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Beyond the Music Class: Expanding the Musical Influence of the Elementary School

Dear Principal,

As the new school year gets underway, I write to ask that you continue to support your elementary general music teacher's efforts to provide all students with the finest possible musical experiences.

The typical general music teacher meets each music class just twice a week for thirty minutes during a thirty-six week school year. Annual general music class time totals thirty six hours-a mere day and a half of musical influence! Though often challenged to provide services for other teachers and to meet ongoing expectations of the administration and community, your general music specialist gives first priority to the musical growth and development of every student.

Many children study music for the last time during the elementary grades. All can become proficient music makers who sing comfortably and in tune, move comfortably in response to music, and are sensitive to the expressive quallties in music. In addition, National Music Standards recommend that all children become musically literate. All should learn to play instruments, improvise and compose music, effectively evaluate music and musical performances, and understand relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts. These challenges are met with enthusiasm by your general music teacher, who is well equipped to enable his/her students to musically succeed.

With your support, the music teacher will use limited class time wisely so that children can share the rich gift of music and become their musical best. Every minute counts. In some communities, however, the elementary music teacher is expected to prepare and present musical shows. Though shows may be attractive and offer public relations values, the cost in time is very high. To "look good" during performance, children must rehearse a few show songs for many weeks. Too often, the "show experience" focuses on music of doubtful quality, Show songs tend to encourage a projected voice style of singing that can be harmful to the child's developing voice. Shows eat up valuable teaching time that could be used to learn more expressive music and to offer the broader range of musical opportunities that all students should experience.

Not long ago we were a society of music makers. Families and communities shared and performed a repertoire of traditional songs and dances. Influenced by modern technology, we have become a society of music consumers. Implicit in the elementary school "show" is the consumer attitude: music education-a place where children create entertaining products to be consumed by parents and other members of the community. Your general music teacher would like to help students build competencies that will allow them to integrate music into their lives so that they may become more than just the next generation of consumers.

Your general music teacher is preparing lifelong musical skills for a generation of citizens who will be moved by quality music literature. They will feel comfortable when singing lullabies to their children, when singing during worship, or when dancing at a wedding. Rich musical processes are in jeopardy when the general music teacher must rob time from the music curriculum to present music products such as "shows."

Public relations values can be found in other options than a show. These options showcase the musical growth and development of the students in your school. One of the best public relations tools is to invite parents into music classes one or two weeks each year. The parents sit with the students and participate in all music activities. Realizing what the students are able to accomplish by attempting the activity themselves develops a powerful appreciation of their child's music education.

A May Day Festival, held during the school day or after school, is another activity that grows naturally out of general music class activities. Songs arid dances of good quality, taken from historic and/or traditional sources, offer a rich learning experience and make a delightful presentation that does not take weeks to refine. After students in each grade perform the songs and singing dances they have learned as part of their music curriculum, the oldest class might perform a traditional Maypole dance. Music making for each other creates a rare but desirable sense of community-far more valuable to children than performing for a mainly adult audience. Younger grades watch and anticipate learning the songs and dances the older grades perform; older grades revisit songs and dances learned in previous years as they watch the younger children. The May Day Festival is best when presented outdoors, where parents can bring blankets and sit with their children. Parents will likely be impressed or even amazed by these songs and intricate dances accompanied by songs. Requests for cutesy show songs and routines may even disappear, along with the annual show.

Singing is the instinctive language of the child, and the younger he is the more he requires movement to go with it – the organic connection between music and physical movement is expressed in singing games. These, particularly in the open air, have been one of the principle joys of childhood. (Zoltan Kodåly, Singing Games, 1937)

Another option is an annual "Family Folk Dance Evening." Children bring their parents to school, where they are taught folk dances that the children have learned in generaI music classes This multigenerational. experience builds appreciation of the process of music making. There are no consumers, there is no audience. There are only music makers-all of them involved in the sharing of a wonderful but rare community spirit.

Events such as "Winter Solstice," with seasonal songs and dances, or a "Harvest Festival," with barn dances and traditional songs, are also excellent ways to demonstrate students' musical growth and development. Both events use activities that grow naturally out of our cultural heritage and are central to the general music curriculum. The elementary school musical show product has little meaning in the students' future life or the larger musical world, but the process of learning traditional songs and dances prepares students for lifelong successful music making.

As one of the few teachers who instructs all of the children in your school, the music teacher observes students' growth and development throughout their elementary years. Because of this fortunate situation, the general music teacher can create and monitor a curriculum that will produce remarkable musical growth during the time available. With your support, the music teacher can spend each year's day and half of class time in ways that encourage broad and lasting musical accomplishments.

In closing, I wish to thank you in advance for helping to educate the community and other teachers about the real goals of the general music program. With your help we can hope for a more musical tomorrow.


John M. Feierabend, President
Organization of American Kodaly Educators

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