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ISME Website History Standing Committee IHME Homepage UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - Historical Overview   Overview of the History of Music Education in the U.S.A. by Jere T. Humphreys and Shelly C. Cooper  THE COLONIAL ERA Like all known cultures, past and present, Native-American peoples practiced music, and thus music education, throughout the Western Hemisphere. Except where noted the material in this essay was adapted from Humphreys (2010).  Unfortunately, we know relatively little about those practices. The first European-style music education in the future United States of America took place in 1540 during Francisco Vázquez de Coronado’s (1510-1554) expedition from the Spanish New World headquarters in Mexico through what is now New Mexico. Subsequently, Spanish priests taught music to Spanish and native children in dozens of missions in the (present) New Mexico, Texas, New Orleans, and California (Britton, 1958). From that point onward most, if not all, of the numerous immigrant groups that settled in North America provided organized music instruction, including the French further north. These countless influences notwithstanding, the early English Calvinist (Puritan) settlers of New England were the most influential in the establishment of long-term practices in music and music education (together with many other aspects of North American society).   The European religious reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) had decreed that music should play a prominent role in church services, but musical aspects of the service should be simple enough to allow participation by ordinary churchgoers. Toward those ends, he eschewed the use of professional musicians and musical instruments in church services. Calvin had also commissioned the first “psalter,” a musical setting of the Biblical Psalms of David, for use in churches by lay choirs and congregations. After its publication in Geneva in 1562, the (popularly called) French Psalter was translated into several languages. Two of those, the Dutch and English psalters, were brought to the New World by the first permanent English settlers in North America: in the Massachusetts Colony towns of Plymouth (1620) and Boston (1630), respectively. These translations were musically inferior to the original, and the English Psalter was further simplified and diminished in quality when it was published in Boston in 1640--the first book published in British North America. Popularly called The Bay Psalm Book (after Massachusetts Bay), it contained no musical notation until the ninth edition (1698). The New England Calvinists' simple, egalitarian musical practices, in addition to frontier conditions that prevented mass instruction in music and the technological means of printing musical notation, led to a deterioration in the quality of congregational singing from the arrival of the first permanent settlers throughout the remainder of the seventeenth century (Birge, 1966; Britton, 1958, 1961, 1966).  Early in the eighteenth century, the singing school arose to address the poor quality of congregational singing and to provide social outlets for the colonists. It was part of a larger movement to provide instruction in practical subjects not offered by schools or colleges (Britton, 1966). These classes were led by largely self-taught singing masters, many of whom also produced instructional materials in the form of “tunebooks.” The first two instructional tunebooks for use in these schools appeared in 1721, both compiled by New England Calvinist ministers. These and hundreds of later tunebooks contained theoretical introductions describing aspects of notation and singing techniques, followed by “tunes” compiled from various sources (Birge, 1966; Britton, 1958, 1966).  THE COMMON SCHOOLS ERA  During the 1830s, the increasingly democratic nation gradually offered access to publicly supported education to all children under the guise of the Common Schools Movement. At the same time, curriculum expansion took place based on ideas about childhood by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), while pedagogy was being modernized based on the ideas of Johann Henrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827).   Music formally entered the public schools during this period of curricular expansion, at which time the singing schools began their long decline. This first music instruction in schools took the form of sight-singing in the upper elementary grades. It was what today is called general music in that it was offered to all (general) students (in certain grades), and not as an elective subject. At first it was taught by former singing school masters, but throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century it was taught mostly by classroom teachers, who in towns and cities at least were directed by music teachers, called “music supervisors.” As music instruction spread throughout the nation, it also expanded to lower and higher grades.   