Arts
Arts

Reimagining Music Education

All of our teachers are reexamining and reinventing their pedagogy during this time of distance learning, but perhaps no one is having to shake things up as much as our music teachers, Amanda McFadden and Daniel Reiter. The shift to Zoom has necessitated radical changes to the way they design and teach their courses, and some of those changes will be carried through from the Zoom room to the classroom. 
All of our teachers are reexamining and reinventing their pedagogy during this time of distance learning, but perhaps no one is having to shake things up as much as our music teachers, Amanda McFadden and Daniel Reiter. The shift to Zoom has necessitated radical changes to the way they design and teach their courses, and some of those changes will be carried through from the Zoom room to the classroom. 

Echoing a sentiment expressed by staffulty from every department, Amanda says, “we have really had to shift from focusing on a product—in our case, a performance—to focusing on the process.” Changing that focus has created opportunities for thoughtful skill building, exploration of context, and a broadened understanding of how music works. 

Over the summer, Amanda and Daniel worked hard to completely retool their courses for our new reality. “Even in a hybrid model, we wouldn’t be able to teach in the same way,” says Amanda. “We are having to be much more methodical, focusing on teaching specific skills and building a solid theoretical foundation. I think of it a little like a culinary class. Sure, anyone can be a decent home cook if they get comfortable with the basics and do some experimenting...but if you really want to be an accomplished chef, you go to a French cooking school and learn all the classical techniques: knife skills, how to make a perfect sauce, things like that. Learning the language of Western classical music will give students tools they can apply to any kind of music they would like to explore.” 

Amanda has created an AP Music Theory course to give our musicians a better understanding of these classical tools, offered for the first time this semester. She also totally changed the format of her Foundation Arts Music class from an introductory performance course to a deep examination of the role music plays in our society and in ourselves. First, her students are learning about how music affects the brain and the body. Then, they will move outward, studying the uses of music in film and tv, government, religion, and ritual. At the end of the course, the students will turn the focus back to their own experiences and consider what music means in their own lives. 

Daniel is also applying historical and cultural lenses to the study of music in Jazz Band and Rock Band. His students are learning about the many subgenres associated with both jazz and rock, as they also look at the ways in which history influences the actual sound of different types of music. Both of these classes are typically very performance and improvisation based; obviously, the usual structure doesn’t translate easily to an online format. “We have moved to a recording-based model, and we are playing call-and-response games to practice communicating and collaborating,” says Daniel. “The hope is that the students are working on their own musicianship, but when we are together again, we will still have the sense of community that is so important in a band.” 

Both Amanda and Daniel are energized and excited by the challenges presented by teaching music remotely, even as they miss the experience of making music with their students. “The energy of singing with others, you can’t replicate that,” says Amanda. “One thing I know for sure: when we are able to be back in person all together, it’s going to feel amazing!” 
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