Curriculum, technology, and repertoire - Oh My!

Yep - that picture is at a "conference!" Last week I was able to attend the Colloquium for Teachers of Instrumental Music Methods (IMTE) in Mohican State Park in Ohio. This was my second time attending this colloquium and it's truly one of my favorite "conferences." It's a great group of people who are ready and willing to share and debate ideas and work together to grow and advance our field. And it all takes place in a gorgeous state park, while wearing jeans and t-shirts, and the work is broken up with chunks of free time. It's fantastic! Not to mention that my family came along on this adventure, as you can see in the attached picture, which made it even better. So I thought I would share a few comments/topics that sparked my interest this year. These have continued to rattle around in my brain and probably will for quite some time. 

Dr. Darrin Thornton led a town hall style forum looking at the CMS Task Force report. It is interesting to see how many people in our field desire change but we have so many different ways of trying to achieve change. My small group was talking specifically about curriculum changes and trying to give students more choice in their undergraduate courses. Dr. Jill Sullivan from Arizona State University was part of this discussion. ASU has taken on a serious curriculum reform in the past few years so she spoke from experience. The two thoughts she offered that were particularly striking to me were:

We're teaching competencies, not courses. We can't possibly have a course for every topic they're ever going to encounter. And our topics blend together too much for that to be practical anyway. For example, "conducting" should be something they learn in a variety of ways, not only in courses labeled "conducting."

This is their initial teacher certification. We can't possibly teach them everything they need to know for their entire teaching career. 

I hope that I will keep these things in mind as I help to design curriculum in the future.

I really enjoyed using the "birds of a feather" breakout groups over lunch to sit down with the other string folks and talk about all kinds of stuff. Sitting at a table with Robert Gardner, BettyAnne Gottlieb, Michael Hopkins, Kim Ankney, Amber Peterson, and Kristen Pellegrino in spirit (she had to leave to get home) - wow! Among other things, we shared ideas for using technology in our pre-service string classes and Mike Hopkins had two ideas that I've stored away for future use. His students create their own pedagogy videos. They work in small groups and have to create a video to demonstrate a concept and then create an audio track to play over top of that. The video can't just be "talking heads" as he said. He said some of the students get really excited about this project and do really creative and wonderful things with it. He's working on pulling these videos into his website (an awesome resource!) so that they can be a resource for others. 

And his second idea was a composition partnership. Hopkins worked with a local K12 teacher and her young students composed short phrases/themes. Hopkins took all of these motives and gave them to his undergrads. The undergrads combined the themes into one comprehensive piece of music and presented it back to the K12 class (after some final edits from Hopkins). They used Sibelius and lots of emailing files back and forth to accomplish this but we also discussed the capabilities of Noteflight and how it might be just right for this project. 

The last formal session of the colloquium was a town hall forum with position papers by Randall Allsup and Kevin Sedatole to discuss the "role of the instrumental music teacher educator and college ensemble director." This was a lively discussion with great audience participation as this topic hits close to home for many of us. There were several thoughts I wanted to share but was not able to voice in the forum itself. 

Sedatole was upset by a piece his son's high school band director chose. He emailed the director to say, "selecting that piece for your ensemble is like the junior year English teacher assigning a comic book." First, I think it is perfectly acceptable for an English teacher to assign a comic book and I know several who do. Second, Sedatole sent his email after receiving information from his son about when/where/how the piece was going to be rehearsed and performed. After emailing the teacher he discovered that maybe his son didn't have all the facts right. I was incredibly surprised to see an ensemble director jumping prematurely at the teacher, when many other teachers in the room would have taken the information from the student with a grain of salt. I was surprised he made assumptions and judgements about when/where/how the piece was used without talking directly to the teacher. And third, there were so many assumptions about what "good" music is my head started to hurt. Again, I couldn't believe that he would make some of these value judgements without talking to the teacher. There could have been a very reasonable explanation why the teacher wanted the students to perform this particular piece. Instead of having that conversation and learning and growing together, he chose to judge. In his defense, he said that generally he tries very hard not to impose his opinions on this teacher. But in this particular instance he just couldn't refrain. And I realize that in writing this I am imposing my own judgements and opinions. I am grateful that Dr. Sedatole was part of this conversation at IMTE and gave us perspective and food for thought. This opened my eyes to similarities, and obviously differences, between the views of some per-service teacher educators and some ensemble directors. 

Mike Hopkins brought up the phrase repertoire is the curriculum, and his frustrations with the phrase, because he got a promotional email from Midwest with that as the headline. Someone (I wish I could remember who!) responded that repertoire is IN the curriculum might be more appropriate. I really like this slight change. I completely agree that repertoire is IN the curriculum and completely disagree that repertoire, in and of itself, is the curriculum. Sedatole argued that you have to look past that publisher-driven comment and not let it bother you. But I've heard that comment from many more places than just publishers. Plus, even if it's publisher-driven, that message went to a huge audience of people, not all as discerning as Mike Hopkins. If people are hearing repertoire is the curriculum over and over they're going to start to agree. That's how marketing works. We can't trust that they'll just "look past" the marketing. We need to change the marketing. 

And finally, the forum concluded with a somewhat heated discussion of how music ed faculty can "compete" with the relationship ensemble faculty develop with undergrads. The conclusion seemed to be that music ed faculty just need to get in front of younger undergrads more often. When undergrads interact primarily with ensemble directors and studio faculty it is very difficult for music ed faculty to create lasting relationships and be seen as "credible musicians." I understand the points of this discussion and the incredible tension this topic creates. I simply want to add my voice that these issues are institution-dependent. The comment was made: "No one is choosing a school because of the music ed faculty. It's the studio faculty & ensemble directors." This was not true for me. Yes, the viola professor had a large impact on me but so did the music ed faculty member that I interviewed with. I met Laura Joss on the day I auditioned, had a brief interview with her, and then had at least one class with her every semester from the day I started at BW. I realize this situation might be unique. But the sweeping generalizations that "no one chooses a school because of music ed faculty" and that "it's impossible for us to get in front of them regularly in the first few semesters" are not true everywhere. 

I am grateful for conferences and colloquiums like this to share ideas, meet new people, and expand my perspectives. I look forward to seeing many of these people in other places in the coming year and hopefully we can all return (plus new faces!) to IMTE in 2017!