THE PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION ERA  The powerful Progressive Education Movement arose in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution. Philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952) and other progressive educators sought to prepare students for life in an urbanized, industrialized nation, one populated by vast numbers of recent immigrants, and to make schools “levers of social reform.” The result was major changes in American general education and music education between 1890 and 1915. For example, beginning in the first decade of the twentieth century, general music shifted from its emphasis on sight-singing to more comprehensive approaches due the expanding curriculum under progressivism and to innovative technologies: first the player piano and then the phonograph. The expanding curriculum and the rapidly increasing proportion of students attending high schools also lead to the introduction of orchestras, choirs, and bands into secondary schools. Thus, much like general music instruction had entered the schools during the common schools era of education reform, elective ensembles entered and general music changed significantly early in the progressive reform era. Changes in American education and music education since then, though numerous, have been less sweeping and not structural in nature. Indeed, scholars have argued that both American education (Cremin, 1962) and music education (Humphreys, 1992/95, 2013) remain in the progressive education mode, that progressive education has become ubiquitous and therefore redundant.  MUSIC TEACHER EDUCATION  From the earliest colonial days, colleges and universities in the United States were slow to offer music due to frontier conditions, Calvinist influences, and other factors. For example, Harvard College, founded in 1636, only six years after the first English settlers arrived in Boston, did not offer a credited music course for more than 250 years. However, due to the demand for music instruction in schools, teacher training (“normal”) schools began to offer music instruction earlier than universities, including the nation’s first publicly supported normal school—in Lexington, Massachusetts in 1839 (Heller & Humphreys, 1991).  In addition to normal schools, scattered academies and music textbook summer schools offered instruction in music teaching to general teachers and music supervisors. By contrast, universities followed European models and limited curricular music instruction to academic studies. However, starting in the second half of the nineteenth century some American public and private universities began to amalgamate European university-style academic music studies (including composition), the European-style conservatory system, and the Prussian normal school model into single units. However, there was little consistency among university music units until the founding in 1924 of a voluntary self-accrediting body, the National Association of Schools of Music. Since the 1920s universities have assumed responsibility for the training of school music teachers in the United States.  THE MODERN ERA  There have been countless changes in music education since the last major shift occurred during the progressive education movement. Direct federal initiatives in education began during the late 1950s after the launching of the Soviet space satellite Sputnik (1957), despite education being the responsibility of the states under the United States Constitution. Federal initiatives in the arts and arts education began in 1962 under the Kennedy administration (see Gauthier, 2003). Most of the responsibility and resources for education continue to derive from the states, but federal legislation and judicial rulings have helped bring about changes in specific aspects of education. Among the most significant changes were the United States Supreme Court's decision outlawing racially segregated schools (1954), Congressional title (grants) programs (1965), and Congressional legislation providing for students with special needs (1975). Other influences, such as accrediting agencies and professional organizations, contribute to the enterprise in many ways, and of course the states continue to influence each other. Over the last six decades educational reform has evolved from a periodic phenomenon to a near-permanent condition in all 50 states.  Surveys show that the American public overwhelmingly supports music in schools, but they consistently rank it at or near the bottom in importance among school subjects. This suggests that the public wants music in the schools but not too much of it, much like the often quoted dictum paraphrased from Aristotle's writings: “All gentlemen play the flute, but no gentleman plays it well.” There is also evidence that students, especially boys, favor their general music classes more in the lower elementary grades than in the higher grades. Neither general music nor performing ensembles have ever achieved full curricular standing as core subjects in American schools, but they continue to exist (often flourishing) in the vast majority of schools: typically general music as a compulsory subject in grades 1-6 and as an elective in grades 7-8, and ensembles as electives in grades (6) 7-12. The mean time allotment for general music is approximately one hour per week, though times vary widely. Orchestras are present in larger schools in larger communities, and bands and choirs exist in nearly all public high schools. Approximately 25 percent of secondary students elect to participate in these performing ensembles. A small proportion of American schools now offer music electives in addition to the traditional bands, choirs, orchestras, and jazz bands, such as class guitar, mariachi bands, and class piano. In an attempt to meet the National Standards for Music Education, adopted by the Music Educators National Conference (now the National Association for Music Education—NafME), some general music and ensemble teachers teach improvisation, composition, and listening in addition to vocal and instrumental performance. Federal legislation authorizes funds based on various criteria imposed by the states, though states still provide the majority of educational funding, often supplemented by counties and municipalities. Unfortunately, the current system emphasizes core curricula and standardized tests and is generally seen as detrimental to school music programs. 	  