Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Concerning After School Instrumental Music Programs

The following concerning the negative academic and devastating economic impact which results in moving curricular instrumental music lessons from curricular daytime to after school has on student academic success, affordability and the reduced ability they have in participating in extra-curricular activities.

IMPACT TO LESSONS

An objection often raised pertains the logistics of how and when lessons are taught during the school day.   This objectiion stems from the historically mistaken view that instrumental music is somehow inferior to "rigorous academic disciplines" [see my related articles linked below]. Nonetheless, schools have traditionally employed a system in which students attend a brief 15 minute lesson once per week, either from an assigned study hall time (preferred), or from a rotating class schedule (1st period week one, 2nd period week 2...etc).  While this might seem an inconvenience to teachers of other disciplines in disruption of class time, exams, quizzes, and other active participatory exercises, these minor issues can be planned ahead of time in cooperation with the instrumental music instructor. Furthermore if there is concern with the academic success of the student in that other discipline, keep in mind that most students are resilient and clever enough to catch up on the missed material in 5 minutes after school with their teacher.

If a school decides to forgo this traditional system and opt instead for after school lessons, think for a moment how a school would have to  accommodate the large number of students already in the instrumental music program.  For example how would a school place just 16 students. If  doubling up students for 15 minute intervals per lesson slot beginning at 4:00, this averages about 8 students per hour with the last 2 lessons finishing at 6:00.  In a school with 200 students in a program, Lessons would have to be held every night of the week until 9:00 pm to accommodate them all. Keep in mind that as instrumental music is historically and cognitively recognized for its central role in academic success, we can expect many more students willing to participate.

Even more pressing: What are the expectations for those students scheduled for a 5:45 after school lesson? Do they go home after school then come back for a 15 minute joint lesson?  Or can any school afford to keep the students on site and focused on homework or other extra curricular - where will that money come from?

In the case of my family it takes about 20-25 minutes to drive to and from our school.  Would my child after returning home, do as much homework as possible, then get back into the car for another 20 minute ride back to school, 5-10 minutes to park and set up, take a 15 minute lesson, then head home in another 20 minutes? 

Would s/he then be expected to settle him/herself in before finishing up homework, lessons, chores, practice, etc?  This would result in less free time and less sleep for the young scholar and negatively impact the health and mental preparation on assessments. In short, 15 minutes from class time vs. 60-75 minutes of study, practice time, does not seem a viable academic trade off.

COST TO FAMILIES AND SCHOOL REVENUE

As Instrumental music programs are acknowledged as one of the best investments a school can provide for their students, a short sighted move in pushing these programs to after school raises yet another potential cost for the school and to families.  For the school which decides to save money by outsourcing instrumental music to a private organization,  There is an added expense:

For example, one organization in the eastern metro which provides 15 minute lessons and a once per week 1/2 hour ensemble practice, charges nearly $700 per student for the entire school year.  For a school which already has 100 students involved in band or orchestra, that is about $70,000 paid to an outside source for about 20 total hours of ensemble practice and 10 total hours of lesson time for the school year.   

If the school decides to pass along that expense to the families of students, rather than provide for a dedicated instrumental music teacher, That is more financial burden for the families, and diminishes their capacity or willingness to dedicate more donations to the school. Keep in mind families already have to cover the expense of a good quality student instrument.  Trial-purchase or rental programs (offered through such companies as Schmitt Music, Eckroth, Groth, Cadenza et al.) range between $25 - $75 per month making a possible additional cost to students $300-$900 per year. (a good quality beginner band / string instrument typically costs between $1,000 - $2,500 dollars new) Thus a a family with two (2) students in band can expect to pay about $2,000-$2,500 per year.  Many of these families are also involved in athletics and extra-curricular activities. But the initial expense makes the possibility of generating any new development funds from them difficult.

IMPACT TO TEACHERS

Even if families could overcome the logistical issues, any school will be hard pressed to find qualified band and orchestra directors willing or able to participate in such a program.  First, as the established norm is for band, orchestra and lessons to be undertaken during the school day, professional music educators spend their evenings , when not with their own families, teaching private 1-on-1 lessons, attending rehearsals: choir, theater, church/synagogue, bands, orchestras etc.  in preparation for performances. 

