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Philosophy of the Alliance for Active Music Making

Janet L.S. Moore

General music is the first important part of a formal music education in America. When done well, with full use of comprehensive experiences leading to true musical learning, it is very powerful, leading children through lasting impressions that set the stage for a long-term valuing of music in their lives. Unfortunately, general music is often marginalized within a music education profession that tends to favor goal-oriented performance approaches aimed most directly at training for the highest level of music production. Such limited goals are often taught exclusively, to the detriment of true musical understanding and comprehensive learning within each student. From the perspective of the goals of a comprehensive music education, this is an inversion of our values. To foster the artistry, creative abilities, and music-making of our children and youth means to nurture their conceptual awareness, musical discernment and holistic experiences at the earliest stages. We are mistaken if we seek lesser goals.

The widely-recognized music teaching and learning approaches of Edwin Gordon, Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, Zoltan Kodaly, and Carl Orff have something important to contribute to the ideal whole of a music education. A music education that is comprehensive and holistic prepares children to be artists and creators, and not just producers and consumers of music. Therefore, actual music-making needs to be coordinated with various conceptual learning experiences, offered in a systematic approach within each child and youth’s regular music study.

Our children and youth need the arts to enrich their present lives, to escape the dullness of schooling and the dominance of science and technology, to counter the narrowness and over-emphasis on linear thinking, and to broaden educational practices that overstate rationality, facts, standardization, and the need to conform. Such schooling ignores the child’s budding sensitivities, spontaneous feelings and natural inclinations. There is a need for balance, allowing time to learn other ways of knowing through the openness, artistry and creative thinking fostered in well-taught music classes. Here, children’s imaginations, intuitions, deeper feelings and natural impulses are encouraged to thrive. Their critical thinking, sense of adventure, curiosity, and experimental nature are exercised. Their individuality and creativity are valued, encouraged, and confirmed.

In the heterogeneous culture in which we live, music educators must be flexible, resilient, responsive, and resourceful to meet the needs of multicultural classrooms, diverse student bodies and the many varieties of schools in which they must serve. There is a need to customize music education for the school and situation, rather than to mass-produce it. Furthermore, we are moving into a global age, as opposed to more parochial times of the past. We see the growth of entrepreneurship and individualizing organizations, and our society is promoting the success of these. It is a widely known expectation that future educators will need to have stronger skills in adapting and customizing their instruction to meet the needs of their ever-changing school situations.

This scenario for teaching requires more creative thinking and a higher level of engagement by the music teacher than that provided by the traditional “mass produced” curriculum that served in the past as “recipes for success.” The teacher’s artistry and creativity are necessary parts for bringing true creative musical understanding and active music–making into the classroom. Attention to the General Music teacher curriculum is needed to provide effective strategies that foster new teachers’ creative thinking and higher levels of engagement.

Why Gordon, Jaques-Dalcroze, Kodaly and Orff?
The term “active music-making” is recognized as a dominant, unifying quality among the four approaches founded by Edwin Gordon, Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, Zoltan Kodaly, and Carl Orff. It refers to these four approaches because they share significant principles or tenets that require engagement in active musical behaviors on the part of the learner for major portions of instructional time throughout the musical experience. This is not to say that other approaches cannot or do not involve active music-making, but rather that such is generally not their dominant feature. It is used here to identify the heavy emphasis within the four approaches upon children’s engagement in active, physical involvement at the earliest stages of musical learning. Indeed, there is a focus upon engagement and active, purposeful music-making strategies from the start—even before higher understanding is expected in the process.

Substantial exposure to these four approaches in the preparation of future music teachers, including study of foundational tenets and significant strategies/methods to each approach, will help ensure that future teachers are adequately informed for making a conscious choice later to pursue additional professional development in at least one of the approaches. One does not expect that all that is needed in music teaching can be taught in the 4-5 year teacher preparation/curriculum. Rather, future music teachers should know they will need to continue to learn and grow as teachers. That is why music education is a learned profession and not just training for a job in the schools. The music education profession requires music teachers to develop into skilled practitioners or experts beyond their early, specialized study.

With time, as beginning teachers develop into experienced professionals, music educators often feel a responsibility to explore several of the other widely-recognized approaches to find even more strategies and tools for music teaching. Eventually, the boundaries between each approach may be softened. Skillful practitioners learn to move easily from one approach to the other in their quest to reach the learners better. Ideas and strategies between approaches meld into the other, rather than being held within the usual silos of conventional practice. Thus, the music educator can teach children and youth more effectively, utilizing their own intuition and insights as a master teacher. They continue to grow in their abilities, rather than “staying true” to one approach only and limiting their intellectual boundaries.

We are now well into what has been called the Information Age, as demonstrated by our new access to information on the internet and other technological means. There is a spirit today of cooperation and inclusiveness in education, not competitiveness and exclusiveness. Cooperation and communal sharing can occur between different approaches. We believe that being well-grounded in at least one approach is essential, but many more strategies for music teaching and learning can be used by the music educator who is grounded in two or more approaches. This is much like the fluent musician who does not limit his or her choice of instrument for music-making, or does not limit the use of art forms to explore, or does not limit the use of relevant knowledge from different disciplines. In the best moments of teaching, creative ideas and worthy practices grow from one to the other, for the sake of the learner. We use all resources while constantly forging new solutions in music teaching for children’s musical understanding, valuing, and active music-making.

One must question if the “pure form” of any one approach is possible or even appropriate in American music education of the 21st century. As we think of our history, of our people, of our crafting of public music education through time, we must consider how all have been far from any “pure form.” American culture has been described by many metaphors, such as being a mosaic, a melting pot, a woven tapestry, or a quilt of many colors and textures. At the same time, America has been a New World where there is freedom for new things to be imagined and explored. We believe the music educator must have the freedom to move in and out of different approaches, guided by foundational tenets that assist the intuitive teacher in discerning the best solution to meet the learner’s needs. Music teacher preparation must foster continued learning and provide that means.

 
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