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Key Changes: Music Educators Change Curricula to Meet Kids Where They Are

14/11/2023

Key Changes: Music Educators Change Curricula to Meet Kids Where They Are Music teachers from elementary schools to high schools are using a wider repertoire, and technology, to engage an increasingly diverse student body.

By

Rebecca Beyer

November 13, 2023

Illustration by Helena Pallar s

Playing Hot Cross Buns on a recorder is nearly universal in American elementary school music curricula. But the simple tune sounds a little different in the classroom of Patrick Pate B.M. '08, M.M. '22.

That's because, in an attempt to appeal to his fourth-grade students' more modern tastes, Pate created a collection of reggae-style beats-heavy on the bass-that he plays during their first foray into woodwind instruments.

Instead of dismissing the original melody as too childish, they hear the accompanying track and say, Ohhh, I like this groove,' says Pate, who works at the Carroll School, a private school for students with language-based learning differences. The basic B-A-G arrangement is suddenly more appealing.

That's the idea.

An awareness of the need to meet students where they are-culturally and developmentally-has been a major change in pre-K-12 music education in recent years, part of a broader shift in society and in education more generally to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Rhoda Bernard

We're not just teaching about dead white guys anymore, says Rhoda Bernard, assistant chair of Berklee's Music Education Department and managing director of the Berklee Institute for Accessible Arts Education, which provides programs, support, and resources to expand opportunities for people with disabilities in all aspects of performing and visual arts education. Our [Berklee] students need to know and listen to and appreciate and understand the music their K-12 students are interacting with.

Pate's efforts are emblematic of another trend as well, one that was accelerated by the global pandemic: an increasing incorporation of technology into music instruction. In addition to teaching traditional music education staples, such as singing, playing instruments, and movement, Pate regularly includes assignments on Soundtrap, an online digital audio workstation (DAW) that lets students create and record their own music.

New StandardsThe importance of music education was legally enshrined in the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, which included music instruction in the definition of a well-rounded education. And though the law, signed by President Barack Obama, set a national standard, in practice its implementation looks vastly different from state to state and even from district to district, depending on tax revenues, budget priorities, and parent and school board preferences. Still, across the country, schools have generally tried to expand their musical offerings, says Cecil Adderley, chair of Berklee's Music Education Department. TV shows like Glee and musicals like Hamilton led to an increase in show choirs and musical theater classes. Teachers have also started mariachi ensembles, modern bands, and hip-hop groups.

Cecil Adderley

The beauty of those ensembles is that you can serve a lot of kids with one teacher, Adderley says. That's provided opportunities for students who might not be interested in traditional band or orchestra.

John Kendall B.M. '93, a teacher at Sarasota Middle School, has seen this happen firsthand. About three years ago, he created a modern band class through the nonprofit Little Kids Rock (now known as Music Will), which offers free instruction and instruments to public school districts across the country. The class has proved popular-demand exceeds the approximately 22 spots each year-but his choir, traditional band, and orchestra classes remain full, with about 110, 120, and 30 students each, respectively.

In other words, the modern band course isn't taking students away from more conventional music classes. Instead, it draws in a different clientele, Kendall says.

Making ConnectionsGreater awareness of the need to connect with students across different ethnic, socioeconomic, and learning backgrounds is also growing. In 2022, Markeise R. Russell B.M. '15 returned to the high school he had attended to become its assistant principal for teaching and learning. When he was enrolled at Chicago's Saint Patrick High School between 2007 and 2011, he had been one of the only Black students; today, he is the first Black administrator to lead the 162-year-old school, which now has a majority Latino population. One of his goals for the choir he leads-which grew from four kids to 30 in his first year-is to incorporate different styles of music in the name of promoting student voice and student choice.

One thing I notice about this generation is they like to take ownership of things, he says.

Markeise Russell B.M. 15

Other teachers are making similar pushes. When Pate worked in the Framingham Public Schools, he highlighted the history of African American music and its impact on other genres. Likewise, Katelyn Downey M.A. '21, a music teacher in the Quincy Public Schools, teaches her students songs to celebrate Chinese New Year and dances from India (with the help of YouTube).

Jason Patera '98, head of school at the independent Chicago Academy for the Arts, says Berklee taught him that any genre of music can be studied and pursued with rigor and integrity. He pointed out that his school's most recent showcase featured performances in ballet, classical music, and Shakespeare as well as a finale featuring two singers-jazz and classically trained-who performed the Imagine Dragons song Enemy, written by Justin Tranter '01 (Tranter is also a graduate of the Chicago Academy for the Arts).

It was absolutely amazing, Patera says. And it underscored how legitimate even the
LINK: https://www.berklee.edu/berklee-now/news/teaching-to-a-new-tune...
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