Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Life in the Pit...(Orchestra)

During my professional performance career I have toured and recorded as an electric bassist with rock and jazz bands, big bands, experimental ensembles for new classical compositions; I have sung with the Minnesota Chorale, performed some vocal solos / duets and even some classical guitar at special events such as weddings. As great and rewarding these experiences are, there is one style of playing, often overlooked by would be pop stars, which exercises the skill sets of musicianship, historical knowledge, and dramatic awareness. That is....  


A pit orchestra is 

Unlike playing in a small ensemble or band, the role of the a pit orchestra is to support the dramatic action in Opera, Musical Theatre, Ballet

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Music Education is not a Commodity

Two excellent and related articles were brought to my attention in the past week. The first by Peter Greene, urging Music advocates to stop defending Music Education on the basis of test scores.  The second by the Hunter Rawlings, the 17th President of the University of Iowa and Classics scholar, who fittingly takes the traditional Classical view of education vs. the detrimental ideology which has reduced Education to a market driven commodity.  Needless to say as a Classical Scholar and Musicologist who teaches in higher ed, the points raised in these articles are all to familiar to me and grounded in the tradition of Educational Scholarship.

Both articles tie into the decline we as college faculty have been experiencing in the recent decade:  students ill-equipped to learn, unwilling to engage in critical thought and when asked, "Why do you want to take my course?" the typical response is something like, "I need to get at least a B to keep my scholarship so that I can afford to get my degree then get a high paying job."  It is becoming increasingly rare to find a student who is actually willing to learn. 
In the Greene Article he echos my Day one lecture in stating:

There are so many reasons for music education. Soooooooo many. And "it helps with testing" or "makes you do better in other classes" belong near the bottom of that list. Here are just a few items that should be further up the list.
Music is universal. It's a gabillion dollar industry, and it is omnipresent. How many hours in a row do you ever go without listening to music? Everywhere you go, everything you watch-- music. Always music. We are surrounded in it, bathe in it, soak in it. Why would we not want to know more about something constantly present in our lives? Would you want to live in a world without music? Then why would you want to have a school without music?"
link to Greene's full article:

These are of course the points made for music education since antiquity.(see my April 2015 post)  The test score defense has long been troubling for professional educators.  As college instructors and employers, we often wonder, "Who exactly is looking at, or cares about, test scores in the first place?"  It certainly is not the educators. 
Educators are looking for students who are willing to learn, work, think and contribute to course discussions. We usually get a good picture of that from student essays one-on-one discussions, and portfolio of work.  But most of there is a spark, a desire to take a chance and learn something new.  

Hunter Rawlings brings to light the importance of active student participation in determining their own success and value, contrary to the common, non-educator view that student success is a passive role dependent solely on the instructor:
The value of a degree depends more on the student’s input than on the college’s curriculum. I know this because I have seen excellent students get great educations at average colleges, and unmotivated students get poor educations at excellent colleges. And I have taught classes which my students made great through their efforts, and classes which my students made average or worse through their lack of effort. Though I would like to think I made a real contribution to student learning, my role was not the sole or even determining factor in the value of those courses to my students...
...Governors and legislators, as well as the media, treat colleges as purveyors of goods, students as consumers and degrees as products. Students get the message. If colleges are responsible for outcomes, then students can feel entitled to classes that do not push them too hard, to high grades and to material that does not challenge their assumptions or make them uncomfortable. Hence colleges too often cater to student demands for trigger warnings, “safe rooms,” and canceled commencement speakers. When rating colleges, as everyone from the president to weekly magazines insist on doing nowadays, people use performance measures such as graduation rates and time to degree as though those figures depended entirely upon the colleges and not at all upon the students. 

Unfortunately many promising students who would excel in college are weeded out through the "black & white" computerized admissions process.   Humans do not look at applications until after a computer has eliminated many promising candidates who have unfortunately had poor test results on a multiple (rather limited) choice standardized test.  Furthermore, those humans who do look at the applications are not educators!  They are not the college and university professors and educators.  Typically the first encounter we have with the applicants is on the first day of class.

There was a time not to long ago when Colleges and Universities were run by educators.  In my own experience, The Dean of College was a post held by a Classics Scholars (e.g. Orlando "Pip" Qualley, and "A. Thomas Kraabel ).  This encouraged an academic culture which encouraged the hard work required by students, which dedicated fulltime educators who pushed students to new heights in critical thinking helping us (often painfully) hone our research and writing skills and open doors to discuss any matter of issues.

Hunter Rawlings provides the appropriate close:
you need a professor who provokes and a student who stops slumbering. It is the responsibility of colleges and universities to place students in environments that provide these opportunities. It is the responsibility of students to seize them. Genuine education is not a commodity, it is the awakening of a human being.