theory, performance practice, gender studies, philosophy, jazz studies, and cultural anthropology, while at the 30th Anniversary of the Feminist Theory & Music Conference at the University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada), I met musicologist, pianist, and educator Anneli Loepp Thiessen. And I feel privileged to have heard her paper, “B is for Beyoncé: Picture Books as a Tool for Intersectional Music Education.”

As described via the conference website:

Feminist education invites students to investigate their own intersecting identities, and opens conversations around the systems of oppression that have led to women’s erasure from various spheres of society (Vickery and Rodriguez, 2021). For elementary music instructors, feminist education mandates a robust acknowledgement of the diverse contributions of women in music. In what Hess (2015) identifies as a “ground up” approach, this content should not be limited by era, genre, race, or ability and rather should encompass women’s contributions to many facets of music. Bound by male-dominated syllabi, an outdated classical/popular hierarchy, and colonial limitations of merit (Ewell, 2020), many instructors struggle to begin this crucial task.

This presentation demonstrates that picture books are a powerful tool for elementary music lessons by highlighting women’s diverse identities and musical experiences in an immersive way. Tough topics such as racism, homophobia, and sexism are made accessible through stories that invite readers to identify their own positionality and imagine a new future (Swartz, 2020). Visual and literary aids provide a resource that captures the nuances of women’s experiences, beyond what a traditional lesson can offer. Books on figures like Ella Fitzgerald (Kirkfield, 2020), Celia Cruz (Chambers, 2007), and Miriam Makeba (Erskine, 2017) compel students to consider the impacts of racial injustice, industry discrimination, and political turmoil on women’s experiences of music making. This presentation will outline how music picture books can be an effective tool for decolonizing education, promoting equality in music making, and illuminating the profound contributions of women in music.

Her children’s book, The ABCs of Women in Music—with gorgeous illustrations by Haeon Grace Kang—is a treasure trove of great female music makers/generators/thinkers. And each page is filled with endless possibilities for music educators to teach nearly each and every aspect of music. Especially ripe for elementary general music teachers—nay, any music educator—all one needs is a little imagination to help catapult a variety of classroom music lesson plans, classroom creativity, classroom publishing, and more.

As described:

Meet Clara the composer, Ella the jazz singer, Selena the pop star, and Xian the conductor!
Women in music are brilliant, creative, brave, and resilient. They are composers, conductors, singers, musicologists, electronic music producers, and so much more … [M]eet 26 remarkable women musicians who collectively span over 1,000 years of music history and represent a diversity of cultures, races, professions, and abilities. Their incredible stories and beautiful work are sure to inspire a new generation of musicians!


I cannot recommend this book enough.

Teacher Appreciation Week

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week! And our teachers deserve our sincerest gratitude!

I can’t speak for all teachers, and won’t try. However personally, this was a difficult and challenging year. And while I never (NEVER) again want to be forced to teach via zoom, and am grateful for every in-person interaction I’ve had with students—especially those that forced me to challenge the what, why, and how of my own teaching—damn, this year was a lot.

So, to remain balanced and not be too harsh on myself, I have been taking solace in my students themselves, in their uniqueness, in all the ways they teach me about all kinds of educational and musical matters.

At the start of every semester in all my undergraduate classes, I survey the students about their musical identities. It’s a way for me to learn a little about them, but also to learn a lot about musics I don’t likely know.

So, at the start of Teacher Appreciation Week, and from me to you, here’s what  my students taught me about being in the world through music. The result is a playlist of what they and I consider our pasts, presents, and futures. This particular class is not large (which is why I’m sharing this playlist with you over another class’s musical identities). And I will not tag them nor name them (as that would not be cool). But if your identity is featured here, you know who you are.

This Teacher Appreciation Week I’d like to thank all the teachers! Especially my students. For me, you’re my greatest teachers.


