Will the Band Play On? The Future of Music Education

By Jennifer Maney — I play the guitar and have been doing so since I was 9 years old. I also write and record music. I firmly believe that music holds the power to generate passion and connections not just to the past but to each other.

I also currently have a 13-year old who attends school in a relatively affluent suburb of Milwaukee. She had to choose which alternative she wanted for her musical exploration. Those choices were choir, orchestra, or band. After much discernment about the possibility of leaving the cello behind (her instrument of choice during her grade school years) she opted for choir, which now means that five days a week she has a 50-minute class on how to harmonize with a group, learn about musical history, understand how to follow a conductor, and meet expectations of performance behavior that goes way beyond the classroom.

I recently began to talk with her intentionally about how lucky she is that she has this opportunity, given the current climate in many schools that, if they haven’t already, are discussing eliminating music, dance, and theater programs due to budget cuts.

This brings me to the opportunity I had last week. I witnessed, first-hand, the work of Pius XI Performing Arts Academy. This program offers outreach programs to as many as 26 area grade schools in general music, orchestra, choir, and dance. It is a four-year, sequenced curriculum and its aim is to, among many other things, help students find their artistic potential and utilize the arts as a way to learn about history and other cultures.

I visited one of the schools utilizing this outreach program, Mother of Good Council, an Archdiocesan schools serving a large number of students who might not otherwise have an opportunity to learn about music, let alone play an instrument or sing in a group; in other words, not benefit from what occurs when learning how to read music or learning the cooperative skills in harmonizing with a team. The children all receive one hour each week in their selected area of interest. It isn’t five days a week, but it is better than not having a chance to be introduced to any music at all in their school setting.

I will not write today about how I feel the study and performance of music and theater is at least equal to that of math and science. The research bears that out and has for a long time.

And I won’t write today about the political unrest that may lead to cuts in our schools that will have long-lasting repercussions for only certain children who may not live in the right zip code.

Instead I write to honor the Pius Performing Arts program and other satellite programs like it, greatly underfunded and being run in many cases by folks who simply have a commitment to subject areas outside of those some have deemed worthy of saving in our schools. (By the way, the next time you are at a dinner party and someone says that teachers are overpaid and underworked, tell them about this program and others like it that are staffed by folks who have other jobs and do this in-kind).

With future funding unknown for programs like the Pius XI Performing Arts Academy, it remains to be seen how long some of our schools can continue to offer kids the chance to learn about and perform in music and theater and how this program can continue to keep up with the demand.

And that, my friends, would be heartbreaking.

Music and theater, in this humble guitar-player’s mind, are subjects also needed to produce well rounded, compassionate, and learned human beings. The disappearance of programs in schools or programs like the Pius XI Performing Arts Academy will mean more than just fewer students who can connect to music. To me, it means fewer human beings who can connect to each other.

_____________________

Jennifer Maney is a graduate of Marquette’s doctoral program in Educational Policy & Leadership.  She currently serves as the Institutional Coordinator for the Greater Milwaukee Catholic Education Consortium (GMCEC).

1 Response to “Will the Band Play On? The Future of Music Education”


  1. 1 Bonnie Scholz April 8, 2011 at 6:27 am

    Dear Jennifer: Many thanks for your wonderful article about our Pius XI Performing Arts Program. We will continue to strive to bring quality performing arts programming to our grade schools in the Milwaukee Archdiocese and beyond! Any one who would like more information, can contact me directly at bscholz@piusxi.org
    Peace, Bonnie J. Scholz, Performing Arts Academy Director

    Like


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