Some Thoughts on the Responsibilities of Music Educators Now and Into the Twenty-First Century1

Leonard Brown

Many educators of today are faced with an ever-expanding, diverse student body that reflects the variety of world human cultures that comprise our contemporary society. From elementary and secondary educational levels through post-secondary and graduate schools, students increasingly reflect the multicultural reality of life. As recent studies and reports have clearly illustrated, the eurocentric curricula models for training and educating that have been the foundation of United States educational institutions are no longer effective. Consequently, today there are major efforts to redefine and reshape the curricula of our educational institutions to reflect the ever expanding multicultural composition of our society. Given this situation, what is the impact on the music educator of today and the future? We must give serious thought to our responsibilities, and this paper is intended to have some impact by provoking thought on the subject, stimulate discussion, and encourage interaction.

One of the most important responsibilities we must undertake is to present music as a precious phenomenon which manifests itself in all human cultures. We must realize that music can be a key to developing the human capacity for appreciating and valuing all life, and the development of this capacity in all of us is one of the true purposes of education. Fundamental to achieving this goal is our ability to provide music learning environments and experiences which prepare students to truly accept cultural and ethnic diversity as valuable and "the norm" in world humanity. In other words, this means designing and implementing curricula, methodologies, and pedagogies which provide accurate knowledge of and develop positive attitudes about the roles and functions of music in the variety of human cultural/ethnic groups in the world. These multicultural music learning environments and experiences must be provided from the elementary through post-graduate level. We must understand that exposing students to a variety of world music performances at an early age is a key in developing a "global musical ear."

Success in providing multicultural music learning experiences requires one to organize curricula into knowledge, skill, and attitudinal objectives that are multi-functional. For instance, knowledge objectives could be focused on musical instruments, song types, and occasions for music making; skill and attitudinal objectives could be focused on correcting myths and stereotypes about various ethnic and racial groups through learning and applying techniques for the examination and comparison of the cultural role and function of music. We must strive to provide students with learning experiences that improve their abilities in cross-cultural communication and understanding. We must help to eliminate the effects of ethnocentrism, discrimination, and racism that continue to handicap our world. We must strive to eliminate the use of such "loaded" terms as primitive, developing, majority, minority, pre-literate, etc. when referring to human cultures and their musics. These terms only serve to reinforce misunderstanding and perpetuate false ideas of cultural superiority.

Music educators must accept the responsibility to continue to grow and "re-tool" to meet the challenge of teaching now and into the future. We must continue to broaden and expand our knowledge, skills, and abilities as music educators because that is the nature of music. Music is never static. Music continues to grow and develop while maintaining traditional roles that are determined by the cultural group from which it emanates. Consider the impact of contemporary electronic technology on musical sounds, musical instruments, music research, music pedagogy (theoretical and applied), and music scholarship. Approaches to music-making and music education that were considered "impossible" or "dreams" only a couple of decades ago are now readily available. One can use interactive video technology to enhance student knowledge of various world cultural contexts for music and dance performance, and the same technology can be used for ear training or sight singing and to produce synthesized drum sounds for the latest popular hit. As music educators, we must become fluent with this new technology in order to provide a well-rounded education for our students. The technology is neither "good" nor "bad" is simply another "tool" we can use.

Another responsibility we have is to realize that exposing students to the views, opinions, and knowledge of musicians is essential to any real and thorough understanding of music. Through musicians, we are able to gain unique insight into the rules, functions, and meanings of music. Musicians are to music as heart surgeons are to heart surgery and auto mechanics are to fixing one's car. Normally, you would not have your car repaired by someone who had read a lot about auto mechanics but had no experience. Likewise, you would not have heart surgery by someone who had read a lot of surgery books but had no surgical experience. So, approaches to music education that do not include the musicians' perspectives and views are limiting.

Finally, as music educators of today and the future, we have a responsibility to become active in diversifying the professional ranks. It is imperative that serious initiatives be undertaken to recruit and retain music educators of color for positions in administration, teaching, research, and scholarship. It is equally important to provide opportunities for students of color to have access to the various disciplines of music training and education.


1This paper was developed from a closing plenary address delivered on October 13, 1991 in Chicago at the combined annual national conferences of the Center for Black Music Research, Society for Ethnomusicology, International Association for the Study of Popular Music, The College Music Society, The Association for Technology in Music Instruction, and the Chinese Music Society of North America.