The Enterprise of Music and Learning

From the Journal for Music-in-Education:

This first section of the Journal for Music-in-Education tells the stories of several musical artists at different points in their careers: a promising young composer, a celebrated concert pianist, an extensively recorded improvisation artist, and a recent conservatory graduate embarking on a career in world music.

These portraits are not intended to foreground the impressive trajectory of their musical accomplishments, but rather to draw out a clearer understanding of how a life in music can be defined by the deep yearning to learn, teach, serve, and connect with others. These portraits show—in the words of the artists themselves and in commentary from their mentors and peers—that musical endeavors take on greater depth through a broad range of social encounters, role modeling, reflective thinking, and community involvement, all of which are becoming better understood as essential to the successful education of the performing artist in society today.

Thus, the enterprise of learning music for the highly trained artist, as represented in these chapters, takes on a particular significance as a “transformative”model for public school education. Time-lapse documentation of Julia Carey’s childhood notations presents an intriguing mosaic of how children’s understanding of music evolves over time. Yet her simultaneously expanding interests in academic excellence and role modeling through community engagement provide the larger picture of a musician preparing herself for rich and mutually satisfying connections to people and thus for meaningful contributions to society itself. Lorin Hollander’s precocious sense of music’s interdisciplinary association with physics,literature,and psychology and his depiction of personal transformation through mentorship can help educators appreciate the potential contributions of musical understanding to young children’s cognitive, aesthetic, and social-emotional wellness and to the solution of systemic social problems, such as the disillusionment ofour youth,cultural intolerance, or violence in our schools and among nations.

The divergent roles musicians play in society is also emphasized in the reflections by Michael Cain and Randy Wong. Both provide extensive detail of their experiences sidestepping their early classical training and choosing to “take delight”in exploring other forms of musical genre and culture. Here again, the evolving models of musicians and music in education are seen from the perspective of how engagement in ensemble improvisation and world music outside the conventions of classical traditions can support our youth, who yearn to connect contemporary modes and media of self-expression to our changing society,as Mr.Cainputs it,“around the world and around the block.”

Portfolios: A Dialogical (or Conversational) View of Emergent Practices

“What are the purposes for having artifacts in portfolios? What is the purpose of the portfolio itself?”

Sometimes the obvious answer to a question isn’t the most open-ended response. These questions are just two of many ‘questions of purpose’ raised yesterday in conversation from yesterday’s session of “Music as a Fundamental Medium and Model for Arts and Arts Integrated Teaching and Learning: A Portfolio-based Professional Development Seminar,” which is being taught by Larry Scripp at the Harvard Graduate School of Education this Spring.

The response that I think is most fitting to these questions is one that Larry posed: that ‘we’ (the portfolio’s audience) don’t know what those purposes are yet; at least, not until the portfolio’s author has developed his/her persona and inquiry questions.

Larry’s answer soundly resonated with me, not only because of its open-endedness, but also because it reminded me how much the portfolio process helps to initiate personal growth, in tandem with professional growth. In my article, “Portfolio Documentation in Context” (which will be published in the Journal for Music-in-Education 2007, I write that

Portfolios . . . cannot exist in a vacuum. There must be a community of like-minded individuals who can appreciate the work of the student or professional. Without a supportive environment of peers, mentors, and teachers, the reasons behind portfolio documentation and assessment would be lost on our students.

On an explicit level, this language refers to the Music-in-Education community at the Conservatory and in the MIENC. But on an implicit level, what I am implying is that there is a certain amount of personal investment, commitment, and exploration that must take place when undertaking a project like that of portfolios.

Imagine your portfolio as your work, in dialogue: In conversation with people who know you, and people who don’t.
(Larry Scripp, class lecture, 2/26/07)

My response to Larry comes in the form of the ‘obvious’ questions: How does one engage in constructive dialog with unknown others? What forms can that dialog take?

In order to answer these questions, I must first define for myself who I am.

I can already see that I have multiple roles in the seminar: as a co-teacher with Larry, a mentor from the field of Music-in-Education, and as an active participant in class. Each of these roles translates to a slightly more developed persona, from which I will develop my own portfolio.

These personae are as follows:

  • HGSE alum as a module participant and mentor (since I did the Arts In Education program at HGSE –and took Larry’s course then– and am now working as a professional in the field of Music-in-Education);
  • Higher-Ed administrator, evaluating my own college’s curriculum (which happens to be a MIE program), and re-imagining the workforce
    (both as music professionals and professional teachers) with Artist-Teacher-Scholars being developed by my MIE program;
  • A professional Artist-Teacher-Scholar, crafting my own professional development workshop with themes from this module, and experiences as program evaluator and Information Architect for the MIE National Consortium

A portfolio crafted for each persona could have remarkably different artifacts. I could choose which readings I do for the course based on which articles are more relevant towards my work. For example, Arnie Aprill’s article “Rules for Arts Ed Radicals” might be more applicable to the Higher-Ed or Professional A-T-S profiles, while Gail Burnaford’s “Crossing Boundaries: The Role of Higher Education in Professional Development with Arts Partnerships” might apply to all three. Presumably, more useful readings for the A-T-S persona would be found in the first issue of the Journal for Learning Through Music, because that Journal’s focus has very specific examples of music integrated curricula, whereas the second issue is more philosophical. (Although, it would depend on what sort of professional development seminar I’d be thinking of creating).

Thinking about my portfolio as a conversational view of emergent practices is helpful, not only because of the fluidity it lends towards the collection of documentation, but also because it forces me to always be mindful of the role that context plays in displaying and communicating information. Merriam-Webster defines conversation as “an exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas,” and I think that definition assumes that the parties involved have some sort of mutual understanding of those sentiments. So, in terms of the creation of my portfolio, this means to me that any artifact that I include should only be included if it helps to satisfy the way that I can help others to mutually understand what it is that I’m trying to convey. Melody Marchman, a student in Scripp’s “Graduate Seminar in Music-in-Education” (taught at NEC as the Conservatory’s parallel to the HGSE module), said it best when she paraphrased minimalist composer Phillip Glass:

You don’t truly know yourself until you can see yourself objectively.

Regardless of which persona I choose to focus my efforts toward, I believe that by contributing to the HGSE module (in the aforementioned roles/personae), and by creating portfolios to showcase various aspects of my work at New England Conservatory and the MIENC, I will be exploring an emergent world: that of professional development geared towards Artist-Teacher-Scholars.


Randy Wong is Program Coordinator for the Center for Music-in-Education and Information Architect for the Music-in-Education National Consortium.