Evening and Weekend hours are a significant part of the band director lifestyle and already tenuous income.

Rather than take an academic step backwards, any school would do best to take steps toward establishing an education model which incorporates an in-house band and orchestra program by hiring full-time directors, and proper rehearsal space.   Elementary band during recess is the norm. Jr. and High School should have a dedicated period during the day.  

On the whole, the false promise that a school will save money and improve academic success by moving lessons and ensembles to before or after school, is ill-conceived.  Rather, the suggestion appears to be intended to kill off band and orchestra programs and diminish the recognized academic excellence these programs deliver.

THE IMPORTANCE OF MUSIC EDUCATION

It is difficult to make a case for the importance of instrumental music in academics when the common view of music itself is a frivolous hobby suitable merely for entertainment whose ultimate value is measured in album and ticket sales.  

When we direct our minds to how music is actually used in our world, the simplistic view that music is entertainment is revealed to be mistaken.  Think about it this way: Were music not important in western civilization, advertisers would not use music in commercials, movies would be devoid of soundtracks, there would be no worship music, no military or pep bands, no music to "psych one up" before a game or "relax" after a long days work, there would be no cheer leading, we would hear no chants at political rallies,  authors would make no mention if music in their literature, and many advances in science would have been missed.   Far from being a frivolity of entertainment, understanding music through instrumental music equips with one with a means to discover the nature of sounds and its effects on the human mind. These ideas lead Plato to promote the formal study of music in his Academy and as a necessary step in education before delving into the greater mysteries of Philosophy--i.e. the promotion of Discovery and Intellectual Curiosity.  Today we have the benefit of science research to find answers to those questions first raised by Plato.

Unfortunately for the past 20+ years we are now witness to an a age where nearly two generations of public and charter school educated students have been raised with this mistaken belief that music is somehow inferior -- unworthy of study,and that music programs are a distraction from subjects like Math and Science or promote a purely business minded ethic.  This seems to be the impetus for the proposed elimination of school day lessons. 

First lets look at what this statement does.  It divides and ranks the disciplines into categories of worthiness.  This worth is based upon the perceived market driven assertion that good scores in Math and Science will help one get a job.  Aside from the negligible effect of brief class time absence, One glaring problem is that decisions made from purely market driven principles are incompatible with the aims of Education. Those who maintain this belief demonstrates ignorance of 2,500 year academic tradition.

Sincerely,
Xen Sandstrom-McGuire
Saint Paul, MN

Related articles:

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

No Cuts to Kids - St. Paul Public Schools

Dear members of the SPPS Board;
[...] 

Like many St. Paul residents, we really do want our children to attend the local public schools, but the decisions made by the administration and school board over our time as St. Paul residents have given us no reason to believe that Education of all students is the primary concern of the board.  Nor does there seem to be any creative vision regarding marketing the assets owned by the SPPS – particularly regarding the facilities which are ready to accommodate vibrant instrumental music opportunities 4th – 12th grade.

For those of us interested in Academics and who also teach in higher education, we have been witness to the decline in academic preparedness which have coincided with recent decisions made by school boards over the past 15 years.   In this email I will address two important the introduction of iPads into the classroom and cuts to elementary instrumental education pushes us away. If you want to close the achievement gap, attract students to SPPS, increase parent volunteers – Fix these two things.  Below is a more detailed account.

1) Regarding Instrumental Music Programs and (moving from 7 to 6 period days) – actually loses money for the school.


When we consider the broader arts and music tradition community in the Twin Cities metropolitan area which boasts two (2) world renown symphony orchestras, thriving Choral and Jazz traditions, a pop music scene in which it seems practically every other person is in a band, a 24 hour Jazz and Classical radio stations, -- need I even mention the recent loss of our own public schooled artist, Prince? 

