One of the many things that I enjoy about music education research (and music education in general) is a sense of community – knowing the authors. Sometimes, I feel a connection to an author after reading several of his/her works, but in this case, an article in the April 2009 JRME was authored by friend and fellow U of I alum, Phil Hash. I took particular interest in Phil’s historical study of the National High School Orchestra (founded by Joesph Maddy). In his music education text, Richard Colwell discusses the NHSO as positive factor in the establishment of our performance music programs in U.S. public schools. I believe that technology-based music education may be at a similar early point as school bands and orchestras were in the 1920s and 30s, so I have been wondering what lessons we can learn from Joseph Maddy.
Phil’s article provides a vivid picture of this formative time for school bands and orchestras. It is clear that Maddy’s sense of showmanship and marketing changed public awareness of music education. While the NHSO can be considered a success from the response to its performances and its important role in establishing the camp that later became Interlochen, Phil shows that the NHSO was not without critics, and that despite Maddy’s efforts, the number of school orchestras actually decreased, during and following the NHSO’s life from 1926-1938. A question that comes to mind, which is probably difficult to answer is, ‘to what extent did Maddy’s advocacy efforts for orchestra’s translate into support for instrumental music in general?’
While it may be hard to quantify the exact advocacy impact of the NHSO, I think that it holds three lessons for the technology based music education movement.
1. Surprise factor: Audiences were shocked by the performances of the NHSO because conventional wisdom held that children couldn’t do this. In establishing technology based music instruction, we should highlight student work that similarly contradicts conventional expectations.
2. Targeted advocacy: The second performance of NHSO was for a school administrators’ conference, seemingly to great effect. Phil suggests that the ASCDA of today is a good audience for music educators to address. That is especially true for technology-based music instruction.
3. Identity: While not a specific lesson of the NHSO, it occurs to me that bands, choirs, and orchestras have been established in our schools in part because of their sense of community, identity, and common practice. I believe it is possible to establish a fourth track in our secondary schools, where technology is the glue that provides cohesion. But that is another post…..
Good historical research should have implications for the present. This article certainly does.