Music In Our Schools Month®

According to NAfME, March is Music In Our Schools Month® (MIOSM®). I don’t think there is a music educator out there who doesn’t wholeheartedly believe that each and every day should acknowledge, highlight, and celebrate music—and lots of music—in schools. Whether it be through improvising over the chord changes to “C Jam Blues” in a jazz combo, remixing Lauryn Hill’s “Everything is everything” with a Jimi Hendrix solo, singing a sea shanty, or salsa dancing, music teaching and learning matters in schools. Why?

Because the pursuit of musical meaning and meaning making can help us become—to use the words of James Mursell— “stronger, better, happier, more cooperative” people who may succeed at being human and humane. Therefore it makes sense to make more music, and to make it more and more.

So let us sing out loud and sing out strong during the month of March and every month throughout the year! Musical being and being musical can help us build a life worth living. Let’s try to remember this when faced with that which gets in the way of building that life.

We teach music in schools so students will experience personal, artistic, social, empathetic, and ethical growth and fulfillment; health and well-being for oneself and others; self-efficacy and self-esteem; happiness for oneself and others; and a means of engaging positively with the community and the world. In fact, to celebrate MIOSM® let’s promise to find ways that we—ourselves and our students—can experience joy of many kinds in school through music.

Music education matters. Our profession matters when things in the world seem to be going smoothly. However, our profession matters even more when things in the world seem to be difficult and challenging. How so? When we engage in the educative teaching and learning of music, we provide avenues and pathways that can help us understand ourselves and each other.

Great music teachers provide important reminders for why we need to “show up” for each other each and every day. For the remainder of the school year, let’s harness the uncertainty as best as we can and remember what’s most important: Being present for each other through music.

Music Education Amidst Uncertainty

Music education matters. We cannot say it more plainly than this. And Music Matters (2nd edition) gives amble evidence for why this is the case.

The profession matters when things in the world seem to be going smoothly. However, the profession matters even more when things in the world seem to be difficult and challenging. Why? Because when we engage in the teaching and learning of music, we provide avenues and pathways that can help us understand ourselves and each other.

These below highlighted GRAMMY award-winning music educators know the above to be true. And they provide important reminders for why we need to “show up” for each other each and every day.

Regardless of how many years you’ve been a music educator–1 year, 15 years, or 30 years–we are ALL first-year teachers again this school year. Let us harness this uncertainty and remember what’s most important: Being present for each other through music making.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Given the current state of the world, Mother’s Day this year feels very different. For the most obvious reason: We are physically separated. Still, this actual distance does not necessarily mean distant. So, let’s celebrate moms; especially those beyond our reach.

Once More: Music Matters Because People Matter

We are living in trying times. Around the globe, people are isolated, panicked, quarantined, unwell, and uncertain about what tomorrow may or may not bring. Despite this, and regardless of social distancing, there are wonderful stories that showcase the unification of spirit and soul. And many such stories include music making and sharing from professionals and amateurs alike.

As experienced via Twitter, Yo Yo Ma stated and shared the following:

Similarly in Italy, and even though the country is on lock-down, people nationwide are coming to their windows to sing. Yes, sing! Singing for those who are at “ear’s length,” singing for themselves, and singing for all of us around the world to communicate that hope and joy are ever-present in the hearts and minds of those confined at home.


Also, like the above-mentioned model of Yo Yo Ma, and in order to provide comfort and solace in their community, two young Ohio cellists serenade on the front porch of a quarantined neighbor.

Speaking of confined at home, for public and private school students who are no longer be able to perform school concerts, performances, and musical theater productions, Broadway star Laura Benanti called such students to share their songs with her via social media.

We could provide dozens and dozens more examples where people are coming together via social media through music making and sharing. Let’s not forget music’s potential power to unite, communicate, and transform for good. Even when we are seemingly on our own, we are united and can be even closer. Indeed, while at home practicing social distancing, Pink treats us with her rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.” As she stated via Instagram: “Free concert slash piano lessons from my heart to yours … To make you feel my love 😍 rehearsals.”

Let’s remember we are responsible for one another, even at a distance…