Sunday, May 10, 2009


I feel that I have learned a great deal about urban education this semester. I would say also, that I have learned some things about myself. I will be honest when I say that I came into the class thinking that I did not see myself as having a desire to teach in an urban setting. I think that this is partly because my only idea of education was my own experiences growing up in a suburban town. When I imagine myself as a teacher I imagine myself teaching in the type of setting that I grew up in. I think that after this class the unique challenges of urban education have been more clearly defined, but that this is not really a negative thing, because the potential rewards have been more clearly defined as well. Concerning what I have learned about myself I feel that I could be capable of teaching in a urban school and that it is something that I will really consider doing.


2. If we look at the families in Unequal Childhoods, we see that only four of the families could live comfortably, meeting the self-sufficiency wage: the Williams, Tallinger, Handlon, and the Marshall families. The other families would have a very difficult time residing in Essex county. The brindle and McAllistor familes would not be able to meet their basic needs with the public assistance they receive. Also the working class, Taylor, Driver, and Yanelli families, would have a very hard time because they do not meet the self-sufficiency wage but would not likely receive public assistance.

3. If we look more specifically at the struggles that the Brindle and McAllistor families would face, we can see that there will be issues with food, housing, transportation, health care, and childcare, to name a few. Living in poverty means that it is very difficult for them to meet their basic living needs. Neither of these families can come close to meeting the self-sufficiency wage of 39,299-40,413.

4. Students come from different backgrounds, and inevitably will have different issues that effect them. If a student spends each day worrying about where they are going to sleep that night or if there is going to be food, maybe school isn't on the top of their list of priorities. I think as educators we must be sensitive to this idea.

I am planning on becoming an instrumental music teacher. Playing an instrument can be expensive. the cost of accessories such as strings, reeds, valve oil, etc. can add up. When I was in school these things were not provided for you it was the student's responsibility. If I am going to be teaching in a setting where the cost of these things will be a big concern for my student's families, I might try and find a way to lessen the expense by trying to get the school to cover it or as much as can be budgeted.

Inquiry Project Abstract

This paper was a study of the effects of instrumental study on students musical identities. We have found little discussion of this subject within the music education community. We interviewed four students in the instrumental music program and the instrumental music teacher at East Side High School in Newark, New Jersey. We found that studying an instrument has significant effects on students’ musical identities. Music became more important to the students, they liked a wider range of music, and they demonstrated an ability to analyze and evaluate music on several different levels once they began studying an instrument. Students’ music listening experiences changed from a passive activity into one in which the students actively analyzed and thought about what they heard. Based on our findings, we feel the subject of musical identity is one which deserves further research and discussion within the music education community and the education community as a whole.

