These goals must be the first and foremost reason why we teach music. To instill an even greater understanding and love of the domain thus enabling our students develop a genuine interest and continue a life long journey that’s undertaken in varying degrees and through diverse roles. Phenix (1986) stress on the fact that knowledge of methods makes it possible for a person to continue learning and undertake inquiries on his own (p. 11).
Estelle Jorgenson in her book “Transforming Music Education” eloquently describes the need for music education to be transformed for the very reason that children be able to continue developing their knowledge beyond the classroom. Effective music education is built of a foundation that encompasses discussions, goals, materials and strategies, based on a teacher’s knowledge and experience of music and child development, educational guidelines and “overarching, and developing philosophy of music education” (Fiske, 2012).
Before I elucidate my philosophy about music, I recognize the need to clarify my stand as a music educator who is passionate and determined to elevate the status of music education within classrooms around India. My Musical Experiences Music has always been a part of me for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories of music, especially the performance aspect, goes back to when I was three years old and sang a solo for a Christmas Concert that was organized by the radio station that my father worked at.
I have memories of him kneeling on one knee and playing the guitar for me while I sang after which I was delighted to receive a big present from Santa. Ever since, I have enjoyed performing, and have so felt so comfortable on stage. All along I grew up listening to Christian gospel music and many contemporary arrangements of hymns. Supplementary to that my father offered me a rich experience of Indian hindustani devotional music. I learned songs by ear and didn’t realize what I was missing at this point, imagining what I learned in music to be the only way to absorb and internalize it.
Performing was something that I enjoyed doing and it came naturally to me, partly because of my early initiation into leading worship at church. My true test of endurance came about when I was introduced to Western Classical Music at the age of 14, through the study of two years of piano. My teacher, like many others around, displayed an extremely formalistic approach and didn’t do much to expand my understanding of music beyond what was on the page and how I was supposed to read it.
In response to this method I didn’t enjoy learning from the pages of notated music books, as much as I did learning by ear, and I continued to develop as a musician who played by ear and improvised at will. Studying opera during undergrad was a trying phase for me because of my inability to “connect the dots” as easily as I should have been able to. My aural skills remained excellent and I sometimes relied on that to carry me through certain phases. Hard work and determination became my motto, and I spent hours to understand and perfect music that was assigned to me, as I wanted to do my very best.
Although I had composed songs earlier, without notating them, the study of music theory opened up a whole new world for me. I could now add variety and richness to my music through the concepts I was learning. Music became a new language for me; I was captivated by the way it lent itself to diverse experiences through different musical roles (something that I wasn’t aware of or didn’t pay attention to earlier). As a Music Teacher Although I initially joined a conservatory to study vocal performance, I found myself deeply drawn towards music education, and during my second semester decided to learn more about devising meaningful and persuasive trategies to improve the standard of music education in India.
This thought emerged from an understanding that I had felt almost cheated for having lost out on so many years of studying music formally, yet effectively. I didn’t have a choice because structured music instruction simply wasn’t available at all the schools that I studied in, or the quality of instruction didn’t serve the purpose of educating or informing students like me. What gave the impression of a music class/lesson at school was in reality an enthusiastic way of keeping students occupied for forty minutes in simple singing, with a concert for parents every once a year.
We learned songs by rote to perform them, year after year. During those years though, I didn’t realize the limitations that this system came with and continued to enjoy the fact that I was in choir and able to sing. This vacuum remains largely visible and unattended to in schools today, although some music educators in the recent past have taken huge steps towards improving the quality and effectiveness of their instruction in classrooms around India. Their efforts however remain predominantly an enthusiastic endeavor. What is urgently required is certainly something much more than sincere teaching.
It calls for a transformation of the present system, giving room for every child to receive superior music education that fits into the whole. The need of every student being met in a transformed educational framework that constantly reshapes itself to accommodate new ideas and strategies. After all, as Regelski (2003) rightly points out that music (music education) is for everyone and not just for an elite few. The turning point in my decision to finally teach music myself came about when I enrolled my four-year-old daughter, Tiara, for after-school piano lessons.
I hoped to give her a head start, with the understanding that she needn’t have to face the same challenges in learning music, like I had to. However, after a few classes, I realized to my complete dissatisfaction that there was no structure, no thought and imagination, and no clarity in what was being thought to her. Her fingering on the piano was all over the place for the two songs that her teacher worked on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. ” And “Baa Baa Black Sheep” Her teacher (I later learned wasn’t introduced to classical notation), taught her these songs by writing letters in a book and instructing her to commit it to heart.
