Popular Music Education. These three words, even though they have been at the center of my professional life for more than 25 years, continue to challenge and intrigue me because each one generates questions. What do we mean by ‘Popular’? Popular with whom, and for how long? Popular in the sense of widely distributed, or in the sense of culturally influential? When we say ‘Music’, which music… and whose music? The consensus reached long ago in conservatoires about the centrality of the European ‘common practice period’ has no easy parallel in PME, and popular music has evolved into so many forms and sub-genres that it is arguably impossible for any teacher or student to have knowledge of it all. And when we talk about ‘Education’, what, exactly, are we teaching? PME in high schools and in higher education deals variously with listening, performing existing music, creating original music, music technology, the commercial music industry, and (often controversially) the history of various canons, styles and traditions. Which of these should we choose to teach? Each answer to these questions breeds further questions. If we decide that our curriculum supports creativity, then our students will probably need to be songwriters, the song being the dominant creative product in most popular music. But how does one build a suitable grading framework for songwriting, when songs represent personal expression? What if the teacher’s definition of a good song is different from the student’s?
The Institute was founded on a musical question, which is:
What would jazz sound like in a culture without patriarchy?
This morning I was viewing the video of remarks from our outstanding keynote speaker Dr Farah Jasmine Griffin (William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University NY). Like a lot of people, when an inspiring speaker mentions artists, music or books that are new to me, I like to explore further – cue a brief trip down a Google ‘rabbit hole’. So here’s the full presentation, with citations below.
Dr Brandoff opens with two vignettes; one where he describes a time of personal social frustration where he wanted to punch a wall (but played some classical piano instead – he demos it live!). His second example is a patient case (see slide).
As a palliative care expert and pain specialist, he gives us an overview of patient needs, in the context of his profession, and in the context of US healthcare. He considers opioids an important part of pain treatment, but acknowledges the rampant public health opioid crisis. We look at some disturbing stats of overdose deaths involving opioids in the US, correlated with heroin and fentanyl takeup, and a more local analysis of the picture here in Massachusetts.
Dr Carr ones with a powerful statement: Pain itself is a disease. There are a number of causes, and types, of disease (heart disease, lung disease etc) but once they become established and manifest as pain, they have similarities. Dr Carr believes that having access to pain control is a human right. Pain is a public health issue. Pain professionals view it it as a disease, which can be understood as a combination of pathology, host and environment. Definition discussion (Williams and Craig, 2016).
Pain, Dr Carr suggests, is a public health issue (O’Brien et al, 2017) and lower back pain is argued to be a global disability.
Dr Heiderscheit begins with an historical overview, which is fascinating – see photo. She presents this slide with minimal comment due to pressure of time.
We see some quantitative (and remarkable) stats relating to public health issues – economic costs of addiction, trauma and pain – but Dr Heiderscheit suggests that the human cost of these issues is literally unquantifiable. They affect our health, relationships, wellbeing, security, purpose, community and environment. “We can work to slap band-aids on gaping wounds, but if we don’t address these areas we are not achieving [societal] well-being”.
Advocating for Popular Music Education – where do we go from here?
Steve Holley, Music educator
Steve begins with an overview of US music education generally, including high schools and universities, asking ‘why adapt now?’ and describing a necessary journey toward curricular adaptation. He takes us back to the mid-20thC innovators (USC, Miami, Berklee) who ‘took a chance on jazz’, and observes that the music education community thought they were crazy. Within 50 years of those early adopters, jazz in music schools had become mainstream. Steve believes that popular music education today is where jazz music education was in the 1950s, and predicts a similar trickle-down effect in future years, giving examples of schools where this is already starting to happen.