Fixing music education, with Quincy Jones

I have attended countless education conferences over the years with long agendas and even longer speeches that have big goals to transform education. Of course, nothing happens when everybody goes home.

I traveled to New York today to attend a gathering of educators and musicians who are onto something that could--really--transform music education in this country. The keys: Dozens of people from schools and non-profit organizations around the country are actually WORKING TOGETHER for this initiative, and it has the imprimatur of the famous producer Quincy Jones. We know that in America, celebrity matters, and this initiative certainly has that.

The goal of the Quincy Jones Music Consortium is to create a curriculum for a modern narrative of America's musical heritage to teach young people where they came from. It is intended to explore all of the country's musical traditions and how music has influenced our culture.

As Jones said to the crowd: "I say this with great fondness, but America's young kids are the most unaware of their own culture than everybody else in the world. I go everywhere and everybody knows American music, its roots. ... But our kids don't know their history. We don't even have a minister of culture."

Whether a minister of culture makes sense for the United States is besides the point. Music education is vital, I believe. Not because music helps kids do better on tests, but because music is central to the human experience.

But music education is suffering in the United States. The focus of No Child Left Behind on high-stakes standardized tests compelled many schools to drop arts education. And where there is music education, much of it is so traditional--marching bands, etc.--that kids are, frankly bored.

"What is wrong about getting a young person to learn how to play what is in their iPods?" said Roger Brown, president of the Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts. "Then they ultimately discover the whole world of music."

A framework for the curriculum has already been written, an effort led by Bill Banfield of Berklee, and there are plans to create prototypes of a handful of programs that can be taken to scale. The organizers are hoping to tap into a fund created by Education Secretary Arne Duncan for new education initiatives.

Of course, creating programs and getting schools to adopt them are two different stories. One thing going for this initiative is that so many different groups are willing to join on this particular bandwagon. Getting people in one universe to walk the same road is difficult, but necessary for success. That's where they are going.

The kids today don't know who they are," Banfield said. "Music tells their story."

Curriculum writers will take every aspect of the framework and devise detailed programs that schools can adopt.

The folks who traveled here today from around the country include people not only from Berklee but, to name a few, from the Smithsonian Institution, the Milwaukee High School of the Arts, Jazz at Lincoln Center, VH-1 Save the Music, the National Music Council, the Los Angeles Unified School District.

"This could have an extraordinary impact on music impact in America," said John Hasse, the curator of American music at the Smithsonian Institution." He also reminded the crowd though, that delivering the curriculum would not be easy.

"Schools don't have $300 for a curriculum kit. We have to give this to the schools," he said.


Tell us how important you think music education really is. How would you react if your child came home from school talking about a music class in which they were part of a rock band, or learning how to play hip-hop?

By Washington Post editors  |  November 4, 2009; 12:22 PM ET
Categories:  Music Education  | Tags: music education Share This:  E-Mail | Technorati | | Digg | Stumble Previous: Brady: The one reason Duncan's 'Race to the Top' will fail
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Teaching children popular music - as well as the basics - is a great idea and a way to ensure the next generation of music enthusiasts. My children were lucky to be introduced to music and art that way in our neighborhood public elementary school. The instrumental teacher taught them the basics, but also simplified current hit songs so that they could be played by beginning students. She encouraged them to create their own compositions and to tackle harder music on their own. My children are adults now. While only one or two of their classmates actually are in the music business now, most still play or sing with volunteer groups and attend traditional music events as well as popular concerts. Their background in art came from a former art teacher who volunteered to create and implement a program that connected the periods of history that the children were studying with the artwork of that period. She made it fun and now it's second nature for my kids to look at art and connect it to their lives. We feel lucky they got these introductions by chance. I hope this latest approach works so all children have that gift - I think this approach is on the right track!

Posted by: scgross | November 4, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

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