Category Archives: Educational Issues

Music Education in America

Music brain  I was thinking about this post and was reminded about how much I value my education and whether it would have been the same without the musical elements.  What would I have been doing if it hadn’t been that?  Personally, I’d rather not think about that, since I am who I am because of my musical training.  My wife pointed out to me earlier this evening that if you asked anyone whether music education is important in schools, they would all unanimously say yes  (Including national media companies such as Fox News).  But when it comes to enacting those opinions in policy and reality, the methods vary widely.

In our last post, Kris Engstrom from Billinghurst Middle School pointed out that music education and arts don’t get recognition in local media outlets.  In national media circles, you definitely hear more about student athletic competitions more than musical festivals, competitions, seminars, and conferences.  How can a Heritage Festival in California possibly compete with a multi-million dollar March Madness tournament?  Local schools get awards like crazy at these competitions, but it takes a miracle (or a really high-profile event) to get any kind of media coverage.  How can we change this?

Until our culture and political climate changes, advocacy is key.  Pressing for more media coverage on social media is a great way to expose the gap in recognition.  Musical conferences (such as those from the American Choral Directors’ Association and the National Association for Music Education) are a great way to draw new audiences and grow programs around the country.  Education programs such as Music in our Schools Month help to raise awareness of music education in schools and grow programs.  We need to get the names of our students, directors, and musical teachers out there as much as possible.  Even if it means that we have to inundate local media outlets with letters, press releases, emails, and social media plugs, we can eventually grow the awareness of the need for more coverage.

There is no disputing the need for performing arts in our society.  People’s lives are enriched by public speaking, concerts, plays, musicals, and dance. (I found an interesting TED talk from Ben Cameron on performing arts in society today)  As music educators, we need to continue to advocate for our programs.  Fight the good fight, and keep music education alive in our schools.  Perhaps someday, the recent emergence of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs will be revised to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math).

Photo credit: NAfME – Broader Minded


Guest Post – Media and Arts Education

Women's Choir  As part of my series on music education in schools, I have a guest post, written by one of our local music educators.  Kris Engstrom is the choral director at Billinghurst Middle School here in Reno, and supports many of the areas’ music programs.  She also advocates for music education in schools, and recently wrote an op-ed for the Reno Gazette-Journal.  The piece centers around the idea of media coverage for arts and musical events, in an effort to increase the exposure and publicity for schools and their arts programs.

I have a question for the local media that has been on my mind for the past few years. It was brought to the forefront once again recently, when the local newspapers and TV stations failed to offer any coverage or PR to Reed High School for their outstanding musical production of “Aida.” The show information was submitted on time to the newspapers, but ignored. After seeing no coverage for the first weekend of the show’s run, contact was made to “educational writers” for several papers, with no results, or in one case even a response. When TV media outlets were asked to promote the show, the response was that it couldn’t be done unless it was a fundraiser. (The only media outlet that helped promote “Aida” was our local public radio station.) Are there any public school events that are not fundraising for the existence of the program to continue? All of the high school sporting events charge money for fans to attend, and yet, they are promoted.

What does a producer of a school musical or director of a musical ensemble need to do in order to get a bit of attention for his students? How is it that some schools get an occasional bit of coverage, and most others get ignored? The bigger question is, why is it that high school sports teams and events get automatically covered on a daily basis, and not the Performing Arts? A response from one staff member at a local paper was to contact a certain person (which changes from year to year, production to production) and be persistent in asking for a story. The “squeaky wheel” philosophy is not the solution to this problem.

One might argue that sporting events serve more people’s interests in the community, but I would challenge that the number of students, families, and audience members involved in a musical production is far more than a baseball or softball game or wrestling match. I am not anti-sports, as my daughters were all athletes in school (two played softball at the high school and tournament levels and one was a Nevada state championship swimmer and swam on scholarship at Northwestern University.) I am in no way trying to lessen any attention or enthusiasm for sports coverage in the media. Kudos to all of the outstanding high school athletes who are chosen to receive the full-page photos and stories in the local paper and other media outlets. There is a problem, however, in the extreme inequity of media coverage of sports vs. the performing arts and many other student events and success in local media. It is clearly a flaw in our community, and perhaps our society.