Inquiry Project Findings

Based on our student interviews, we found several themes common among all students. All of the students stated that they liked the music they heard growing up. They all said that music was played often at home, almost constantly, and they expressed a positive attitude towards this music. What they heard growing up also had a large influence on what music they listen to now. For example, when we asked Oliver, a saxophone player, what he would listen to if he could only listen to a single song for the rest of his life, he said it would be something that was “old school meringue,” which he listed as something his parents played in the house growing up. The music students heard growing was a factor in developing their musical identity.
When speaking about what kind of music they liked, it was important for students to be able to relate to something in the music. We asked Charlie, a percussionist, if their was any music he didn’t like. He said, “Country songs aren’t (pause, laughter)...‘cause I’m not from that side, down there, so I really don’t know [about it]...the songs has to relate to life.” Oliver said he liked a particular rap musician because, “He says things that happen in real life, that needs to be fixed.” The musician raps about issues that Oliver has personal experience with, and Oliver connects to that. In addition, we found that studying an instrument had allowed students to relate to a broader range of music. Based on what they had learned they were able to find value in different music. When we asked Oliver if studying an instrument had affected his appreciation of music, he said, “I used to hate jazz, classical, everything like that. Now, I’m more into it than the other kind of musics.” Beatrice, a piano player, said, “You find something different in every type of music that you can learn with.” We asked her if she thought she would feel this way without having studied an instrument, and she said, “No. Never, never in my life. You see, music really opens your eyes.” In other words, studying an instrument gave them more music they can relate to, expanding their musical identities.
All students stated that music was very important to them, and that it had significantly grown in importance when they started studying an instrument. When we asked Beatrice if she listened to popular music, she said she did not, and added, “I’m not ashamed of who I am.” This shows that she equates the music she listens to (or her musical identity) with her personal identity. Music is important enough to her that she uses it show who she is. Peter, a guitar player, said he snuck his iPod into school, against school rules, so that he could listen to music. Listening to music was important enough to him that he was willing to risk disciplinary consequences to do it. Reflecting this sense of importance was the fact that the students all seemed to share a sense of pride in being musicians. When we asked Peter if music was important to him, he answered by saying that he was in a band and that they would soon be recording. It was obvious from the way he brought this fact up that he took great pride in it. All of the students said that music was not this important to them before they began studying their instrument. Interesting to note is the fact that the importance of music seemed to develop relatively quickly after beginning study of an instrument. The students we interviewed had been studying their instruments ranging from two months to four years, and they all stated that music had become more important to them since they had started their studies.
Studying an instrument also changed the way the students listened to music, regardless of their instrument or how long they had been playing. Listening to music was no longer a passive activity, but one in which the students were actively analyzing what they were hearing. This was exemplified in several ways. When listening to music with vocals, students tended to shift their focus from the lyrical content to the musical content. For example, Charlie stated outright,“Now I don’t even care about the lyrics anymore.” He went on to elaborate that his attention was focused on the drums in any particular song. This increased attention to the instrument the student was studying was common among all students. For example, when we asked Peter what he liked to listen to, he said anything “...with the guitar in it,” and Oliver listed primarily saxophone players when asked the same question.
All the students also saw listening to music as a sort of tool to help them improve their musicianship. For example, Beatrice said, “...when I listen to different people playing, this is like, ‘Oh, he plays like that, and I like that part, so I want to try to do it just like they [did].” When she’s listening to music, she hears things that she wants to duplicate because she believes it will make her better. Oliver has an interest in jazz, and when asked what he likes about listening to it, he said outright that it makes him a better improviser. Peter took it one step further. We asked him if he payed more attention to guitar players since be began studying guitar, and he said, “Yeah, I want to be better than them... I listen to them...and I wonder how I can make that sound better.” So he not only wanted to learn from what he listens to, but improve upon it.
Students found music and learning an instrument to have a range of value outside of the musical domain. For example, Charlie said studying an instrument was a good experience:
I see it takes time from after school, to keep the kids out of the streets. And then if
you like it...this is like another sport, really, I see it as. You can go far. There’s a lot of
colleges they told me, for it.
He saw studying an instrument as having multiple benefits. It had social value by keeping kids out of the streets, and thereby out of trouble. He was also able to connect it to educational opportunities, in that he saw it as a means to gain college admission. Beatrice said, “I think that music really helps you build your character,” referencing the story of a friend’s brother. The brother had trouble in school and acted out, and when he started studying an instrument, he stopped acting out and improved in school. Through her eyes, studying an instrument is not just studying an instrument. It has broader benefits that include personal betterment. Peter saw learning to read music as something that could help him become a professional musician, as it would allow him to play a broader range of music, as well as play with more musicians.
What we found to be most interesting was that all the students showed an ability to analyze and evaluate music on several different levels. Students were able to use analogies to describe music, something indicative of higher-level thinking. Charlie, who plays football, likened playing an instrument to playing sports. One of the first things he mentioned was the need for communication in both. This is significant because Charlie had only been studying his instrument for about 2 months. Communication within music is a fairly advanced concept. It is something abstract, beyond the technical aspects of playing an instrument, and is therefore much harder to grasp. Because of this, it is an idea that is not usually introduced until students have reached a fairly advanced degree of musicianship. He also said, “Reading the notes is just like reading a playbook,” in that certain actions must be executed at certain times. In this instance he is drawing parallels between concrete visual aspects of sports and music. Because of his ability to address both the concrete and the abstract, Charlie was able to build an analogy with a high degree of depth and detail. Beatrice spoke about how studying an instrument has given her a more concrete, logical understanding of music. She said, “...this teacher, he started teaching me some stuff... and then you say ‘oh,’ now I know why I do this... It’s like one plus one is two. There’s an explanation for music also.” Music has gained a more logical meaning for her. She is able to analyze music and communicate her thoughts about it on an intellectual level. Her use of an analogy shows that she truly understands what she is discussing.
The students were also able to evaluate music on several different levels. In addition to a purely aesthetic evaluation, they evaluated music on a technical and intellectual level. Charlie said, “You can’t have a good beat but then the lyrics is whack.” He also said good lyrics with a bad beat won’t work either. He is evaluating several different components of music. He is isolating components of the rhythm and the lyrics and evaluating them independently, as well as how they become a cohesive whole. To form an effective composition, not only does each individual component have to be good, but they must complement each other enough. Beatrice, describing a piano player she liked to listen to, said, “He’s just like going up and down the piano all the time... It’s like when you see it, you’re like, shocked... There’s like, a limit, and he passed the limit.” She is saying that the music is of high quality because of the technical facility of the instrumentalist. The reason she likes the music is because she understands what is required to play at that level.

