Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Pop, Pap, Rap and Heritage

Almost daily someone writes woefully on the current demise of orchestras and opera companies, shrinking concert audiences, and fewer classical radio stations. Not infrequently there is a blast against music in the schools as being responsible for it all. If it were that simple, it would be simple. But, I will agree, with exceptions, that music teaching in lower schools is awful and that it, with marketing, shoves classical music into the remotest closet corner.

It would need a book to show how profoundly music education in schools contributes to classical music illiteracy and crude musical taste these days and it could be shown that teachers of school music are poorly prepared to teach the subject. Most do not have a background, cannot play piano, they read music poorly, don’t know much literature (certainly not contemporary), can maybe sing the latest pop songs, or play only an MP3 well. Most importantly, they themselves are classically illiterate. Their teaching materials rely on marketer publishers who push pop music in everything from lesson plans to singing books and emo quartos to “quick and easy” instrument methods and ensemble pap. Of course, the kids grow into musical illiterates.

An indicator of the poor quality of music and other teaching in public schools can be found in the spectacular nationwide increase in home schooling. The U.S. Dept of Education census in 2003 tallied 1.1 million students enrolled in home schools. Where I live it has increased 750%! in the past four years. But, as in the public schools, if parent/teachers are immersed and knowledgeable only in pop culture, what else would/could they teach their kids? Again, marketers to the rescue. A look at the music materials sold by commercial houses to home school parent/teachers show them to be woefully inadequate in promoting classical taste.

Charter schools? Since the AZ charter school law was passed in 1994, there are now 495 charter schools at last count, with 75.000 (+-) kids enrolled. Some of these charter schools are an aegis for the arts. I don’t know what they teach or who teaches them, but it points again to the dissatisfaction with the level of instruction in public schools.

But, maybe it’s not all doom and gloom.

Eating Chinese the other evening with my wife, who took a college sabbatical to teach in an elementary school for an experience update in vocal music education, the talk turned to her observations.

One of her more startling statements was, “I have my second grade kids singing do to do and down again, but my fourth graders just can’t do it,” she complained.

The reverse I might understand, so I asked, “Why is that”?

“Because all the fourth graders know is rap. Their CDs are rap. They know every word of every rap song (?) around. Second graders are still singing Sesame Street stuff. But, by the time they get to fourth grade they’ll be singing rap too, with its very narrow, limited range”.

“How could that change?” I asked.

“If I stayed at this school for five years it would change”.

That problem/solution seems to be that it needs a good, (note I did not say qualified) committed vocal music teacher (and instrumental) throughout the grades. Not many schools have that. And how long before the marketers get to the second graders too, if there’s any money to be made?

“Well, you judge at the Heritage festivals and hear the best school choirs around. Are they that good?”

“Oh, they are very good. The U.S. produces the best school choirs in the world with few exceptions-Finland, maybe Sweden. But, you have to remember that the Heritage finals festivals attract only the top choirs, only a very small percentage of them all.”

Maybe it’s always been that way. Only a few float on the puddle. I wonder how many in these choirs were home schoolers? But, that prompts deeper questions. Like I said, it needs a book.


Post a Comment

<< Home