Music education for the sake of music education is of course our goal! But we need to advocate for it in so much more of terms of the warm and fuzzy “making kids want to go to school.” “Joy” in school is of COURSE important, but we are doing so much more than creating joy and opportunities to be proud of. Music education friends, this argument that we have been using is failing.
Also, it’s not enough to talk about how music helps kids to do better in math and science – it’s a weak, cliched argument that doesn’t talk about how important MUSIC is.
While actively engaged in Musicking (v. actively participating in music. Listening, watching, performing, organizing, analyzing etc. – this term was coined by Christopher Small) our brains are bilaterally engaged – forging connections, creating and strengthening pathways between all of the important memory centers, language centers, the anticipation receptors, pleasure/fear/emotional receptors. NO other activity lights up the brain like music. Tons of research points to how music actually changes the landscape of the brain. More here and here
It’s dramatic to talk about how a left hemisphere stroke victim with a damaged broca’s or wernicke’s area and how music helped their brain to rewire pathways and enable the right hemisphere to create speech. But then, what of the implications for healthy brains! Strengthening these areas in developing brains will help our kids to become able problem solvers, mathematical, linguistic, scientific, musical, spatial or otherwise.
Really what it’s all about is the manner in which we go about advocating for what we do. By no stretch of the imagination do I intend to take away from the importance that music has for social development, for providing the family experiences of which students so often speak. Nor should we take away the pride in having a kid feel good about a performance. What I am saying, is that we need another prong to the attack. Schools are constantly being forced to reduce or eliminate the things that make students “feel good,” so my argument here is that music makes kids feel good is not enough. Music is vital to the neurological development of our students. Music lays the foundation for increased abilities to solve problems, to be overall more intelligent. If we approach this from all angles, the only option is to offer our kids more - not less. Check out the last video link on the page for the science behind these things (Start at about 23:00 for the meat of the study).
I’d love to see/hear what you think; comment below.
NYSSMA is the acronym for the New York State School Music Association. It is perhaps the largest most powerful organization of subject area teachers that is focused on the music education of young people in New York State from ages birth through college. NYSSMA is a comprehensive organization that provides a wealth of professional resources and development to all of us music teachers. NYSSMA is the sponsor of the All-State festival concerts to which the top achieving music students and performing ensembles are accepted (these concerts happen annually in Rochester during the first weekend of December). NYSSMA is also an advocacy powerhouse for arts in education, frequently grabbing the ear of state legislators and school administrators to help them understand why what we do is so important. What the general public knows best about NYSSMA is likely the solo and major ensemble festivals that they send their kids to every year. This post is intended to shed some light on what the big deal is.
My mom would always say “I thought you sounded great, how and why can/should you grade something like music?” (In fact, she still says it). Well in the interest of helping our students to develop an attitude of self improvement and growth in achievement, an objective assessment free of “American Idol” type opinions can be invaluable.
Solo festival: Students, along with their music teacher (or private lesson teacher) pick a song from a preselected list of pieces that have been evaluated and classified into levels ranging from 1-6. Some contributing factors to the level include range, hand positions, harmonic complexity, meter. Students are evaluated using a rubric geared toward their instrument and scored based on best practices of that instrument and overall musicianship. Students also perform scales and then play or sing a melody that they have never seen before without any help from anybody. Music educators who are trained to provide reliable feedback and follow consistent scoring guidelines in order to evaluate students (mostly current or retired music teachers who seek this additional training).
Levels 1-4 are graded on a scale of 0-28 points
Levels 5-6 are graded on a scale of 0-100 points.
Major Ensemble Festival: Pieces of music are also placed into levels based on their overall difficulty in levels 1-6. Pieces are listed in the “NYSSMA manual” that meet both musical and pedagogical standards. Teachers wishing to take their groups to Major Ensemble festival must follow strict guidelines to ensure that students are eligible to be rated at specific difficulty levels. Ensembles perform three selections. Two of which from the Manual and one is a free selection as a “warm-up.” Ensembles are rated by music educators who are certified by NYSSMA to evaluate bands, orchestras and choirs of every level. These are kids who are meeting all of the standards for the solo festival, but with the added complexity as doing it at the same time while communicating musically with about 50-70 other students. Possible ratings include: Bronze: For groups meeting basic technical and musical standards. Some issues detracted from the overall performance Silver: For groups achieving excellent levels of performance with any issues not detracting from the overall performance. Gold: For groups achieving outstanding levels of performance with minimal issues that do not detract from the overall performance. Distinction: For groups achieving a Gold rating with exceptional performance on all three selections. NYSSMA is just one of the tools that we use to assess the musical skill development of our students. We work very hard to provide a meaningful musical experience for our students and are proud to present them for adjudication at the state level. Our students are motivated by “showing off their skills.” Well over 150 students from our district choose to go to solo NYSSMA year after year – a decidedly nerve wracking experience for most – because they know that it is one tool that will help them be a better musician (all the while developing a discipline and strength of character).