As you might know, I am finishing my PhD in Music Education at the University of Toronto. So last week I attended the international conference known as RIME: Research in Music Education in the beautiful University of Exeter in England. This was the view from my bedroom window:
Besides the tremendous views, I also got a lot out of the conference itself. Now that I am back in Toronto, I find I am left both excited and troubled about the state of music education world-wide.
Excited because I saw many presentations that examined a wide array of music teaching and learning scenarios that wandered well beyond school-based choirs and bands: music education was constructed very broadly to include all ages, and many contexts, from underground rock music in Iran to music as a form of participatory culture to drama-oriented teaching strategies. And I also saw research about what I think of as traditional approaches to music education: school-based ensembles. And here too, I was excited to see how this research grappled with how to create culturally relevant pedagogies, and how to work with students more fully. In short, most of the research I saw considered music as embedded in, and constituted through, social relations rather than something that is separate from the politics of our daily lives.
I also walked away quite troubled. Music education around the globe appears to be diminishing: governments everywhere are simultaneously requiring post-secondary institutions to measure and quantify results, and demonstrate courses and programs in terms of market employability. Funding to music programs has been cut drastically. I’m not sure where I stand on this: I don’t want to suggest that music programs shouldn’t be accountable, or that we shouldn’t be thinking about what happens when students graduate, but the steady and constant erosion of music programs is alarmingly consistent and pervasive in many countries around the world. Add to that the erosion of stable faculty in post-secondary education, and it feels quite desperate indeed. I presented on a panel about the state of tenure in post-secondary music programs in Canada, and our research team painted yet another bleak picture for several reasons, not least of which being the shocking decline of tenure-track positions in Canada. Hiring freezes have been in place for…well, decades, in some situations, and tenure positions are disappearing.
Yet I am left feeling hopeful. Not about the state of music education in higher education, but about the capacity of music education scholars and practitioners to meet the challenge. These academics, from Norway, England, Ireland, Australia, Brazil, America, Poland, Canada, and so many other countries, are thoughtful, reflective, creative, and striving to make the world more just as best as we know how. Their passion ignites my own and I am newly excited to think and practice music.