"Save the Music"? Toward Culturally Relevant, Joyful, and Sustainable School Music

Philosophy of Music Education Review 14 (1):23-38 (2006)
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Abstract

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:“Save The Music”?Toward Culturally Relevant, Joyful, and Sustainable School MusicJulia Eklund KozaIf historical sources are reliable indicators, music educators have never felt confident that music's place in the U.S. public school curriculum is secure. Proponents have been developing exhaustive rationales for the existence of school music from the moment that the subject was introduced into the public schools, attempting to convince an apparently skeptical public of the merits of school music, and trying to pull endangered programs—usually their own—out of the fire. Today, as has been the case in the past, rescue and salvation discourses and initiatives abound. Moving music to a more secure place in the curriculum was cited as a rationale for the development of national music standards in 1994.1 In recent years saving the music has become a favorite project of major corporations, especially as privatization of public schooling has gained momentum. For example, in 1998 one of the National Association for Music Education's (MENC) corporate partners credited the school/partnership that promoted the Disney movie, Mr. Holland's Opus, with saving school music.2 The corporate-sponsored initiative "VH1 Save the Music" claims not only to help flailing school music programs but also, through the donation of musical instruments to schools, to rescue children as well—more than 250,0000 of them since 1997.3 [End Page 23]Because music outside of school seems to be thriving and probably will never be in need of rescue—although specific styles, genres, and practices may be in their twilight—"the music" to which "VH1 Save the Music" refers presumably is school music. As a music educator who perennially is called upon to "save the music," I will take a brief look at the object of salvation, the salvific discourses that surround it, and some of the systems of reasoning that construct it. I propose modifications in these systems of reasoning, which may lead to more culturally relevant, joyful, and sustainable school music.School Music: An Alchemized Constellation of Systems of Reasoning and PracticesTo conceptualize school music as an entity is both problematic and useful. On the one hand, doing so assumes the existence of an exteriority from which it can be clearly differentiated, that is, outside-of-school music, and yet these culturally constructed categories are leaky. The fact that the American Federation of Musicians joined forces with MENC to establish guidelines, which attempt to prevent school performing groups from encroaching on the turf of unionized professional musicians, indicates that the line of distinction between school music and its exteriority sometimes has been blurred.4Furthermore, when VH1 refers to it as "the music," school music seems to be not only clearly defined but also static and monolithic. I argue, however, that it consists of a whole constellation of systems of reasoning as well as the varied practices resulting from these systems. Differences between the various elements in this constellation may be as numerous as commonalities. School music in the U.S. is diverse in the sense that it encompasses a variety of sub-categories or sub-cultures (for example, elementary general music, secondary instrumental music, and so on), each with somewhat distinct systems of reasoning and practices. When suggesting that school music should be saved, we are faced with the complex question of whether all of these sub-categories, their systems of reasoning, and their consequent practices are to be objects of salvation.In addition to having to address the variety within school music, any mapping of relationships between school music and it exteriority should take into account the variety and dynamism of the musical world outside of school. This exteriority consists of a multiplicity of sub-cultures, each with a set of governing practices that may or may not be shared.On the other hand, astonishing within-category similarity exists, which supports the view that school music is an entity. In addition, some commonalities may not only unite all of the sub-categories but also may be shared with non-music school subjects, as well. One such commonality is the inescapable influence of a process of change educational theorist Thomas Popkewitz calls [End Page 24] "alchemy...

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