Recently, Todd Stoll, the vice president of education at Jazz at the Lincoln Center, shared an op-ed in Time Magazine challenging music educators to re-think how music is being presented in schools. Since the editorial ran, it has been quite popular in social media due to his well-reasoned and authoritative position. Stoll applauds the “Every Child Succeeds Act” passed by Congress, which now considers music a core curriculum alongside science, math, social studies, and language arts. As Stoll says “It is time, music educators. Welcome to the table.”
As a music teacher at Harrisburg Academy, I am thrilled to join the conversation, and even more delighted that the Academy is already ahead of the curve. Stoll identifies significant weaknesses in current music education and the need to shift away from the limitations of the past century. These previous standards were built by pioneers in music education, with the goal of teaching an agrarian population to love and appreciate music. By design, their work focuses on right notes, precise rhythms, clear diction, and unified phrasing as the standard for excellent music. This standard is needed for performing some music, but as Stoll points out, the world of music is much, much bigger. And the International Baccalaureate (IB) program reflects this.
I teach both Standard and Higher Level IB Music, and I am routinely drawn to the course’s dynamic curriculum and expectations. The course is designed to challenge students to intimately understand music within the context of when and where it was created. Students think about the global context of a society’s music and are encouraged not to dismiss it as “good” or “bad.” It is not a simple task, especially when confronted by selections such as Xian Xinghai’s “Yellow River Concerto,” in which students must balance the musical merits with the propaganda of the Chinese government. Music is significant, and has always played a role in understanding global societies. As an IB World School, the Academy is uniquely positioned to teach students music in this interdisciplinary way.
The two-year IB course traces music history from antiquity to the present day, with careful analysis of specific musical. The works guide the course’s direction, but do not limit the music we study. Instead, these works serve as bookmarks and resting points where students are able to synthesize large amounts of information and teachers can effectively evaluate students’ increasing understanding.
The essence of the IB course is not regurgitation, but creation. Like the music we study, students are taught music developments within the timeframe that those developments happened. For example, students do not just study a single concerto (as they would in a college course). Instead, they study the inventors of the concerto, the instruments used during the time period, and the compositional devices favored by composers. Then, they write their own concerto. Armed with this intimate knowledge, students listen to unidentified works and aurally analyze what they hear. Based on this information, they speak or write about each work, ultimately assigning each piece a time period, country of origin, and likely composer.
This is the IB model, and it mirrors the global understanding of music expected at major conservatories and in musically literate individuals. It is not an ‘elite’ set of knowledge, but an understanding or music’s role throughout time and around the world. It is exactly the knowledge that Stoll challenges music educators to develop, and the knowledge he sees is lacking.
I am proud that we have the solution right here at Harrisburg Academy, one that was not found by setting our gaze internally, but by connecting with a global community. I am thrilled to be teaching at a school that is at the table of tomorrow’s music education.