The description of this Meetup group immediately hooked me: "This is a group for anyone interested in the application of music as a tool for communication, leadership, social and physiological change, education....and general human betterment and awesomeness. Not only for musicians and educators, but entrepreneurs, futurologists and technologists etc. All nerd-levels welcome!" I was fortunate to be part of the group's very first meeting and although it was a bit freeform in terms of organization, I nonetheless gained some insight into some perspectives on music-oriented technology in NYC public schools.
It was a small group - only 8 attendees - but as such we were able to get to know each other reasonably well during the two-hour meeting. Three members (including me) were educators, two were electronic composer-musicians, and three were music and tech enthusiasts but not using either vocationally. The composers were primarily interested in hearing from others how they could better leverage music technology to reach audiences who cared about similar issues or causes. For example, one composer was especially interested in portraying the American feminine experience in her work, so she was curious how she could better market and unpack that compositional technique for non-formally trained listeners. Gradually, the educators started sharing their experiences of using music tech in their classrooms. The other teachers were in public schools and were also parents - I was actually the only attendee who didn't have children - so it was insightful to hear their experiences as both teacher and parent. Most attendees agreed that the music experiences in their kids' schools was lacking. Either there were limited offerings or the only offering was after school. One attendee had two children who were in chorus because music was required and that was the only offering at the school. Neither child enjoying singing and were typically miserable in class. This reminds me of my current student teaching experience where band is compulsory for all three years of middle school. Another attendee shared how difficult it was to keep their child engaged in their rock band because it was only offered after school and thus competed with sports and other activities. As someone without children, I found this discussion highly engaging. It expanded my understanding of the dilemma faced by many parents in the city.
We also discussed some of the software we used in our lessons. The most common by far was GarageBand - all but one attendee was familiar with it. Every attendee had a computer in the home and several had purchased computers specifically for use by their kids. Most reported that their kids spent a few hours of week noodling around in GarageBand or some other tech-based composition software. Some had heard of Musical.ly but the general consensus was that it was a musical version of Snapchat - in other words, something more social than educational. I shared my perspective on how it could be used as an educational tool but the group wasn't really in a place to receive that info. I asked what types of projects their kids usually created in the various software, and only one person shared that they felt their kid's work had any coherent structure (one of the composer's children). In general, they felt that their kids beat on the drum pads randomly or played with the world instruments just for the sonic variety; they didn't feel like the kids were engaged in some form of meaningful play. I tried to push back on this issue as well, suggesting that improvisation and free composition were a form of learning and meaningful play. Most attendees laughed and said that I should listen to some of the products. I gently pushed back again and said that often times the process is more important than the product. If the child is enjoying the process of composing and exploring different soundscapes, I believe that could be meaningful to them. The two educators were somewhat swayed by this, but the other attendees seemed more product-oriented. If the child wasn't creating something the parent could reasonably interpret as coherent and beautiful, it wasn't meaningful. This was extremely frustrating for me, but again, it was helpful to hear this point of view.
We closed the discussion by spending a bit of time talking about a few social issues and how music technology might be used to raise awareness or provide solutions. Most interesting to me was the discussion on sanctuary cities, Dreamers, and the immigrant experience in the current political climate. One attendee was a first-gen, so his thoughts were informed by direct experience - an invaluable perspective in the conversation. He was excited to hear from all three of the music educators that we were committed to incorporating diverse musics into our classrooms. We agreed that using non-Western musics in the classroom and bringing more world music into the curriculum was a powerful way teachers could positively impact students' perceptions of diversity. We acknowledged that many teachers' curricula is still based on the conservatory model in the European tradition; however, many teachers are also shifting towards a more global, balanced approach to exemplar repertoire. I also added that music education and music therapy continue to be cornerstones of special education in NYC. I shared some of the research around music and exceptional learners, which the other attendees were glad to learn about. I appreciated that on this topic they were very open to hearing more. As we were leaving, one attendee (a teacher) asked to stay in touch about music and special education. He was struggling to implement differentiated strategies in his classroom and his administration was not being supportive in terms of providing special education pedagogy to general education teachers. I was glad to make this connection and I hope we can help each other grow our practice.
Although this was the smallest and most loosely organized event of the three I've attended, I was still able to glean some useful information from it. I intend to stay connected with this group and continue to meet with them going forward. Hopefully I can gain some traction on the topics that were a bit difficult and further my own understanding of the perspectives held by these parent-musicians.