I have been writing for a long time. It started when my elementary school sent me to the Young Authors' Conference in kindergarten. It was a fancy meal and a day away from school, so I felt pretty pumped about it at age 6. In middle & high school, I was encouraged to go into journalism. But there was something else I had my sights set on.
I have been playing music for a long time, and loving it a lot longer than that. As a small child, I carried around my brown Fischer-Price cassette recorder wherever I went and acted out my own musical dramas all around my house. An undying love for the Annie soundtrack eventually morphed into fixation with Paula Abdul & Janet Jackson, which gave way to obsessions with Green Day and soonafter The Smashing Pumpkins, which then eventually led to serious academic research on Sonic Youth. Whether it be through practicing woodwinds or cherishing time spent with Daydream Nation, music has meant everything to me.
I have loved doing two seemingly disparate things. So which one have I pursued?
I've pursued them both.
All the while, as much as I wanted to be a rock star when I "grew up", I stayed with traditional school band instruments. That was what I had access to. That was what I had instruction on. Of course, nowadays I am perpetuating the tradition of public school music educators, but I can safely say that without my public school (and publicly funded, state university) education, much of it spent studying & performing Dvorak, Debussy, and Saint-Saens, I wouldn't have gotten everything out of Janet or the Pumpkins that I did.
My personal and I suppose educational philosophy is that you can love both. You can deeply appreciate your classical training and also love pop music. Moreover, classical, Western art training and contact with popular music (from whatever era, but especially that which is current) should overlap. The academic training and the love for what's accessible out there should intersect. And that intersection should be discussed, all while taking into account the multitude of things that affect the creation of musical canon.
My college orchestra director, who is a brilliant, world renown educator, said to us often in his thick Hungarian accent, "Don't put drawers in your brain." I have taken this soundbite with me throughout my career. Yes, kids should absolutely know about Beethoven, but they should also be cognizant that his music has been sampled & performed by Alicia Keys. It's going to be hard for students to read Gustav Holst's "Mars" (from the Planets suite) the first time through, as it's in 5/4, but an old fun song by XTC (also in 5/4) might help them count a little better.
Too many teachers totally discount contemporary popular music for the sake of ensuring they teach the classics of Western art music -- or the other way around. I personally don't see the problem with teaching both. You can teach one through the other, and examine the ways in which they overlap. And O, 21st century music teacher, you should.
I hope you'll continue to join me on this journey where I discuss doing both. It's been a great year writing on this topic, and despite any of the things that hold us back as a profession, I am grateful to everyone who has visited this particular corner of the music/education blogosphere. Thank you to everyone who has encouraged me to keep writing, and thank you to everyone out there who is working diligently to ensure the best in arts education for our children. I know a lot of demanding artistic directors and a lot of sympathetic educators. My favorites are the ones who believe you can do both.