The Twin CIties should be embracing our music heritage and encouraging our music programs. New Orleans, Memphis, and Davenport, Iowa, are not the only cities renown for Music on the Mississippi - The Twin Cities are at its Headwaters. –And St. Paul is BEST primed to tap into this market.


Instrumental Music programs are a major draw in attracting students to schools. With the increased fracturing of public education through school choice, we have endued up with a lot of little mediocre schools vying for the same money and ultimately offering the same limited classes (with a non union teaching force and larger class sizes). Worse yet, In practically every case for these schools, instrumental music programs are left out. The financial burden for those who acknowledge the benefits of instrumental music education is pushed onto those parents who can afford it. Those who cannot are robbed of equal access to what was once considered a necessary component of a complete education.


Now, I imagine most St. Paul Public School facilities still have a suitable band/orchestra room and auditorium, This places them in the BEST position to attract and retain students who value a high quality education.  Build the music programs and we will return
Here is a link to the famous 2004 Edina Schools report which conclusively demonstrated that cutting Instrumental music programs actually LOST money for the school. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByHj5sz29bwwd2Z3NUc3VjNrMFE/view?pref=2&pli=1



More links regarding the peer reviewed and scientific benefits of instrumental music found here:



2) Regarding iPads:
The introduction of iPads issue is a major set back from any Fiscally educated or Academic minded citizen. The push for having the iPads seemed to be giving all kids access to technology, so they are prepared for the work environment. The thing is, the extent of the usage

I see from entering college students, with the iPad or even a desktop computer is really something that can be learned in just 1 day on the job.

They know how to "click and drag": but they do not comprehend the inner workings of the computer / processing. When they do a "Google Search" for their research projects, they do not understand that the same limited principles of "Targeted Advertising" narrows their exposure to a diversity of perspectives, based upon their own interests (many do not see a difference between websites lthat provide opinion based answers vs. actual peer reviewed journals - Come to think of it, a growing number of adults do not seem to realize that either. -

What I expect both as a college educator and an employer is that if the SPPS are shelling out, what is it 7-8 million a year on iPads as part of the technology budget, then all of these students should have some skill in manipulating the programs at the Mac equivalent of a Shell scripting. -- Even shell scripting is fairly simple and straight forward provided one has learned the analyze syntax and grammar of any human language.

Finally , from my college instructor perspective.  I teach in the humanities.  Increasingly I have been finding students who really are not prepared for college study and open classroom dialog  At the start of each semester I ask my students, "Why are you taking this class."  15 years ago, about 80% of my students would respond that they want to learn about different perspectives, things that they don't know and want to apply to their own field so that it helps them and the world.
Now I am lucky to get 1 student who provides me with that answer.  The typical response of my college students is now, "I am taking this class to fulfill my liberal arts requirement, and by the way I need to get a 3.0 in this class so that I can keep my scholarship) so that I can get my degree, so that I can get a good job and make money. It is also heartbreaking because these students typically do not put in the work required to keep their 3.0 -- They do not seem to understand the value of delving into the breadth of human knowledge; how to integrate it into their own fields  So that they can be successful in their careers.  It is not the piece of paper which gets them the job, but they transferable skills and knowledge they bring.
This is where the elementary, middle school and high school climate should focus.  Yes indeed economics and personal finances are a huge factor in decisions, but the road to getting their is not necessarily based upon acquiring job specific skills. That said, here is an op ed from the 17th President of the University of Iowa, Hunter Rawlings, on why we should not treat education as a "commodity"
Thank you for your time in reading this.  Please demonstrate some vision so that we can Build St. Paul Public Schools and contract the exodus of students.
Sincerely,
Xen Sandstrom-McGuire

