Monday, April 11, 2011

Summary: What Are Musical Identities, And Why Are They Important

In the collaborative work entitled, What Are Musical Identities, and Why Are They Important, written by Hargreaves, Miell, and MacDonald, the primary discussion is based on the idea of music as a fundamental means of communication. The authors state that music provides the ability to communicate, even though there no spoken language shared; and it also provides the necessary lifeline to human interaction for those with special needs.

As a young student in elementary school, I often volunteered my musical abilities by performing the piano for local senior recreational centres. On the surface, the music provided entertainment, but on a deeper level, the music was a catalyst for communication. Through sharing music, I was permitted the opportunity to interact and converse with the participants on a much deeper level; the music destroyed in potential barriers due to culture or age.

Another identity, in which music is described, is that of a tool to create experiences. Due to the advancement in technology, these experiences have become more diverse than any time in the past. In the area of consumer marketing, music is utilized to create a mood to increase sales in shopping venues. As an example, a trendy clothing store will attempt to make a quick sale by making an insecure shopper feel young, alive and vivacious by creating the ambience with the latest playlist by Lady Gaga at high volume. There is much psychology in music.

Hargreaves, Miell and MacDonald report that the objective of the music psychologist is to investigate the multifaceted ways in which we engage with music-creating, performing, listening and appraising- and try to explain the mechanisms underlying its powerful influence on behavior. Music in the context of social psychology is to investigate the effects of particular listening and performing/composing situations as well as cultural standards and norm.

From my experiences, I am able to view music as a multi-layered entity with diverse applications and identities in society. I have had the opportunities to apply music in the following manners in my practice as a music therapist:

• As a tool induce and deepen the state of relaxation
• To create an atmosphere which is conducive for memory stimulation
• Music as an instrument for teaching basic learning objectives

What I have been able to grasp from this reading is that music has the capabilities to function as a means to alter mood, as well as to create an environment; however, it is unable to determine the experience of the listener.

A keen supporter of music research and psychology, I believe that with further comprehension and acceptance as to the true powers of music, music will once again obtain the credibility which it once possessed long ago.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Teamwork in the Music Room – Ellen Criss, MENC Sept. 2010


The article opens with an example of school athletic culture and a band director who is wistfully dreaming of a similar one in their classroom. In both aspects of teamwork, there is an emphasis of the team over the individual, and the article further sites practical applications for this type of team work in the business world.

When comparing the two activities (athletics and music) the author finds many similarities. One is that in both cases students tend to score higher on achievement tests and have higher GPA’s. This is due to the individual’s commitment to the group through the specific role they play. Both groups need to play or perform their abilities for others and produce a product out of a common goal. But the author also notes that teachers need to encourage and foster this behaviour as student performers need to be taught how to work together for this goal.

Teenagers long to be part of a group and music educators need to be aware that many of them with join band or choir to feel like part of the group rather then for musical experiences. Students are intellectually, psychologically, emotionally, and socially nurtured when they join a performing ensemble because of the formation of subcultures within the group.

The article offers ideas that can be used to build these effective musical teams. One is creation of a shared experience between all members, regardless of their reasons for joining the group initially, by letting members have a save in the group decisions. Another is the emphasis of collaborative effort and the presence of a sense of community. This can be achieved by treating each member of the group with fairness and accurate assessment through mentoring or team leaders.

If the ensemble has an honest and constructive atmosphere then students can begin the emotionally support one another with positive peer pressure about commitment to rehearsals. The connection between the individual members leads to the overall team identity. Team identity involves many facets, such as loyalty, team activities, motivation, and transmission of tradition. The article encourages team interaction outside of the rehearsal time to help create the unique identity of the ensemble.


I enjoyed reading this article because I find many students do not see the immediate connections between sports and band. As an educator I fully believe in both and therefore always try to organize my rehearsal time around the sports’ schedule at my school. I do not want to have students choose between band and sports and if the conflict ever arises, I want them to be able to approach both their conductor and their coach to work out a solution. We need to model the interdepartmental relationships between sports and band by talking to our colleagues and working out a solution that benefits the students.

