The goal of art is to capture the essence of beauty for all eternity. To this end, creating music in both a rehearsal environment and in performance can be thought of as an exercise in creating beauty. The primary mission for all musical artists, whether novice or expert, is to serve the music better by learning how to express its ideas and emotional content more beautifully. This mission requires that we seek to develop in our student singers both a depth of musical understanding and an emergent attachment to the subtleties of creative music making.
One of the goals of music education is to fulfill this mission while stoking the fire of love for music in the student musician. To ensure this love is long lasting and full of meaning, it becomes imperative that music teachers frequently engage students in situations where they will not only be challenged intellectually, but also will be filled with the ecstasy of music making as they work to unpack the complexities of music learning and creative response.
Prior to the mid-1970s, almost all school music programs were based primarily on performance, and though many outstanding choral music programs throughout the country produced some exceptional performing groups, they were mostly focused on performance technique and often failed to help students develop a depth of musical understanding or a life-long attachment to music of nuance and artistry. Besides a narrow range of understandings, those same programs, in general, offered little to nurture creative and critical thinking, pre-requisites to successful and life-long learning or involvement in music.
Since the 1970s, an increasing number of music educators began to develop strategies to expand students' musical understandings: strategies that nurture the imagination, creative response, and critical thinking skills. Yet, under the demands of public performance pressures, many music directors still seek what they believe to be the most efficient means of getting the music learned: drill and practice sessions based upon rote learning. Unfortunately, the pressure to perform can easily cause the creative process to come to a screeching halt, causing technical skills and precision to become the end, as well as the means-just at the time when student singers may be teetering on the threshold of creative musical self-expression and independence.
Teaching students to be creative artists, a process that requires both critical and creative thought, is increasingly recognized as an immediate goal in music education. When students are being involved in making music, they must also be involved in making artistic decisions. The ensemble director typically makes all the artistic decisions, which is precisely why the music making experience for the emergent student artist is inherently non-creative. In this learning environment, music functions not as a creative discipline, but as a process in which students imitate the dictates of a music director without understanding or meaning.
The primary mission for a musical artist is to serve the music better by learning how to express its ideas and emotional content more beautifully. So how can music education provide better opportunities for students to share more fully in the ideas and expressive qualities captured in the music that they rehearse and perform? The challenge for the music director is to identify the complexities of music learning and apply pedagogy that will ensure the multi-layered interactions of music teaching and learning will guide student musicians on an exhilarating journey leading to self-growth, self-knowledge, and musical enjoyment.
Bennett Reimer (A Philosophy of Music Education) recommends that music education involve students in the creation of music to the fullest extent possible so they may experience their own explorations and discoveries of feeling through the act of creation. The extent to which a conductor will allow the student singers to participate in making musical decisions or, at the very least, lead them to understand why those decisions are being made, will determine whether the journey on the road toward self-growth, self-knowledge, and musical enjoyment is successful or not.
What kind of a rehearsal would accommodate the teaching of musicianship and allow student musicians to move beyond responding with little independent or creative thought? I would suggest that it's limited only by one's imagination. A lecture presented at 7:30 p.m., February 17, at Eureka College will present a framework upon which to build the pedagogy that will provide singers opportunities to think critically and become creatively involved in the process of music making. AA!