Preparing the next generation of music teachers: Four variations on a theme of best practice

Judith W. Bond

In 2004 the Society for Music Teacher Education of MENC approved formation of a Special Interest Group (SIG) dedicated to study and promotion of Active Music Making Approaches as foundational to the teaching of undergraduate courses for students preparing for licensure in General Music. Since that time SIG leaders have concentrated focus on the approaches of Edwin Gordon, Emil Jaques-Dalcroze, Zoltan Kodaly, and Carl Orff. The response to collaborative presentations at several conferences, including the 2004 MENC Conference, has confirmed the need for continued efforts to expand opportunities for undergraduate students to experience these approaches in greater depth, and to develop practical skills as well as theoretical knowledge of the four approaches.

The movement began in 1998, when Linda Ahlstedt, who at that time was President of the American Orff-Schulwerk Association (AOSA), read a report published by the Ohio Commission on Public School Personnel Policies which presented concerns about teacher education. Among other concerns were the following: “too much time was spent learning about teaching and not enough time observing and practicing teaching” and “academic professors charged with teaching how to teach but whose tenure and promotion have been based on their non-teaching accomplishments and are far removed from classroom practice” (Brophy, 2002).

As a practicing music teacher who often worked with student teachers, Ahlstedt felt the issues stated in the 1972 Ohio report might still be problematic in many situations. She invited a group of music educators representing various general music approaches to participate in a panel discussion based on this topic at the 1999 National AOSA Conference. Their lively and provocative discussion resulted in consensus that a survey should be conducted to determine “what the field as a whole thought about preservice teacher education and its effectiveness in preparing music teachers” (Brophy, 2002). A committee was appointed by Ahlstedt for this purpose, with Timothy S. Brophy (University of Florida) and Ann Kay (Past-President of OAKE) as Co-Chairs (Undergraduate Music Education Curriculum Reform Committee, 1999).

With support from the organizations representing the four approaches listed above, a committee was formed to create a curriculum for undergraduate general music education. Marilyn Copeland Davidson, music teacher, text book author, and Past President of AOSA, was named chair of the committee. Under Davidson’s leadership a curriculum based on the National Standards was created. Considered “a work in progress”, the document represented a milestone in American music education, as committee members strongly committed to different music making approaches worked together to include their particular philosophy and pedagogy within the context of the curriculum, while still creating a document acceptable to all.

Following enthusiastic response to the curriculum when it was presented at the 2001 National Conference of AOSA, members of the committee were ready to seek a wider audience.  Supporting the vision of her predecessor, AOSA President Carol Huffman initiated a proposal for a session at the 2002 Conference of the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM).  The proposal was accepted, and a collaborative session was presented by Marilyn Davidson (AOSA), Jill Trinka (OAKE), David Frego (the Dalcroze Society of America), and Sara Bidner (MENC: The National Association for Music Education).  This presentation, involving well-known leaders from four different organizations, provided a culminating moment, with positive response to the ideas regarding the importance of active music making as the basis of music teaching and learning.

What began as the “Ahlstedt Initiative” (Brophy, 2002) was now in place as a growing movement for change in undergraduate general music methods classes. As more and more college methods teachers became involved in discussions following the various presentations, enthusiasm for this effort continued to build. The spirit of collaboration rather than competition between the various approaches enabled the creation of new avenues of communication beneficial to all.

With the proposed curriculum available as a model, and with a group of college methods teachers interested in implementing the ideas suggested, a new approach was needed for taking the next step: Teachers trained in one or two of the approaches needed more experience with the others. In this spirit, 2003 AOSA National Conference Co-Chairs Timothy S. Brophy and Rob Amchin invited four presenters, representing four approaches to teaching general music, to present a combined double session at the conference. The session featured active music making lessons using the Dalcroze, Gordon, Kodaly, and Orff approaches, and this became the model for similar sessions at other state and national conference, including the 2004 National Conference of MENC: The National Association for Music Education.

Members of the expanded group applied for and received official status as a Special Interest Group of the Society for Music Teacher Education of MENC during the summer of 2004. The SIG has been named The Alliance for Active Music Making (AAMM). Membership and interest are continuing to grow, and the group is open to all SMTE members interested in participating.

Two areas of critical need are addressed through the SIG: 1) preparation of future music educators, and 2) professional development of music educators. Future plans include presentation of a website with resources useful to both college methods classes and beginning teachers, and post-graduate courses taught by master teachers skilled in one or more of the approaches, where college methods teachers will work together with current general music teachers in a collaborative environment, leading to deeper understanding of the unique qualities of each approach.

Brophy, T.S. (2002). Toward improving music teacher education. Arts Education Policy Review, 104 (2), 3-7.