Mutual learning and democratic action in instrumental music education

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Date: Spring 2003
From: Journal of Research in Music Education(Vol. 51, Issue 1)
Publisher: MENC - The National Association for Music Education
Document Type: Article
Length: 5,741 words
Lexile Measure: 1230L

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This ethnography is an investigation of the notion of democracy as community-in-the-making. The researcher and nine band students came together to create music that was meaningful and self-reflective. The participants elected to split into two distinct ensembles. Group 1 chose not to compose on their primary band instruments, opting for electric guitar, bass, synthesized piano, and drums. Group 2 chose to create music using traditional concert band instruments. Choosing a genre and working with the traditions governing its creative processes seemed to be the largest determinant of a group's culture. The group members and researcher saw classical music as unproductive for group composing or community-making. Composing in a jazz or popular style was conceived of as fun, nonobligatory, self-directed, and personally meaningful. In such settings, there was an emphasis on interpersonal relationships, peer learning and peer critique, as well as an expectation that members will take care of each other.

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How might schools open spaces (1) for students to explore and invent new music? Can we rethink instrumental music programs to include more opportunities for creativity, self-expression, and cultural relevance? How might music educators renegotiate the dichotomy between the music we teach in school and the music our students enjoy in homes and hallways?

While most band and orchestra programs provide diverse activities--from pep bands, jazz ensembles, and concert bands to private lessons and group sectionals--the present study is an attempt to expand this normative view of instrumental music education. Missing in the formal education of our players are opportunities to create new music that is culturally meaningful and serf-reflective (Green, 1988, 1997, 2001). Rarely are students given the opportunity to compose in small, like-minded communities. As Ruth Finnegan (1989) notes in The Hidden Musicians: Music Making in an English Town, students who wish to create and perform their own music are likely to do so outside the auspices of school--in a kind of "hidden" community.

The disconnection between the music studied at school and the hidden or private musical world of our students reinforces what is perhaps a false dichotomy between so-called opposing cultures. If band programs provided a workable space where students and educators came together to share and create music, we might find greater cultural overlap. This study, therefore, concerned small-group music making in the form of mutual learning communities.

Research questions were both philosophical and pedagogical: How would the participating groups evolve and define themselves through the practice of composing and analyzing music? What would our choices reflect or signify? How might this experience affect individual growth as well as community-making? And finally, how is such a project congruent with philosophies of democratic education (Dewey, 1916; Freire, 1970, 2000; Greene, 1988, 1995, 2000; Hooks, 1994).

These questions led to the creation of two mutual learning communities consisting of a total of nine high school instrumentalists from a small American town, with the researcher as facilitator. The plan--the creation of original music in small groups--was open-ended and process-oriented. The nine participants elected to split into two randomly...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A162470710