By Sandy Feldstein, President, Carl Fischer, LCC

What a wonderful time it is to be involved in music and music education! The most recent Gallup Poll showed that 98% of US citizens feel that the teaching of music in the schools of America is important. This is up 3 points up from the Gallup Poll taken just a few years ago. With public support being this strong, why aren’t we capitalizing on it in the field of music education? Why do we constantly have to prove the importance of music education? One of the reasons that I feel we are constantly confronted with proving ourselves is because the profession is in a state of concern with financial issues. School administrations need to know how to best utilize the limited funds available for all areas of education. When doing that, they and we tend to approach all education, but specifically music education, by focusing on adult issues – the issues of the allocation of resources, of job security, and other things that are largely “political.”

The real concern of music educators and administrators should be what the children need and deserve.

I believe if we keep the focus on these “kids issues” rather than the “adult issues,” we will be more successful in having decision makers understand the real importance of music education.

Today we have strong research in hand that supports our belief in the value of music education. All too often we, as educators, feel the intrinsic value of music is all that needs to be discussed. It is not enough when dealing with decision makers who may be more business oriented than aesthetically oriented. The tremendous amount of research that has proliferated in the last ten years supporting the value of music education in the development of the brain and in the development of cross-curricular skills is a valuable argument in our discussions to support the necessity of music education.

As we become more and more successful in keeping and building music programs in the schools, we must be aware of the oncoming teacher shortage and our respective responsibilities in helping to meet that shortage. It is estimated that by the year 2010 over 2 million teachers will be needed. A certain percentage of the teachers needed will be music teachers. It is important for each of us to encourage our best candidates to consider music education as a career. It is important for us to talk about the positive aspects of teaching and do research on state aid that might be available in each of our locales to help students pursue a career in music education. The Music Achievement Council has developed a series of tips, which are very straightforward and helpful in providing talking points for students, their parents and career counselors. They are all available through NAMM.

It is also important for each of us to be involved in mentor programs. Fifty percent of beginning teachers drop out of the profession in their first three years. It is imperative that we encourage new teachers and help them over those first few bumps in the road.

Without excellent teachers, music programs cannot be successful.

If we have enough teachers and we have school systems that believe in music education, the next step is to get the students “turned on.” Recruitment is everyone’s job. We need to get our high school and junior high school students advocating for the beginning band program. We need to get band parents to talk to future band parents and we need to get guidance councilors involved in helping youngsters schedule time for music education. After we have students enrolled in the program, it is crucial to retain them.

To me, retaining students involves three major areas: 1) quality beginning instruction material, 2) quality instruments and 3) quality performance literature.

Beginning students need quality instruction. We’ve got to get the students off to a musical beginning. We must pick materials that understand what motivates today’s child. The music should be of high quality with a pedagogical approach that insures success. The use of support material such as accompaniment CDs and Web sites that excite and enhance the learning process, as well as frequent public performances will develop the concept of musicianship from day one and instill enjoyment in making music. This will keep students excited and involved in the program.

Beginning students need quality instruments. A great player can make any horn sound good but a beginner will become frustrated with an inferior quality product. I’m personally concerned with the proliferation of nonbrand name products that I see more and more. Many of these instruments are made with a lack of factory automation and a lack of skilled workers who are often paid by the piece, thus promulgating quick turnaround and workmanship that is not based on excellence. The instruments that students use must represent the most expert technical aspects of manufacturing, they must be tested and built to last, with warranties to support them. This is not a place to price shop, but rather to quality shop and that concept needs to be conveyed to both student and parent.

If we have good instruments and we use good beginning methods and materials it is important to keep that process going by performing quality literature. To help ensure quality literature, it is important that all of us support those publishers who are continuing to publish quality music while simultaneously keeping the “classics” in print. All too often we have the experience of not being able to find a piece of music that may have been a turning point in our own development when we were students. If that is a frustration for you, contact the original publisher and request that they keep such pieces in print or put them back into print. You must also make the commitment to support them when they do.

So remember to focus on “kids issues”, not on “adult issues”, to advocate for music education, to encourage your best candidates to become teachers and to mentor new teachers.

Also remember it is your job to recruit and teach music to all, do not recruit with your eye focused on the grade 6- A band that you want to have in high school. And once you recruit in large numbers, retain those students by using quality instructional methods with top grade technical support material and by having frequent performances. Always make the finest of instruments and the finest of literature available to your students. It is the job of all of us to make music and music education an important and intrinsic part of every child’s development.