In the 1970s as a pre-adolescent I was fortunate to study guitar with a legendary teacher and performer, Joe Corso on Long Island, New York. He required me to read and master traditional music notation, read cord forms and scale techniques for a jazz musician.
This fundamental education aided me as I organized and lead bands while in high school and the bands achieve tremendous success winning local competitions. I joined the music department at my local high school. The music department had a choir teacher, an orchestra teacher and a band teacher. This faculty represented most music departments in high schools in the 1970s. This traditional staff of music teachers was the standard of the education system of the day. Together with my prior knowledge due to my exposure to an academic music education from the guitar studies I had begun before the age of 10, I was able to jump right into the high school music program. My exposure to Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th-century choral music, orchestral music, jazz and musical theater prepared me for a terrific collegiate experience where I was able to get a great music education in the art of teaching music in schools. Throughout college I was able to participate in a very rich performance experience as a singer, bassist in orchestra, bassist in jazz and as an actor. Aaron Copeland conducted the orchestra at State University of New York at Potsdam (SUNY Potsdam) when I was in the bass section providing me with a life-changing experience that I have been able to share with my students throughout the years.
It was at SUNY Potsdam that I was first exposed to how important and available the pedagogy of music teaching is.
As a student of vocal and choral music I learned that most music pedagogy was developed through liturgical music, the music of the church. The core disciplines of sight reading, the study of harmony and the development of ensemble work were all established in 16th century choral music. These concepts were translated into the instrumental studies for musicians from the Baroque ear to present. The study of classical music in the form of choral and instrumental music has been developed throughout the centuries and today takes on the same form as it did in the days of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. The pedagogy that is available to all music teachers comes from the study, discipline and artistry of these masters. These artists passed down their work in a complete and comprehensive written form that can still be accessed today.
After graduating from college I embarked on a performing career in New York City. As a postgraduate I was able to combine all of my interests and succeed in the musical theater world. Highlights include working on Broadway and off-Broadway and working in a production with Stephen Sondheim. My music education provided me with the ability to be a strong member of all of the productions I performed in as a musical theater singer and actor. These experiences grew to where I was able to again combine my interests and talents in the form of television commercials. I am proud of what I’ve been able to share in these experiences as an instrumentalist by playing guitar and other instruments on camera and on the stage.
While raising a family in the early 1990’s I looked to my music education degree to serve as a means to provide and give back.
I had three children and my twelve year career as a performer was being overshadowed by my growing family. I took my first position in the public schools as a high school choral teacher at John Muir High School in the Pasadena Unified School District, a position I held for four years. While at Muir I transformed an undesirable program into an award winning and attractive program to many in the community by following the simple concepts of good music pedagogy described in this article. I was then recruited to teach at an already established program at Walter Reed Middle School where I was able to direct the program as department chair to the status of winner of the BRAVO AWARD from the Los Angeles Music Center in 2011.
Currently I am in my 16th year teaching music in public schools. It became very clear to me when I first started teaching that students need parameters.
I believe that I am an expert in my field and that it is my responsibility to provide students with the depth of pedagogy and the repertoire that goes with it. The music of the musical era timeline (renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic, impressionistic and 20th century) is paramount to an academic music education. This essential pedagogy in music is often abandoned for what uninspired music teachers think is important to teach students ‘what they want to do’ rather than what they need to learn. Math, english, history and science instructors would never ask students what they ‘want’ to learn. It is my opinion that not giving them a rigorous academically challenged course in music education is allowing them to coast through school. Please read this with the encouragement to require your students’ music educators to design and offer all music students a comprehensive education with this tradition as the most formidable accompanying piece. Require your educators to be experts at what they do. And require collegiate programs to be responsible for the teachers they produce and send out into the world by following up with them and being part of this entire subject.
The disconnect in current schools is that school board members, administrators and teachers dismiss the respect to these means of education through art due to basic disregard based on their own personal affinity.
Colleagues of mine have been present when a school board member openly stated that they had no interest in comprehensive music studies in schools because they personally didn’t participate in the programs when they were in school. It is my opinion that to ignore this type of pedagogy in favor of a popular and perhaps a course of study of what students ‘might like’ is a major contributing factor to the decline of strong education practices. My sixteen year career has left me with one simple caveat. Students, adults and anyone in the audience of music respond to good music. Additionally administrators who are not understanding of these concepts also greatly contribute to the lack of music education in schools. Most school districts, and I can certainly speak for the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Pasadena Unified School District, empower school sites where the principle is in effect the CEO of the company. My experience shows me that when the principle is committed to these core elements to quality music education they are informed on how to select the appropriate and highest qualified music instructors to support these core techniques for their students.
This methodology of instruction in music mirrors quality educational practices in the language arts and mathematics.
In March 2011 upon the completion of his first tenure as superintendent for LAUSD, Ramon Cortines quoted to me, “an academic approach to music education is the greatest companion piece to a comprehensive education.”
In closing, the non technical perspective that supports my point of view of the importance of quality music education is the subjective and personal effects music has on all of us.
The visceral connection we feel while listening to music, making music or composing music can be so inspiring that it can be called a spiritual experience. The spiritual aspect of music is felt throughout all types of music. The artist allows their connection of the art to flow through their skill and techniques and they are in the process of transforming themselves to a state that can only be achieved through this art form. The physical connection with vibrations and how they affect each of us is the intangible element that keeps us coming back for more. Each genre and style has its own display of this connection but everyone in every genre knows that they have to be ‘in the groove’. It also explains people’s passion for music exampled by this article.
I’ll play, teach, compose and communicate about music better knowing I had this opportunity to share my thoughts with you.
Director of Guitar and Marching Band Programs
Conductor of Wind Symphony and Musical Theater
Academy of Music and the Performing Arts
Hamilton High School
Los Angeles, CA.