Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Renaissance in Arts Education?

The Philadelphia Enquirer has an article on a promising arts education program:
Intensive after-school neighborhood music programs like Play On, Philly! and the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra’s Tune Up Philly have been up and running for a few years now. The All City Orchestra program has new energy and increased support from the School District of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Orchestra.
This school year, the ArtistYear program will place 12 arts teaching fellows in area schools with a high percentage of children from low-income families. The program isn’t intended as a substitute for full-time arts instruction, but as a catalyst to “develop more arts programming, so that they add a full-time arts teacher and over time the school has more resources,” says Christine Witkowski, director of ArtistYear Philadelphia.
Much of the funding for this has come from private foundations:
The William Penn Foundation has boosted its emphasis on arts education. The foundation has given more than $12 million to arts education during the past four years — up considerably from the $2 million to arts education it gave in the previous four years.
The Mellon Foundation recently awarded more than $2.5 million to a new program called the Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth aimed at talent from under-represented communities. In its first year, the initiative of 10 Philadelphia groups, including Settlement Music School and the School District of Philadelphia, will give 75 music students in grades four through 11 financial support for lessons, music camp, and other training opportunities.
To my mind, this is exactly the way it should be. The writer poses this interesting question:’s worth recalling the animating force of the golden age of arts education in this country in the 1940s or ’50s: that classical music heard at school was reinforced at home, in the media, and through peers. Obviously, that world is gone. What will a smart education in the arts look like today, and how will we define success? Is it best to teach introduction to harmonic analysis, or sound-engineering apps and music entrepreneurship? The three stylistic periods of Beethoven, or the history of social protest songs of the U.S.? 
There is a real threat to all these kinds of programs and it comes in the guise of progressivism. This is likely also why much is left to private foundations rather than the school board budget. Critics are going to say that programs that educate children in classical music are supporting white privilege, elitism and probably colonialism and cultural appropriation.

I don't see any reason why sound-engineering and music entrepreneurship should not be included, but a musician with no knowledge of harmony or how to play an instrument is surely a deficient one? The benefits of music instruction depend largely on the traditional approaches: individual instruction, solo practice, ensemble playing, music theory. This is really the foundation of everything in music.

For an envoi, let's have the National Youth Orchestra of Canada playing the first movement of Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra (the clip doesn't indicate the conductor, whom I don't recognize):

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