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Musings of a Music Educator: A Year and a Half Later

If I have learned anything in the past year and a half of teaching, it is that Music Educators are incredibly resilient people. New aerosol restrictions do not allow ensemble playing? Watch music educators create innovative curricula and classes so their students are provided the best learning opportunities possible. Mask and spacing regulations changed hours before the concert? Watch music educators go from an in-person concert to a live-streamed concert seemingly flawless ease. Unable to provide a concert due to restrictions? You’ll never see the behind-the-scenes hours a music educator spent learning new technology to record each student. However, many will watch and appreciate the video that was tirelessly edited and sent out to the community celebrating student playing and learning.

This is what I like to call “pivoting.”


But why do we do it? Some might say our jobs demand it. I disagree–and so it seems do the dozens of music educators leaving the profession across the nation. Others might say that it is to share our love of music with the world. Once upon a time, I would have said this was the only reason as well. I have a hunch there is a little more to it though.

If the pandemic has shown the world anything, it is that music provides us an outlet to be vulnerable and share emotion (Hennessy, et al., 2021) as well as bring us together even when we are unable to share the same space. Music can be shared amongst thousands of people or appreciated by one through a singular set of headphones. Music is communication–both verbal and non through the way language is shared, how musicians interact, and how emotions are expressed (Bhatara, et al., 2014; Elliot, 1981; Turner & Tollison, 2021). It is a medium that has no global barriers and is naturally interdisciplinary (Carrie, et al., 2011; Grant, et al., 2010).

Music is an expression of the pure human being, raw and powerful.

But what if there’s more?

We have learned that each individual has trauma (Bradley, 2020); it comes in many forms, and weighs differently on the shoulders of each student, parent, and community. What may be a small burden to one may be a devastating blow to another depending on how “full their cup is.” Additionally, it has finally been recognized that secondary trauma exists for teachers (Christian-Brandt, et al., 2020) and that the positive mental health of all is necessary for a healthy learning environment (O’Connor, et al., 2019). Social-emotional programs and Trauma-Informed Care approaches are being set into place in many schools across the country to support mental health and learning (Collaborative for Academic, Social Emotional Learning, 2020; DeCandia & Guarino, 2015).

This initiative feels all too familiar for the music educator. Why? Because we do this on a daily basis (Edgar, 2014; 2020) and have since the beginning of music education. The five core pillars of social-emotional learning– self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making (Collaborative for Academic, Social Emotional Learning, 2020)–are naturally integrated in music education (Edgar, 2012). Maybe this is why music educators are often looked at as additional counselors in the building? I want to be clear that music educators are not counselors as most of us do not hold that certification. We show students how music is a medium that can help work through whatever needs to be worked through due to the emotive and personal qualities of music, i.e., music and self-regulation (Hennessy, et al., 2021). Many of us feel confident in talking about emotion since music is tied directly to emotion and the human being (Long & Barber, 2015).

Is this what we meant is our philosophy of music education? Maybe. I still think there is more.

I have to wonder if sometimes we place an accented emphasis on the “music” part of Music Educator and we lose “educator” in the music. Thought-provoking question alert: What is our purpose as an educator, not just a music educator? I want my students to be kind and open-minded. I want them to be creative and skillful communicators. When met with hard questions and challenges, I want my students to feel that they have expertise to face them head-on.

I want my students to learn through the lessons they receive in music, not just “learn music” (Elliott & Silverman, 2015). Our medium is not just one-sided where we teach notes, rhythms, and expression. It is even more than interdisciplinary and a platform that knows no borders. Through music, we have a stage to teach so many of the life skills that our students need to thrive in our world on a daily basis. I want to use the medium I love to help young people flourish in an ever-changing world.

I want to go beyond just teaching social-emotional skills because what we do is more than that. We teach empathy, connection, and how to make sense of the world through music education (Silverman 2020)–through being human.

Maybe the goal is to help give student opportunities where they can thrive and work to become their best selves each day while seeing the best in themselves and others through music education.

Isn’t this why we became educators? Isn’t this why we became music educators? Maybe that’s why music educators do what we do.

I hear you–there is so much to cover, so much to teach, and never enough time! Music is a reflection of society (i.e., identity) and is constantly adapting and evolving to meet the needs of the people (Boeskov, 2020). You could teach forever and never teach it all.

Exactly. That’s the point. We aren’t supposed to stop learning. We aren’t supposed to stop growing. We are exactly like music, constantly evolving into better versions of ourselves. Aren’t we as educators dedicated to help students to do exactly this? As music educators, haven’t we chosen music as our medium because of how much there is to learn and teach? There is never a dull moment!

Ironic, isn’t it? Music is pure human being and pure human expression; yet, humans evolve like music. Humanity and music go hand-in-hand.

So, we pivot. We grow. We learn. We thrive.

Let us flourish through music education.

Christy Papandrea

"Remember, your strength is measured by your ability to adapt in times of change."

Music Educator, MMed.

Doctoral Student in Music Education at Boston University

Proctor Jr.-Sr. High School


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