A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how many of us differentiate between “real music” and “educational music.” I questioned why we need to make such distinctions and how such labels can lessen the appreciation of excellent music that has such a label. However, from the responses received, it seems that many feel that most educational music deserves such a distinction. Indeed, I was even sent an article that questioned whether most educational music should even be called music.

Okay. So let’s wave “Hi” to the elephant in the room and concede for the moment that a lot of educational music out there is truly junk. So then, what is causing this low level of quality fare? Indeed, what is it that makes “educational music” not music?

Some posited that much of what our students learn today is a poor quasi-imitation of some particular composer’s style, rather than being in some style. The pieces are dumbed down, and in the process, lose whatever original character and life found in the music from which it was modeled.

Others say that it is because of the pressures put on our music programs to integrate other subjects’ curricula into the musical literature. Thus, we get the “Pocahontas Theme” with the clarinets wailing like Indians and the parents in the hall cringing like they are about to see the dentist.

Others say it is because of the educational music publishing business. They suggest that these companies try to make the music for young bands and orchestras into a product that can be copied and marketed on a mass scale. Thus, we have at music education conferences kiosks with publisher reps all pitching essentially the same band piece with the same type of form and orchestration, but with a few changes and different titles.

Then, there are those of you that say that educational music attracts a class of composer that does not have the chops nor the talent to write “real music.” Indeed, in the article I was sent, the columnist Stephen Budiansky wrote in The Washington Post:

None of these pieces could find an audience outside the captive market of the school curriculum. None of these composers could make a living in the real world.

(Well, actually, most composers regardless cannot make a living in our American world, but that is another discussion.)

So, what gives? We lament that there is no attention given to the quality music that is available for young players, but then we also tend to act dismissively of music that has been labeled under the umbrella of educational music. How can we approach changing the system and our biases without throwing out the baby with the bath water?



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