September Cali Column – “3 Values of Music Education” by Dr. Marissa Silverman

Welcome to the first installment of our new series of blog posts, the Cali Column! Each month, we will feature a different Cali professor’s writing about an important issue in music education! This month, we have Dr. Silverman’s “3 Values of Music Education.” Enjoy!

3 values of music education by Marissa Silverman

The other day, a colleague said: “Music isn’t fun. It’s hard work, dedication, and challenging. Fun is riding a rollercoaster. Music is a rewarding achievement.” This caused me to think about the “whys” (or values) of music education.

Just as there are hundreds upon hundreds of musics around the world, there are as many “whys” of musics. And because music education depends, partly, on the natures and values of musics, it stands to reason that there are hundreds upon hundreds of values of music education.

I will not pretend to know each and every value. Nor will I pretend to have experienced them all. Still, part of the joy of music education is experiencing known and unknown values.  Even better: to experience values never deemed possible.

Here are 3 values. They aren’t the best nor the most comprehensive. Still, they’re part of why I engage in music education.

  1. Musical understanding. A key value of music education is musical understanding. What does this mean? Briefly, musical understanding is experiencing and expressing oneself through music. This understanding depends upon many factors—too numerous to mention here. When I experience and express myself through music—when I compose a pop song, perform in a large ensemble, or dance Gahu—I gain a sense of self-knowledge (and self-other knowledge), self-growth (and self-other growth), and self-esteem I couldn’t gain otherwise. Why? When musical challenges meet (or slightly enhance) my abilities, I experience flow (also known as optimal experience). “Flow” describes a kind of experience that’s so engaging that it’s worth doing for the doing itself. The arts and sports are typical sources of flow. What sets musics apart from all other sources of flow and self-other understandings is the unique materials and requirements of musics, namely sonic-musical events created and shared by and for others at specific times and places.
  1. Community. Related to self-other understanding, a key value of music education is community. Music making connects me to those I engage with musically. There are a number of reasons for this. First, music making can be emotionally engaging/arousing. When I’m emotionally engaged, I’m likely to connect with those who are part of this emotional engagement. Also, I become in-sync with others. And being in-sync connects me to others I wouldn’t otherwise be connected with/to. Relationships form because of musical experiences, and a community is born. With that comes trust, care, commitment, fellowship, well-being, and so on. The value of community yields exponential dividends. However, this isn’t the only kind of community that music education yields. By engaging with musics written by and for others—for example, Mahler’s 1st Symphony, the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Snow (Hey, Oh),” “Siyahamba,” or Ellington’s Black, Brown, and Beige—I can connect to people, places, and times far removed from my own here and now. That kind of time/space travel and communality is greatly rewarding.
  1. Happiness. A key value of music education is happiness, or, stated differently, Aristotle’s notion of “human flourishing.” While some people may think that happiness is a “soft” value like “fun,” it’s not. Happiness is the pursuit of a life well lived. Living well isn’t simplistic or easily achieved. When engaged in the teaching-and-learning of music, I’m contributing to my life’s happiness. What more can be said about music education and happiness? I’ll happily get into that in another blog post.

So, what values have you experienced through music education?

Do you have any professors you would like to hear from? Send us an email and let us know! nafme@montclairstatenafme.org

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