Those of us who have enjoyed an education in music are aware of its many benefits. Besides musical abilities and a lifelong appreciation of music, music education develops creativity, responsibility, discipline, perseverance, dependability, composure, pride in results, group cooperation, confidence, social and communication skills, emotional maturity, and many other valuable traits and skills. In short, music education provides excellent preparation for life. And that is, of course, precisely the goal of our educational system.
Yet, in recent years, budget constraints, scheduling trends, and public apathy have combined to put music education in our schools at risk. In many school systems music educator positions are being reduced or eliminated. Music budgets, always inadequate, are being cut or allowed to diminish in real value. Scheduling changes in many schools are forcing students to drop music, or relegate music to extracurricular status.
How can an established educational program with such proven benefits be allowed to wither?
Politicians, administrators, and school officials find the funding and resources to provide the programs the public values. And surveys show the majority of the population wants music education in our schools—according to a Gallup poll, 93% agree that music is part of a well-rounded education, and 86% feel all schools should offer instrumental music as part of the regular curriculum.
The problem is that we are not consolidating this latent support and expressing our views. We have to remind the decision-makers that we feel music education is important, and that the people in the community want their children to have the opportunity of a music education.
If your music program faces threats in staffing, funding, or scheduling, the following pages are designed to assist you in mounting a defense. Of course, the most effective defense for a music program is creating the organization and support before threats develop.
The community is ready and willing to support the cause of music education. They are waiting only for a leader/organizer. And if the job is going to be done, that role almost certainly must be yours.
Within the last two decades music advocacy has come to the forefront of the music education world. The focus is on the value of music in the educational development of our children. Many professional leaders have contributed to the increasing wealth of knowledge, and scientific research continues to point to music as a key factor in the development of the human mind. We no longer have to justify music with platitudes or personal notions; the hard facts and figures are now available. The horizon is bright, but only if we fulfill our roles as the stewards of the good news, delivering it to the right people and in the right context.
So where do we start? How do we make certain the invested time and energy produces the needed results? Every individual will discover his or her particular style as time goes on, but there are many tried-and-true road signs that Will be of aid along the advocacy journey.
Cooperation, Not Competition - Never promote the music program at the expense of another organization. Creating a situation where an individual is forced to choose is not only unfair to that person, it has no educational foundation. When an either/or situation appears, the students will always lose. Music advocacy is a benefit to the entire school and community; it must live in harmony with the existing curriculum.
Advocacy Is Student Oriented - Music education is centered on students. A music advocate's platform must not be disguised to save one's job or buy a new amplification system for the jazz band; it must be focused on the academic importance of arts education.
Think "Everyone Is a Musician" - Should we be satisfied with the participation of ten percent of the school? Are we simply trained to accept the fact that only a chosen few will be involved in music? Why are we limiting our scope? Are we the living echo of "it's always been this way?" Every student walking the hallways of the school is a potential music maker. Bringing this attitude to advocacy makes the message very potent.
Develop Relationships - What are your thoughts about the importance of music education for our children? Ask the question, and then listen. Discover what people know or don't know about music education. Thank them, then follow up with a short note of acknowledgement and include some of the latest information about music research. Developing trusting relationships is the basis for group support.
Share Music with Everyone - Studying and knowing the musical score is crucial in conducting a successful performance; creating and developing the audience is equally as crucial. One cannot be at the expense of the other, both exist in an exemplary music program. Guide those in charge of publicity, reinforcing the theme of music education as the foundation of the program. They must be aware of the inherent values that music offers the performer as well as the listener. More than just creating a large audience, it is an opportunity to have more people support music.
Learn, Learn, Learn - It is tempting to slip into the "we've always done it this way" rut. Talk honestly and openly with your principal, supervisor and superintendent, and mutually agree upon a plan to accomplish short-range and long-range goals. Listen to the thoughts of your students and be appreciative of their honesty, even though you may not agree. Attend workshops, read professional journals and magazines and above all, listen to outstanding music performed by the finest musicians of the day. Keep your ears, eyes, thoughts and mind open, and enjoy the journey. We live in a country that knows the importance of the arts; we have only scratched the surface of possibilities. The opportunities are infinite. Communication is the answer. Let the music begin!