Music educators across the country have grappled with how to provide their students with the best possible music education while adhering to the COVID-19 guidelines. With many schools struggling to meet the ensemble regulations, music educators are using this time as an opportunity to teach the National Core Arts Standards through the vast tool belt called Music Appreciation.
When one mentions Music Appreciation, it is usually accompanied by the sighs of dissatisfied students. Music Appreciation is often stereotyped into the box of Western Art Music. Classical greats, such as Mozart and Beethoven, are taught with the surround sound of premier string orchestras and operatic greats. What some fail to see is that Music Appreciation is just as diverse as the students who enter the music classroom. In reality, Music Appreciation is an “umbrella” term for music educators to build courses around student interests and connect music to their daily lives.
The music educators in the state of Vermont are doing exactly this. In the fall, students at Middlebury Union High School played traditional arrangements on steel pans and standard Real Book charts in Jazz Ensemble which incorporated the rhythm section providing backing tracks. During the spring semester, students will have the opportunity to learn classical guitar repertoire in threeand four-part harmony. Recently, students compared various performances of the National Anthem and the intentional decisions made by the arrangers and soloists, which was prompted by Lady Gaga’s performance at the Presidential Inauguration.
Students at Mount Mansfield Union High School (MMUHS) have the opportunity to continue drumming through the winter months even though marching band has halted. Students continue their learning through a drumline class and bucket drumming. Students are also able to learn piano, music history and music theory.
Like many schools, MMUHS has recently added ukulele as a learning opportunity for students. Teachers have discovered that this happy-sounding instrument is great for small hands, can act as a transitionary instrument to guitar, and is an inexpensive way for parents to purchase their child an instrument for home use. The instrument’s versatility provides the music educator with hundreds of songs in all ability levels and genres while supplying a rich cultural and historical background to teach.
West Rutland High School has offered chorus students the opportunity to learn how to song write this year. Students are learning how to write chord progressions, melodies and lyrics using class as a lab time. SoundTrapp has been an invaluable tool for West Rutland students when encapsulating and arranging musical inspiration. Later in the school year, students will participate in a virtual songwriter showcase to publicly share their compositions. Songwriting provides students an outlet to emulate musicians they admire and connect with their peers through feedback and discussion. The personal nature of songwriting allows students to find their own creative voice and share it with others.
Arlington Memorial High School students have been using the built-in loops in SoundTrapp to compose and reinforce the elements of music. Students have collected non-musical sounds to build their own drum loops in “found sound” projects and created podcast projects in the style of shows like “Song Exploder.” In the latter, students analyze lyrics, production and other musical elements of a song, and record a voice-over. This process reinforces the “make a claim, cite your source” model seen in writing classes.
Students at Proctor Jr.-Sr. High School are answering the question, “Why is music taught in school?” in a new elective. This Understanding by Design modeled class has students making connections between music and the other academic disciplines, the known and hypothesized in neuroscience, the creative benefits of music, and the social-emotional supports. Connections also include basic music-math (music theory and composition), the physics of sound waves using instruments, the study of Global and Western Art music and their cultures, the analysis and interpretation of songs using literary techniques, and the relationships between music, emotion and relationships.
Other Music Appreciation options may include a music composition and technology class where Audacity, Noteflight, Garage- Band and recording equipment are experimented with or a world music course, discovering how music is incorporated into the everyday lives of people around the globe. A Rock to Rap history class where students learn about the influence of musicians from Elvis Presley to Queen, to Tupac to Kendrick Lamar might catch the attention of popular music lovers. Musical theatre students might find a “deep dive” into classic and modern musicals more thought-provoking.
Looking to the future, music educators may want or need to consider diverse Music Appreciation classes as opposed to ensembles due to the complexities that COVID-19 has brought to the field of music education. Fortunately, Music Appreciation possibilities are as wide as the music educator’s imagination, their ability to work with the National Core Arts Standards, and their students’ interests. There is no need for students to sigh when Music Appreciation is mentioned anymore. The options for learning are endless.
Christy Papandrea teaches music to middle and high school students in southern Vermont. A DMA in Music Education candidate at Boston University, Papandrea is an active member of the Vermont Music Educators Association where she has served in several roles.