Inquiry Project Progress

We have been exploring the question "How does music shape students' identities and how does this musical identity shape their experience in music education?" To this end, we interviewed four students and the instrumental music instructor at East Side High School in Newark. And as we are coming at this from the point of view of music educators, we have tried to find existing literature on this subject within the music education community.

The first thing we've found is that there is an extreme lack of discussion and research on this subject within the music education community. There has been some research done on students' listening preferences, but none we could find that asks about the role music plays in students' lives. Discussion with teachers and academics has revealed mostly an assumption that music would be important to students in a high school music program. This is perhaps because of the fact that in the great majority of high schools in New Jersey, students entering high school have had instrumental music in elementary or middle school. This is not the case at East Side High, however, so we were interested in exploring how important music was to high school students just starting an instrument.

One thing that was common to all the students we interviewed was the large role of family music preferences on their own preferences. All the students expressed a generally positive view of the music they heard growing up. All of them also told us that music was listened to a great deal in there homes. They all used the phrase "all the time" to explain how much music was listened to in their homes. This phase was also used to explain how much they listened to music themselves.

Another thing we were surprised at was the variety of music students listened to. Based on discussions with the teacher, we assumed all of them would listen to hip-hop or rap the most. This was not the case. All the students listened to various Latin musics. One student liked classic hard rock and"screamo," a very hard style of rock music. Three of the four listed jazz as a music they listened to, and two of them listened to Western classical music.

Based on the limited research we were able to find, high school students tend to show stronger opinions about music than students in grades 4-8, which are the grades when most students begin playing instruments. All the students we interviewed expressed strong opinions about music, especially when talking about music they liked. However, they all said that playing an instrument made them like and appreciate music more. Moreover, playing an instrument fundamentally changed the way they thought about and listened to music. While they all stated that music was important to them before they started playing, all the students said that music became an even larger part of their life once they started playing. This was true whether they had been playing for four years, or two months.

Another thing that was striking was how they described listening to music. They all talked about it not just in terms of opinion or emotion, but analytically. They all talked about differences and similarities between different musicians or styles, and about how the music was put together. Listening wasn't just a passive activity, it was doing something. They all attributed this to playing an instrument, and said that they didn't think about music like that before they began playing. One student even said he doesn't listen to the lyrics anymore! So it was clear that playing an instrument had fundamentally changed these students' musical identities. While we went in asking how their identities affected their experience in music education, it became clear that music education changed their identities. I feel that this doesn't happen in such a striking way to students who begin playing earlier in life, or that it at least isn't as evident. This could be why the question rarely comes up within the music education community.