Why is it that sports are given complete attention, while the good work of students who work together as teams to produce a musical production that features singers, actors, dancers, and technical crews do not get the same? There is a Sports section in all newspapers, and it covers national, state, community and schools sports. Yet, the Arts-Entertainment sections of newspapers only feature entertainment news of movies and star-studded actors and entertainers, local rock or punk bands and concerts at bars, stories of professional musicians working shows at local venues, and occasional stories about local community theater. Why is it not just as important to cover the performing arts in the schools, both at the district and university levels? Entertainment value? Community interest? Quality of performance? Ask any patron who did go see “Aida” at Reed High School, or the Madrigal Dinner at McQueen High School, or the orchestra concert or opera at UNR, or any of the many plays, concerts or programs at any of the schools. They will wholeheartedly agree that these events are worthy of media attention.

Wouldn’t it be logical to have a place for local school performing arts events to be featured? Could we see stories about those students who excel in their art, or the marching band winning a contest, or the Jazz band being selected to play as a feature band at a festival? Can the media do more than an occasional story about those one or two chosen high schools that are putting on a musical? Why not have a listing of the productions, concerts and festivals that are happening on a weekly basis, just as the schedule of high school competitions are listed five to six times a week? Why not have a featured musician or actor every week like we do athletes? Who are the WCSD students in the arts that are getting accepted to and awarded scholarships from colleges? Why not a story of those bands and choirs and dramatic teams who compete in festivals all over the country?

Our country is a society that focuses on sports. It seems that many of us have accepted this fact as “the way it is and always will be.” But is the community interest in sports that much more than interest in the arts, or does the media make it a bigger story so that it becomes a bigger story? I would venture to guess that there are actually more students in WCSD involved in the Performing Arts than there are in the athletic teams. There is no need to lessen any attention to athletics, but let’s see some equality in the media coverage.

We will explore Kris’ points in our next blog post.  What do you think?  Any opinions or thoughts on this?  How can media coverage (for better or worse) affect your program?

Photo credit: Hawaii Women’s Conference

Music and the Value it Brings to Education

The-Importance-Of-Music-Education  As some of you may know, and if you’ve read my About Me page, you’ll know that I was originally trained as a music educator.  I’ve always loved singing in choir, but when I was in college, I decided that I wanted to embark on the other side of the music stand.  I changed my major to Music Education and started to take classes in Conducting, Secondary Education, and Vocal Pedagogy.  During my time in these classes, I started to get exposed to the educational side of music and all of the challenges that it comes with.

Ask any music educator, and they will tell you that music is essential to the development of children.  Many studies have been performed around the need for music, the benefits of incorporating them into a curriculum, and how music affects a child’s develop mentally and socially.  There are also a number of different schools of thought on how music benefits (or hinders) our education system.  Here you can read an interesting article on music education and the its benefits.  I, personally, believe (and yes I’m biased) that music education should be considered an essential part of a child’s education and their development.

If you have ever studied music in any form (been in a school band, sang in choir, studied piano or an instrument, music theory, etc.), you can say that music plays an integral part in our culture.  The study of music touches on many subjects outside of simple music theory – historical perspectives on pieces and works, scientific properties of sound and instrument design, mathematical structures of scales and harmonics… not to mention creative elements in expression and composition.  Any music educator can use the context of musical performance, music theory, composition, or musical research to delve into other subjects and stimulate their students’ learning.

As music educators build their programs and fight for budgets, instruments, programs, and students, they need certain things in order to grow their programs, like any other business.  Think of them as their own non-profit organizations.  They need recognition in order to succeed, and the community must support them in turn.  Music programs can help to make a school better, and local news outlets, media programs, and social media groups need to support these music programs.  Advertising, publicity, and fundraising can make or break a music program, and as we’ve discussed here, that program plays a pivotal role in child development, not to mention provides creative outlets for students to express themselves.

Coming up: a guest post from a local music educator on exposure in the media and the need for public support.  Stay tuned!

Photo credit: Recreation x Leisure