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Buckner (1982) conducted a study in the Black community in Kansas City. The purpose of this study was to document the role of Blacks in music education in Kansas City. This historical data (from 1905-1954) provides a perspective in music education of Blacks during segregation. Historically, Kansas City was highly segregated with most of the Black population in the northwest corner of the city. Tension grew between Blacks and Whites due to local events that, supported segregation in the 1900’s. At the time, twelve all-Black schools offered music class; usually in an auditorium, in large class sizes.
Pianos and music books were available, and some schools were able to afford phonographs. Students could take private piano lessons for $2.25 a semester. Although this was a time of poverty segregation, and racial tension, music continued to hold value in the Black communities. In Kansas during the 1920’s, people often refer to the reform in music, art, education, and culture as the as the Black Renaissance.
According to Buckner (1982), “Although in many ways separated from the mainstream, music education in the Black community was still influenced by a city, state, and national curriculum guidelines,” (p. 95).
Music programs in the community had a significant number of Black participation. A strings program, for example, had 78 Black participants out of 478 students. Bruckner suggests that Blacks in Kansas City participated in music performance frequently within their community. A course of study for instrumentalists, local choirs performing throughout the city, county-wide competitions, and an annual music festival were just a few of many music-related groups and events offered.
The multitude of Black music teachers during this time contributed to the participation, the growth, and the success of music education since the black students were motivated by the music teachers of their own. “As a result of the curriculum and the dedicated Black music educators, the Black schools provided music education to the masses of Black students. Some in this group who were talented chose music as a career.
The music education in the Black public schools can be credited for the many students who accepted leadership roles in music as artists and educators,” (p. 105). Curtis (1988) explored how Blacks interact with music and its importance in Black culture. Curtis describes a scene from a collegiate gospel performance, where Black choir members stood up and began to clap as they sang. This spirited participation influenced a white teacher to intervene, telling the students to stop clapping and to take a seat. Curtis describes that this participatory kind of performance is a part of Black culture, and is rooted from the times of slavery. Removing this celebratory and communal part of Black music hurts Black culture. Both the students and the teachers missed an opportunity to transcend the racial and cultural barriers of our society,” (p. 24). Curtis believes that understanding Blacks and how they receive music is a gateway to connecting music teachers to Black culture Lundquist & Sims (1996) write a reflective review of the African-American music educator experience. The purpose of this article is to make African Americans in music education a relevant and unforgotten part of the education debate.
They state, “We briefly survey some conflicting points of view regarding changes in the traditional school music curriculum that might address these issues and suggest a perspective that not only provides a basis for continuing dialogue but also supports change,” (p. 312). A theme among the experiences that the researchers describe is, lack of unity in teaching diverse music, and musical traditions From an ethno musicological perspective, this is an important issue with the music curriculum and how music is being presented in the classroom. The authors believe that honoring these cultures authentically is important and relevant to students of all ethnicities.
The article continues with some personal experiences the authors have faced as Blacks in music education. They reflect on the way they were taught, their experiences in small ensembles (both all Black and mixed ethnicities), and music traditions. The authors conclude “It is our theory that these instructional limits can be expanded with a continuous succession of small, incremental learning experiences on the part of teachers and student which. Once serious attempts are made to cope effectively with cultural diversity, a degree of understanding will occur, and the atmosphere for learning will be improved” (p. 332). Although Bruckner (1982), Curtis (1988), and Lundquist & Sims (1996) conducted research of Blacks in music education differently, each study presents the importance music has in Black culture. In each of these articles, traces of conflict of Black culture with traditional western teaching. Does traditional western teaching stifle the music-making experience for Black students and do these effects sift the performers from the educators? These questions are central to the project when studying the Black experience in music. The questions can perhaps help us understand why music education is not a choice for Black students.
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