The values of teamwork are so apparent in sports because you can visually recognize the common goal. If the goal is to get the ball, we can see players running for it and achieving that goal. Unfortunately in band, we often do not see the perfect articulation within the phrase or the level of concentration from all the students who are working on that goal. It’s not as easily accessible to spectators. So I liked when the author wrote about setting common goals in band because it gives the students ownership and pride in achieving them, even if the audience does not always understand when they have been reached.

I like that the article emphasized the importance of identity building within the ensemble and that it needs to be created by the students themselves. As a band conductor, I find there is a delicate balance between allowing students room to experiment and make decisions with support and encouraging them to push beyond their current abilities.

Commitment is a large problem at my school (not just in band) as students seem to just “forget” about rehearsals or practices despite reminders. It is a lot more beneficial if students use the author’s idea of “positive peer pressure” to create the culture of commitment within the ensemble rather then the teacher reprimanding the students’ for their absences.

I think this is also why festivals and performances outside of school is so important as it makes students accountable for their actions within the ensemble. It also, as the article points out, further creates the culture within the ensemble where students can trust each other and have fun. Teamwork is a valuable life skill this article has shown that it can be taught in school, whether in sports or band.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

“Sharing Musical Instruments Not Always Healthy for Kids” March 16th, 2011 – Andrea Gordon, Toronto Star


Oklahoma State University researchers examined 13 brass and woodwind instruments shared by school students and discovered micro-organisms linked to asthma, skin infections, and other illnesses and allergies. Their results were published in the journal “General Dentistry”.
Researchers took swabs from 117 sites on mouthpieces, internal chambers and cases. They found 442 different bacteria, including species of staphylococcus, 58 types of mould and 19 yeasts, similar to what’s commonly found on dentures, athletic mouthguards and toothbrushes.
According to anecdotal reports from the teacher, half the band students at any given time had experienced respiratory ailments like asthma or bronchitis. The music staff at the Toronto District School Board were not available to comment, but a St. John’s Music retailer emphasized the importance of keeping the mouthpiece clean and disinfecting the instruments in between uses. They also encouraged parents to purchase their own mouthpieces.


I think parents and music educators alike need to look at this article in context and with a little perspective. Firstly, this article is lacking a severe amount of information to make this a credible source. Where is this school? Is it an elementary or secondary school? How often do the students play the instruments? How many students per instrument? Do they already have a method for cleaning the instruments in place? And if so, what is their current practice?
Why is it that music practices are attacked but not other subjects? Why are there no studies comparing the amount of bacteria found on music instrument mouthpieces to other areas in the school, say the student desks where they eat their lunch or the sports equipment used in the gym?
Reading this critically, I find myself questioning the motives of this article. Firstly, why write it at all? Ideally we would think it is to inform the public of possible hazards in the music room, but if this is the real agenda, then why don’t they explain what precautions are being used by music educators to prevent further problems in this field, other than encouraging students to purchase their own mouthpieces?
Also, who benefits from this article? We would like to think the students would, considering the article expresses the need for music education, yet the article does not include the students’ voices. They do not present a view from someone who is experiencing what goes on in the music room but they do include a statement from St. John’s Music retailer encouraging parents to purchase students their own mouthpieces.
So finally we need to ask the most important question, and that is who is the intended audience of this article? It is presented in a public forum and needs to be written in a form that is accessible to most readers. So the article is directed of parents/guardians of students in music classes and ultimately it is encouraging parents to take an active role in supporting music education in their schools by using scare tactics and unsupported statistics.
What does this article mean for music educators? I think the teachers in the Toronto District School Board made the right choice by not commenting for the article. Some may read that as fear or lack of ability to argue against the topic, but I think it demonstrates the lack of validity in this article if they are not even going to bother to respond to the questions. Music educators should be prepared though. This article could prompt more parents/guardians to phone the music teachers with questions about the sterilization practice in the music classroom. Hopefully this will not adversely affect the students’ musical experiences in and out of the classroom and educators will be able to continue teaching without unnecessary interruption.