Sousa’s Lament

| March 7, 2011

John Philip Sousa called the invention of the phonograph “the death of the American voice.”  While the American voice hasn’t silenced just yet, music technology created and continues to create profound changes to music as an art, a medium, and an intelligence.  Sousa might call these changes ‘bad.’  I hold that they are good, bad, and in between depending on how you look at it.  Therefore, let’s just settle on the fact that music and music education is changing and focus less on the good and bad of it.  The phonograph and it’s many decedents are here to stay and as music teachers we can’t ignore it!

Music teachers usually don’t like change.  In a letter to a student, Herbert L. Clarke referred to jazz as “that devil music” and advised his pupil that any serious music student would not pursue it.  Maybe Clarke was a bigot.  Maybe he was just old and he didn’t understand what he was hearing.  The people creating the music Clarke heard never went to a music school.  How could they possibly be ‘real’ musicians?

Like it or not, jazz is music.  So now what?  If jazz is music, we must teach it!  Thus we now have jazz theory, jazz scales, jazz method books, and jazz institutes!  In fact,  nowadays most jazz occurs in university lab situations and is probably being taught more widely (and more poorly) than it had be when it was an aural art that existed in city subculture.  Mission accomplished?

As a band teacher I feel stuck in the middle of two competing philosophies.  One says band is great, so keep it great, play new pieces, send the kids to region band and stay the course.  The other says band is band was outdated as soon as we got the phonograph.  Music is what the kids think music is man!  Garage bands, guitar class, singing pop music, that’s the only musiced that matters!

I reject both.  I think you can have a modern band program that includes and even enlightens and exposes students to all music.  I am extremely lucky in that I now have a position as a band teacher where I have the opportunity to practice what I preach.  As I grow with my teaching situations I hope to get ideas and suggestions.  Follow along and see if a band program can be musically modern and  musically relevant!