More About Early Childhood Music...part 2

Finally following up...

I have been working on this post for a couple days now, but truthfully, I don't have much more to say about it. In a few months, when I've actually experienced several classes with Daniel, I'm sure I'll have much more to blab about. For now, I'll just say that I'm a believer in early childhood music education for all kinds of reasons. When done properly, music classes encourage language development, motor skills, and socialization. Most importantly, music exposure and participation (meaning, not just at the level of observing) at a very early age instills rhythm, pitch, the tonic-dominant-leading tone relationships (without the high-falutin' terminology, of course) and, I like to think, music appreciation, joy. The point of early childhood music ed is not to find the next Mozart, in my humble opinion, but to encourage a collective musical conscience. That's for the parents and the kids. If some of them go on to play instruments and take private lessons and become professional musicians, then great. But those that don't will still benefit and so, we hope, will society at large.

A friend of mine, Rachel, once enrolled her daughter in a class called something like "Music and Movement Together," and it sounded totally and completely lame. The teacher just played Paul Simon songs on a CD player for the kids to dance around the room. I believe this is the reason curricula like Kindermusik, Musikgarten, Music Together and others have certification programs with certain standards for teachers and materials. I know I said I was skeptical about how Musikgarten marketed their workshops to potential teachers, but the actual music and equipment were good for the pre-school-level classes. (I didn't take the workshops for the next level for group piano teaching because I had some major issues with it, both musically and philosophically, but I won't go there right now. My point here is not to slam Musikgarten.)

Anyone else who knows a heck of a lot more about this than I do (Rizz, Katie, that means you!), please please share your thoughts or tell me if I'm off-base in any way.

Now where did I actually leave off on that first post? Ah, yes. The privilege thing. The class thing. The whole thing where I supposedly get all philosophical about my mission as a music educator and rant and rave about how it's not accessible to people below a certain income, and how it should be for everybody. The thing is, I believe that. I really do. But right now I'm trying to juggle full-time care for an 11-month-old, graduate school, a handful of private piano students (just 5, but it's enough), housework (egads does the laundry pile up these days), and a whole bunch of upcoming performances, some of them out of town, that I haven't started practicing for yet. So you'll have to excuse me if I'm not out there writing grants to teach pre-school music classes in Head Start or giving free lessons to poor kids when my paltry contribution to the household income barely covers what we spend on groceries as it is. Yes, we buy organic. But still.

I'm going to stop right there on that issue, because the fact is, I only have a few students, they can all more than afford to pay what I charge, and I don't have the time, motivation, or vision to spend my whole career bringing music to the under-privileged. That sounds so harsh, but what I really love to do is perform with other people, and if I devoted my whole life to teaching, I wouldn't ever have time to practice. That's why I didn't go beyond the Masters in Piano Pedagogy, and continued in Collaborative instead. Well, that and a certain epiphany I had as an undergrad during a lesson with a particularly frustrating child, but that's another story, and it involves boogers, so I'll tell you about it some other time.


katie said…
a couple thoughts. one thing i'm very opinionated about in early childhood music that i think you touched on is that music learning before age 6 or 7 (of course depending on the kid) should be play-based. like you said, "we're not trying to creat mozarts here". i get a little hot and bothered about these curricula that are performace-based at such a young age. it's so much more for the parents than the kids, and it couldn't be more developmentally INappropriate in my opinion. i believe strongly that if you're going to teach a child to love music the key is to make it fun and also to make it part of his/her everyday life. so, early childhood curricula should be aimed at giving parents tools to integrate music into their every day. music itself should be a tool for social change.