Lesson after lesson they would follow the same outline with no emphasis on any other musical aspects whatsoever. I decided I wasn’t going to take this lying down! I had to do all within my capacity to change the face of music education, as the vast majority of people understand it. I began studying about music education as well, to inform and equip myself for the task at hand. Around this period, my voice teacher encouraged me to coach students in voice, and I began shying away from it believing I was under qualified and needed many years of study to begin teaching.
However, with a newfound passion and vigor, I accepted to coaching some of his voice students and also began to teach small groups of students on the history of music (because I loved learning about it). Meanwhile, I started training both my young daughters at home constantly developing new ideas and strategies to introduce musical concepts to them. A friend noticed my teaching style and asked if I would teach her daughter too, and thus began my professional journey as a music educator. Four years since then, I find myself accountable for the music instruction I offer to over 250 children across various age groups, who are part of my school.
The need is so great within schools, and only a few educators are willing to take the extra effort of educating themselves and being channels of superior music instruction-catalysts of sorts. I am blessed to have a team of ten teachers who share in my vision and work alongside me in imparting music to the children who are part of our music school, “Harmony”. My long-term vision is to enhance the music programs in India for the betterment of as many children as possible. Individuals don’t realize what they’re missing until they’ve been given a taste of it, a glimpse of the bigger picture (much like my case).
Through our school performances I aim on providing a window for the change to take place. A transformation that not only affects my students, but others around them as well through their personal interactions with each other and the community as a whole. My Personal Philosophy “A field or discipline without philosophical guidance, without critically examined ideals and commitment to their revision in light of the diverse and changing needs of those it seeks to serve, is more akin to an occupation han a profession” (Bowman & Frega, 2012, p. 23). For my vision to bear fruit and show evidence of becoming something concrete, I realize the need to develop my philosophy of music to an extent that equips me with the requisite tools to be able to initiate the change that I seek after. In the words of Jorgenson (2008), “I want to excavate beneath the superficial and demonstrable skills to think about the ideas and principles of music teaching, the things that drive and shape”.
According to Kivy (2002), “A practice or discipline or body of knowledge, then, seems to become ‘eligible’ (If that is the right word) for philosophy, properly so–called, when it becomes for us a way of life: when it cuts so deeply into our natures as human beings that we are impelled to explore and reveal its innermost workings” (p. 7). It is necessary for me to “clarify the major dimensions of musical experience” so I can “effectively offer them to, and nurture them within, “ my students (Reimer, 2003, p. 9), this despite the passion and conviction with which I teach and advocate the need for arts in schools. I have begun to develop a synergistic mindset in my philosophy of music education after my reading and researching the literature, coupled with practical experiences over the last few years. Reimer (2003) points out “ A synergistic mind-set is one open to cooperation as an alternative to contention, to searching for points of agreement or confluence as an alternative to fixating on discord, to recognizing nuances in which seemingly opposed views are capable of some level of contention” (p. 30).
I agree with Reimer’s democratic view that musical meaning is meaning that “individuals choose to give to and take from music, based on their life experiences and their musical orientations. ” He further adds that there is to be no “one right way”, and calls for an adaptation of a synergistic blend in music teaching. Music must involve decision making through discernment and connections within a particular role (Reimer, 2003, p. 213). Eisner (1987) illuminates the need for a curriculum that “exploits the various forms of representation and that utilizes all of the senses to help students learn what a period of history feels like”(p. 7).
Similarly, offering students a basis for understanding music in all contexts involves a thorough exploration of musical meaning within its definitive parameters, along with contemplation or reflection. Introducing students to the music and other art forms of various cultures is a wonderful way to broaden their understanding of the meaning of music. A student does not need to lose his own musical identity in order to study other music. On the contrary, in learning about other music, a student’s life is enriched.
Reimer states, “In the spirit of adding to the self rather than substituting other selves for one’s self, the study of the music of foreign cultures enriches the souls of all who are engaged in it” (p. 191). Music and Meaning As advocates of music, music educators are often expected to express the meaning of music through words, yet words are incapable of truly describing the beauty and emotion felt through experience. “The concern is not to arrive at a definition and to close the book, but to arrive at an experience” (Ciardi, 1975, p. ). Ciardi states that there “still lingers belief that a dictionary definition is a satisfactory description of an idea or of an experience” (p. 1). Words may attempt to describe music, yet true meaning must be derived from the actual music experience Reimer (2003) discusses the difference between meanings drawn from words or language and the meanings found through music. He writes, “Language is created and shared through the processes of conceptualization and communication.
Music is created and shared through the process of artistic/aesthetic perceptual structuring, yielding meanings language cannot represent” (p. 133). “The real power of music lies in the fact that it can be “true” to the life of feeling in a way that language cannot” (Langer, 1942, p. 197). Phenix (1986) highlights the need to look for aesthetic meaning in music concluding that there has to be a delicate balance between descriptive proposition that serves the purpose of laying out a historical background and allowing for freedom to gain perceptual features.