Friday, May 6, 2016

Building Instrumental Music Education in Saint Paul, Minnesota

Regarding the proposed cuts in the Saint Paul Public Schools Budget:
Instrumental Music programs are a major draw in attracting students to schools. With the increased fracturing of public education through school choice, we have endued up with a lot of little mediocre schools vying for the same money and ultimately offering the same limited classes (with a non union teaching force and larger class sizes). Worse yet, In practically every case for these schools, instrumental music programs are left out. The financial burden for those who acknowledge the benefits of instrumental music education is pushed onto those parents who can afford it. Those who cannot are robbed of equal access to what was once considered a necessary component of a complete education.
Now, I imagine most St. Paul Public School facilities still have a suitable band/orchestra room and auditorium, This places them in the BEST position to attract and retain students who value a high quality education. 
When we consider the broader arts and music tradition community in the Twin Cities metropolitan area which boasts two (2) world renown symphony orchestras, thriving Choral and Jazz traditions, a pop music scene in which it seems practically every other person is in a band, a 24 hour Jazz and Classical radio stations, -- need I even mention the recent loss of our own public schooled artist, Prince? 
The Twin CIties should be embracing our music heritage and encouraging our music programs. New Orleans, Memphis, and Davenport, Iowa, are not the only cities renown for Music on the Mississippi - The Twin Cities are at its Headwaters. 
There is a ready market for Music Education waiting to be tapped by the St. Paul School Systems. Re-build the music programs, put your marketing expertise to good use and the SPPS will grow again.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Music Education Advocacy

Below are some sources I have compiled for music education



STUDIES AND RESEARCH
Music and Cognitive Development
from Northwestern University summarizing the lab research of Dr. Nina Kraus
The Music Instinct - PBS documentary and Interactive site, based on the book by Philip Ball

Behavioral and Neural Correlates of Executive Functioning in Musicians and-Non Musicians June 2014
Improved effectiveness of performance monitoring in amateur instrumental musicians , September 2013

Status Report: Music in the Edina Public Schools. April 2004. - the seminal financial and pedagogical argument for keeping music programs in schools.

ORGANIZATIONS

Minnesota High School Music Listening Contest - Involves over 1,000 of the brightest students in Minnesota - A challenging contests which covers, history, writing skills, spelling, and of course 2,500 years of Repertoire.
TEACHING MATERIALS
MUSIC HISTORY

Overview of Western Music History (from Ancient Greece -> Present)
Essays on the Origins of Western Music - David Whitwell
Thesuarus Musicarum Latinarum - Source readings in music spanning 3rd thru 17th Centuries CE.
Keeping Score Interactive - 6 Famous Orchestral Compositions
Digital J.S. Bach - Canons, Fugues and more
Listening to Music with Craig Wright. Yale Courses Online (Youtube videos)

Science Appreciation and the Study of Music http://www.xenmcguire.com/2015/12/science-appreciation-and-study-of-music.html
Esperanza Spalding describing Ancient Greek Music Theory - i.e. the origin of Science




MUSIC THEORY & AURAL SKILLS
Aural Skills Training
Music Theory Online
Online Chromatic Tuner (Java app) 

SCORES and STREAMING
International Music Score Library Project
 (public domain music scores)

KSJN 99.5 - Classical Music Streaming from Minnesota Public Radio
A Treasury of Early Music - Online Streaming Medieval, Renaissance, Early Baroque (ca. 800-1650)
Baroque 24/7 - Online Streaming Baroque Era (1600-1750)
Contemporary Classical - Online Streaming of 20th and 21st Century Music. (ca. 1900 - present)

SUGGESTED READING
Primary

Aurelius Augustinus. De musica liber VI. Studia Latina Stockholmiensia, 147. ed. and critical English translation by Martin Jacobsson  Stockholm:  Almqvist & Wiksell, 2002. 

Boethius. Fundamentals of Music. Translated with introduction by Calvin M.
Bower and edited by Claude V. Palisca. New HavenYale University
Press, [1989].

Galilei, Vincenzo. Dialogue on Ancient and Modern Music. translated and introduction by Claude V. Palisca. Yale University Press. 2003.

Masi, Michael. Boethian Number Theory: A Translation of the De Instituione
Arithmetica.  Rodopi: Amsterdam, 1983.

Secondary

Wagner, David L., "The Seven Liberal Arts and Classical Scholarship." In The Seven Liberal Arts in the Middle Ages; edited by David L. Wagner. 1-31. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.