Music teachers: time to start offering mass-audience classes.

Picture a world in which your music dept. can address about 50% of the school population every year – a world where over four years, a school can address and reach almost every single student in a grade 9-12 high school.

Here are my registration numbers for next year (to the right of the class title):

That’s about 22% of the entire student body in our school.  We added some stations so there wouldn’t be as big of a waiting list.  I won’t go into our exact numbers for other programs here, but the performing ensembles as a whole address about another 20% of the student body.

Most HS music departments address around 20% of their student body- we’re addressing 42%.  Over four years, this means we have the capacity to address every single student that comes through the doors at our school.

Does having a large mass-audience class like mine damage the performing groups?  Not at all.  The numbers of those groups are largely unaffected by any kind of semester-offered elective class, music or not.  What my program does, however do for those groups, is provide enrichment opportunities for performance students, and creates a cool kind of cross-pollination among music students (who are sometimes isolated from the student body as far as showcasing their talents) and non-traditional music students.

To the contrary, many performance groups, especially at larger schools, employ tons of teachers to fill a single room.  This is the “too-many-eggs-in-one-basket” problem.  Here’s one of the more ridiculous examples of over-staffing I found.

Firstly, assistants of any kind are much easier for administrators to cut than people who “own” their own classes.  Second, why not spread those resources out among the other 80% of your student body?  Are we trying to convince ourselves that specialization is the only way to teach music in a time when research in other areas of education contradicts this?

Also, having a program like this effectively “future-proofs” your program.  Let’s say concert band falls out of style in the next 50 years for some reason.  Having a mass-audience music class at all levels (JH and HS, I’m looking at you) guarantees some kind of music department will remain viable, have influence and provide a much needed amount of predictability to your year-to-year operations.

If you’re a music teacher, take a look at your school’s situation, and see if you can plant (or re-plant) the seeds for a general purpose music creation class at your school.  Think of it as an insurance policy!

Author: Will Kuhn

I teach music technology to high schoolers. I do some other stuff too. @willkuhn on Twitter.

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