Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Working CREATIVE: The Value of Music Education

By Mark T. Burke

I am feeling creative today. Over the last few years, I've learned to pay attention to how the creative process affects me.  Some time ago, I listened to this great podcast (Accidental Creative Podcast with author Stephen Pressfield, author of several novels including The Legend of Bagger Vance). He briefly shares how a mentor of his, Paul Link, taught him to make the creative process more "blue collar."  He also shares a quote from Somerset Maugham.  Maugham was asked if he wrote on a schedule (in reference to creating on demand, on a time line, schedule etc.).  Maugham said,  "I write only when inspiration strilkes me.  Fortunately, it strikes me every day at 9am sharp."  Living by what this quote means has significantly changed my life over the last few years and changed my vision of the value of music education.

This connection to music ed may at first glance seem far fetched.  But I feel connections like this are exactly what has been missing in music education.  Over the years, we've tried to simplify music education's value, dumb it down.  Music education has to be fun, it has to help raise student's math scores, it has to be another team sport.  We've been so eager to "fit in" to education that we've developed advocacy around being "just like the others" so that we don't seem so geeky and strange. 

Yesterday, I met with a group of dedicated folks, eager to bring more music to their community. I will be sharing more on them later. While their mission is a good one, the reason for the mission is often hard to articulate.  I shared the great value of centralizing their missions around the CREATIVE process. I often explain the CREATIVE process's value like this. "Knock on any office door in town and ask for the boss.  Ask the boss, what traits do you want most in your company leaders?  The boss will say, I want CREATIVE problem solves, thinkers, those who can help us CREATE new business.  Most likely, they will use the CREATE word many times in their response.  Then, ask the boss, what are the hardest traits to find in new hires.  They will most likely say, CREATIVITY.  Whooooopppppss.....We have a disconnect, a gap between our needs and reality. Quality music and arts education can and must fill that gap. 

I designed the logo above to highlight a wave of thinking around music education, advocacy and new program development.  This wave needs to go deeper than promoting, "Music helps build CREATIVITY."  This is the flowery language that convinced many educational leaders to kick music to the curb....it sounds a bit too dreamy, too soft, too warm and fuzzy.  It also sounds very undefined for those of us who need a deeper connection to educational standards and practical, real life applications. The truest value of music education (and the Arts in general for that matter), comes when students develop the ability to CREATE within multiple domains, within time lines and real deadlines, with goals and focus points as their guides and to create based on someone's, other than their own vision.

As you can imagine, we'll have to rethink weekly lessons, ensembles, general music, concerts and performances and a host of other traditional activities.  This is not to say they all need to go away, not so at all. This wave of thinking will however help guide our decisions on program additions, lesson plans, key underlying concepts and of course music advocacy.

Tell me how your program builds on CREATIVE abilities. I'll be exploring the CREATIVE process over the next few posts.  I look forward to the conversations.    

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