Though music may evoke emotions in my students as they compose or serve as an outlet for their feelings when they perform, the ultimate significance of music lies in its ability to symbolize/portray deeply felt emotions. In the pages of his article, How Does a Poem Mean, John Ciardi (1975) shares with the reader his view that language is not capable of completely conveying the meaning that is discovered through experience. Living through the poetry is more powerful than attempting to interpret it. I believe that language does, however, serve a purpose of enhancing and is required when teaching for musical meaning.
Words such as diction, metaphor, rhythm, and counter rhythm describe elements that lead to the understanding of form. Once a student can identify changes in the form through performance, “he will have identified the poem in action” (p. 95). He will no longer ask what the poem means but will see “how it means” (p. 95). Ciardi suggests questions such as, “Why does it build itself into a form out of images, ideas, rhythms? How do these elements become the meaning? ” and “How are they inseparable from the meaning? ” (p. 100). These questions are helpful in leading a student to the ultimate meaningful experience.
Likewise, music students may use their knowledge of musical elements, such as rhythm and dynamics, to see “how” a piece of music means. Reimer (2003) says language has the essential function of disclosing and explaining the music. Music elements are inseparable from the performance of the music as they help to explain the musical experience. On their own, however, words and definitions remain dull and lifeless. I believe students should be immersed in the experience, while in a chorus, performing their instruments and listening to those around them.
Meaning can be discovered through active participation in music and through the emotion and beauty the music portrays, for “Music means whatever a person experiences when involved with music” (Reimer, 2003, p. 133). Ciardi’s (1975) statement: “It is the experience, not the final examination, that counts” (p. 3) is particularly striking. The Indian society places high emphasis on examinations in music as with other subjects, very often overlooking the need for students to value their experience through the process of learning.
I sometimes feel pressured by the community to meet high concert performance expectations and good examination results. Although I recognize that performance and the International music exams is a wonderful opportunity in which students can share their music with the community, or understand their level of competency, the true reflection of meaning in the music should be experienced in day-to-day music making within my classroom. I do my best not to focus on the examination repertoire alone but to include other music as well giving them a chance to draw out meanings and experience the music.
Ciardi (1975) describes a poem as a “dynamic and living thing” (p. 10). He continues stating, “One experiences it as one experiences life. One is never done with it: every time he looks he sees something new, and it changes even as he watches” (p. 10). Similarly, music is capable of revealing something new each time it is experienced. The meanings my students derive from an initial listening of a piece of music may be vastly different than the meanings understood months or years later. The meaning of music constantly changes with personal life experiences and new perspectives.
Reimer claims, “Music education exists to nurture people’s potential to gain deeper, broader, more significant musical meanings” (p. 133). I believe my students should derive their own meanings from the musical experience and without my influence. By explaining meanings to them, I face the fear of casting into oblivion the celebration of their own unique experience with the music, much the same way a language teacher might, in more ways than one, take away from the experience of a students “feelingful” experience of poetry as she explains the meaning in the verses of the poem.
Instead of teaching “what” music means, I will instruct students on “how” music means, enabling them to derive meaning from experiences that occur beyond the classroom, and within their own roles. Feeling through Music “Music does for feeling what language does for thought” (Bowman, 1998, p. 200). As a musician, I understand the power of music to evoke feelings. Listening to or performing a great work of music in a concert hall may bring tears or chills to the musician in a way that only music is capable.
Similarly, students’ emotional lives may be heightened by experiences in the classroom. According to Reimer (2003), the “emotional dimension of music-its power to make us feel, and to “know” through feeling-is probably its most important defining characteristic” (p. 72). In Western history, emotion has often been regarded less valuable than intellect (Reimer, 2003). Some people do not consider the arts to be as important as other core subjects such as math and reading in education due to the belief that arts are based on emotions and not reasoning or intellect.
Recently, however, scientific scholars have begun to recognize that human intelligence, or cognition, is exhibited in a variety of forms, directly related to functions of the body, and tied to feeling. Dimensions of the mind, once thought to be separate and unrelated, are now known to work together, contributing to the things we know and experience. Anthony Damasio, a research neurologist, believes “feeling is likely to be the key factor in human consciousness itself and an essential ingredient in human cognition” (Reimer, 2003, p. 76). The capacity to feel “pervades and directs all we undergo as living, aware creatures” (p. 8).
“Direct experiences of feeling are embodied in music and made available to the bodied experience of those engaged with it” (p. 80). The use of descriptive and symbolic language in the classroom, in the teaching of a varied repertoire of expressive music, aids in drawing out these responses of feeling from students. Including music that is heavy and loud or delicate and light will bring out an array of feelings. I believe students should be given an opportunity to articulate these feelings through journaling and in-class discussion.