and a note on the affordability issue. . . i don't know if you feel guilty about it, suze, but i really don't think you should. i think there's definitely a place and need for high-quality private music lessons where the teacher is paid appropriately. there are also wonderful organizations that are large enough (or that is their sole purpose -- like a nonprofit--is such) that they can manage to provide low-cost or free lessons/classes. i think we need more of that, but i don't think that everyone who teaches music should be expected to accomodate that. it's a struggle of mine, too. i have this split in my thinking about it: one side saying let's reveal the reaseach that indicates all the ways music benefits childhood development and PROOVE to the world that it's so worth paying for. the other side says, i know what it's like to understand that something's important for my child and still not be able to pay for it! not that those are opposites or anything, just some thoughts.
Animal said…
I must admit, Suze, I had never before considered the concept of classism re: lesson prices and who can (and can't!) afford them. Like Katie, I have a split in my thinking which suggests that things that are GOOD for all ought to be AVAILABLE to all. But, that also smacks of communism (Marxism?), and while I like the idea of a certain degree of socialism (like, health care for instance), there's too much Ayn Rand bangin' around in my head to really get behind the idea of "free lessons for all."

I remember when Gov. Engler made it "illegal" for Michigan teachers to strike, saying that what they provided was for the "common good" and therefore were forbidden from such tactics. Hmmm. My mother about went apoplectic at that concept; her assertation was that yes, she really enjoyed teaching, but it was her JOB. You know, the thing she does to earn a paycheck. No one ever suggested that line workers at Ford should be disallowed from striking, inasmuch as building cars is a service for the "common good." No, somehow when children are involved, it seems everyone gets on this bandwagon which emphasizes charity and community.

Good concepts...except, you're a professional musician. You should get paid for it; and, you should be paid well, if you've nearly completed your DMA. If Stu is some sort of medical specialist, fine, you can donate your time and energy. Otherwise...

End of rant.
andre said…
great post Suze. . I would just echo katie and animal's remarks. . this is *work* and just because we happen to love it doesn't mean we do it for hugs from parents. as to the arts/activism struggle. . this is your degree and no one can do it for you. I pissed off a lot of family and friends during candidacy 'cause I was so out of touch with everybody. and i didn't have a family of my own to tend to. the degree and family is *plenty* sheroic, thank you. katie said it best: music *is* a vehicle for social change. and making it in this day and age is a revolutionary act. (when it's done *well*)
all best. .
Thorny said…
Thanks for discussing this.

Animal touched on this - that musicians face the same sort of ridiculous expectations that teachers do. My best friend is a newspaper reporter, and she faces the same kind of thing.

It's bizarre and frustrating to me that for all the public praise we give to those people who dedicate their professional lives to improving the world for other people (and I know the current mainstream media is messed up, but most of the reporters I know would rather be Edward R. Murrow than Geraldo Rivera, it's their editors and publishers feel the other way 'round), but then it's almost as if we (i.e. our culture) go out of our way to prevent them from being able to make a comfortable living doing these things.

It seems to fall pretty closely on the same lines as jobs which we hope are "callings" to people. If someone is "called" (not that I know who's doing the calling, of course) to do a certain profession, we expect that they get to fulfill that calling to be compensation enough for all the hard work they do.

Musicians, reporters, teachers, nurses, firefighters, police officers, clergy... all of these are professions we think of people doing because they love to do it, and so for some reason we seem to think all of these folks have taken a vow of poverty or something, when really, that's only the case for the clergy, if at all.

It's as if paying someone well to serve people/the public interest somehow negates the good they do. Which is ridiculous - heaven knows doctors and a few other professionals who serve the public good get to make a nice living for their labor, why not all the others?

Anyway. The point is, I don't think you should feel badly about not donating your labor to others. You know how I feel about how motherhood is valued in our culture, so in my estimation, you're already "donating" your labor to our society with all you do for your son. You've got to keep some of your efforts to serve yourself and your family - how else are y'all supposed to survive?

Also, don't forget - you have a very young child still. Time is not something you have in spades. At some later point, you can always decide that you have time to donate lessons or otherwise support a non-profit that helps provide music education to kids who couldn't otherwise afford it. Right now, however, you really have no choice but to stay focused on the needs of your immediate family.

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