Those who teach…

October 17, 2009

In an area known as “Music Education” which, for Schools, Conservatories, and Departments of Music means K through 12, there appears to be a national problem. Potentially gifted teachers may not always be the best performers: sometimes yes, sometimes no–and vice versa. So the question arises: if instrumental lessons are required of all future K-12 teachers, from who can they study? Teachers have limits on the size of their studios, and insist on the best student performers; taking a music education “major” who is below the level of many students that were just denied due to lack of space, seems unfair to all those that were rejected, but better performers.

One solution is to have music education majors come from the performers already admitted who are already at a high performance level. Another is to have doctoral students teach the undergraduate MusEd majors. The problem with that is the perceived “upstairs-downstairs” of it all. The best solution is to just hire more teachers; but if you add one more for every instrument in the orchestra, that is a LOT more faculty–That is quite a challenge in slimming-down times.

There are stories of famously fabulous teachers who never performed, and amazing musicians or composers who are terrible teachers.

It’s a puzzlement.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

kacattac October 17, 2009 at 11:19 pm

Seems to me that this is only part of a larger “upstairs-downstairs” problem. When a university music department chooses to invest their resources disproportionately in their performance degree seeking students, it hurts not only music ed majors, but also anyone at the school who is not a music major. Simply offering large “cattle-call” ensembles which do not require an audition is one solution, but this is where the “upstairs-downstairs” problem is real (in my brief experience, much more real inter-departmentally than intra-departmentally).

Sure, most schools’ official policy is that ensemble placement is based purely on ability, so in theory, you can be a “serious” non-major and still play in a “serious” group. But we all know that politics come into play at most schools most of the time. And forget about private lessons; there isn’t even a cattle-call solution here because they’re generally way too expensive to offer to everyone. Class piano and class guitar are a start, but where I went, they were tailored exclusively towards beginners, and the few sections that there were filled up so quickly that you had to be an eighth-year senior to be early enough in the queue to get a spot.

What we’re left with, then, is the “trickle down” theory applied to the music world, a heaping of riches on the few who manage to jump through the right musico-academic hoops at the right time (i.e. the performance majors), accompanied by an irrational expectation that this will somehow benefit everyone in the long run. It should be clear by now that it’s not working. I’m not privy to much budgetary information, so when people tell me it’s simply a matter of money, I suppose I have to listen. But truthfully, I don’t buy it. I think it’s about priorities, about choosing to chase prestige in the form of distinguished alumni who won this or that gig rather than nurturing a musically engaged and active student body throughout the entire institution. Let the private schools chase prestige and give themselves awards; that’s why we have private schools. The conservatory model is incompatible with the scope and mission of a public institution, and hence, in absence of funding for a parallel department, really has no place in it.

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