Inquiry Project Introduction

Music is an enormous social, cultural, and personal force in people’s lives. Often, the music people listen to is tied to who they are and how they see themselves. In other words, music becomes a part of a person’s identity. The main purpose of this paper is to look specifically at how music shapes urban high school students’ identities, and how those musical identities are affected by their experiences within an instrumental music education program. We defined musical identity as being composed of several factors. The largest factor is the level of importance music has in a person’s life. Within the notion of importance is how a person views music in relation to their life. If a person sees music as related to many aspects of their life, they will have a strengthened musical identity. This means that musical identity can range from being a minimal, near nonexistent part of a person’s identity to being almost synonymous with personal identity. Also contributing to musical identity are factors such as listening preferences, the amount of time one spends listening to music, and the degree of enthusiasm a person has for listening to and seeking out music.
We approached this question from the point of view of music educators and as such were interested not just in the cultural and societal implications of the question, but more specifically how musical identities play out within the framework of students learning to play instruments. We were looking to see if an understanding of students’ musical identities can help music educators teach more effectively or if it changes the way an instructor teaches. We were curious about this because we have found a relative lack of discussion or research about this question within the music education community and literature.
We interviewed four students in the instrumental music program and the instrumental music teacher at East Side High School in Newark, New Jersey. The instrumental music program at East Side High and at most other high schools in Newark are unique within New Jersey in that most students entering the program have not had instrumental music instruction before coming to high school because of a lack of feeder music programs in the elementary and middle schools. This unique situation gave us an opportunity to see how beginning music education at the high school age was affected by students’ musical identities. This was particularly interesting because high school students tend to show stronger opinions about music than students in elementary or middle school (LeBlanc, Sims, Siivola, Obert, 1996), which led us to believe that music tends to be a larger part of their identity than it would be at an earlier age (although this is a question beyond the reach of this project and one which we did not explore).

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Inquiry Project

For the inquiry project I will be working with Pat Sutor. We have decided on an overall focus for the project. Pat and I are both in the MAT program for music education. Our inquiry project will focus on music education. We are specifically interested in the impact that a greater emphasis on popular music can have on student interest in school music programs. There has been much research done regarding the importance of arts education for students. We are not interested in contributing to this research but exploring how to better increase student interest in arts education. Our hope is to conduct a small case study at East Side High School in Newark. East Side High offers us an interesting example because of two factors. One, the school system does not offer instrumental music until students reach the high school level. And two, the music teacher Aril Ocasio, regularly uses popular music as an educational tool. The fact that instrumental music is not offered prior to students reaching the high school is significant because it creates great pressure for Mr. Ocasio to recruit students and to maintain student interest in the various ensembles within the music program. It seems that part of his success may be attributed to his introducing popular music into the performance repertoire of the ensembles.
We are planning on interviewing Mr. Ocasio as well as a sample of students from his classes. Although Pat and I have settled on a general topic we have yet to decide on specific things such as the interview questions. We will most likely have different ideas about the questions in this blog. I feel that this is a good opportunity to see where each of us is headed with the topic and gives us the opportunity to use any discrepancies that might arise to further focus our topic. Some possible questions I am considering asking Mr. Ocasio are:

What are some of the challenges you face as a music educator in an urban school?

Why do you regularly arrange popular music songs for your ensembles? / What is your motivation for doing this?

In your opinion does the knowledge that a student will get to perform music that they listen to regularly have an impact on their desire to be part of an ensemble?

In your opinion was popular music a genre, or style of music that was emphasized in your training as a music educator? If yes, why do you think it was? If no, why do you think that it wasn’t?

Are you a fan of popular music? What do you listen to?

Some potential questions for the students include:

What is you favorite type of music?

What is your favorite artist/band?

How often do you listen to music? When is your favorite time to listen to music?

What is your favorite piece of music that you have performed in school? Why do you think you liked it so much?

Why did you decide to join the school music program?

Did you know that you would get to play songs such as _________ (popular music piece performed in the past, or maybe the piece the student cited as their favorite if they stated a popular piece) when you joined? If you did know, did that influence your decision to join?

This is clearly far from a finished project, but it offers a jumping off point from which the investigation can be focused. I am examining this through the lens that arts education in very important in the lives of students and that it is our job as educators to find a way to motivate students to participate in the arts. The example of East Side High School can offer some good insights into the usefulness of studying popular music to increase interest as well as a means to exploring the importance of popular music in the lives of the students.