Most public school music teachers hold university degrees and state-issued certificates. Some 84 percent of American elementary schools are served by certified music teachers—the largest percentage in history—and nearly all public high schools employ one or more certified ensemble directors. General music series books, and to lesser extent band method books, include music from wider, more diverse geographical, ethnic, and cultural sources than ever before. School and university music ensembles also perform a wider array of music of higher quality, much of it written by competent, some of them prominent, composers.  In the modern era, results from the three nation-wide assessments of achievement in general music are discouraging (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 1974, 1981; Persky, Sandene, and Askew, 1998). Documented contributing factors include too little class time and, in the case of classroom teachers teaching music, inadequate teacher qualifications. What has not been discussed as a possible factor in these dismal results is compulsory schooling itself, with its emphasis on middle- and lower-achieving students and therefore minimal standards of achievement (Humphreys, 2006).  Perhaps not surprisingly, the elective ensembles are a different story. On the negative side, the ensembles serve only a minority of students, deal with limited types of music, and focus primarily on performance skills, not composition, arranging, conducting, listening, or other musical activities. Furthermore, school music experiences do not seem to persist into adulthood for most participants. On the positive side, performing ensembles offer one of the relatively few truly challenging experiences in schools for students with high levels of ability and motivation (Humphreys, 2006), and there is ample evidence that the performance quality of school performing ensembles has improved markedly over the century of their existence. Many teachers and some scholars also attribute significant extra-musical benefits to ensemble participation (Humphreys, May, and Nelson, 1992).   REFERENCES  Birge, Edward Bailey. History of Public School Music in the United States. Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference, 1966 (reprint of the rev. ed. from 1937, first published in 1928). Britton, Allen P. (1958). “Music in Early American Public Education: A Historical Critique.” In Basic Concepts in Music Education, Fifty-Seventh Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part I, ed. Nelson B. Henry, 195-207. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958. Britton, Allen P. “Music Education: An American Specialty.” In One Hundred Years of Music in America, ed. Paul Henry Lang, 211-29. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1961. Britton, Allen P. “The Singing School Movement in the United States.” In International Musicological Society, Report of the 8th Congress, Vol. I, 89-99. Kassel: Barenreiter, 1966. Cremin, Lawrence A. The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education, 1876-1957. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962. Gauthier, Delores R. ”The Arts and the Government: The Camelot Years, 1959-1968.” Journal of Historical Research in Music Education 24, no. 2 (April 2003): 143-63. Heller, George N., and Jere T. Humphreys. "Music Teacher Education in America (1753-1840): A Look at One of Its Three Sources." College Music Symposium vol. 31 (1991): 49-58. Humphreys, Jere T. “Change in Music Education: The Paradigmatic and the Praxial.” The Journal of the Desert Skies Symposium on Research in Music Education 2013 Proceedings (University of Arizona, 2013): 49-68. Humphreys, Jere T. “Instrumental Music in American Education: In Service of Many Masters.” Journal of Band Research 30, no. 2 (spring 1995): 39-70; reprinted from The Ithaca Conference on American Music Education: Centennial Profiles, ed. Mark Fonder, 25-51. Ithaca, NY: Ithaca College, 1992. Humphreys, Jere T. “2006 Senior Researcher Award Acceptance Address: ‘Observations about Music Education Research in MENC's First and Second Centuries’.” Journal of Research in Music Education 54, no. 3 (fall 2006): 183-202. Humphreys, Jere T. “United States of America: Reflections on the Development and Effectiveness of Compulsory Music Education.” In The Origins and Foundations of Music Education: Cross-Cultural Historical Studies in Compulsory Schooling, eds. Gordon Cox and Robin Stevens, 121-36. London and New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010. Humphreys, Jere T., William V. May, and David J. Nelson. “Music ensembles.” In Handbook of Music Teaching and Learning, ed. Richard Colwell, 651-68. New York: Schirmer Books, 1992). National Assessment of Educational Progress. The First Music Assessment: An Overview. Denver, CO: Educational Commission of the States, 1974. National Assessment of Educational Progress. Music 1971-79: Results from the Second National Music Assessment. Denver, CO: Educational Commission of the States, 1981. Persky, Hilary R., Brent A. Sandene, and Janice M. Askew. The NAEP 1997 Arts Report Card: Eighth-Grade Findings from the National Assessment of Education Progress. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 1998. Bibliographic Resources Overview ISME Website History Standing Committee IHME Homepage Copyright © 2014 History Standing Committee, International Society for Music Education (ISME) Overview