Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Three Nations, One Common Root: A Historical Comparison of Elementary Music Education in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia

Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Three Nations, One Common Root: A Historical Comparison of Elementary Music Education in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia

Article excerpt

Music education is practiced in a variety of different ways around the world that are influenced by the quality of a nation's educational system, the values that society places on music, music's role in the culture, the training and availability of music teachers, and numerous other factors. There are also many similarities in the way music education is practiced from society to society owing to geographical proximity, common religious practices, common political philosophies, or cultural transplanting through colonization, enslavement, diaspora, or immigration.

This research focuses on three nations that are geographically disparate but share a common cultural and ethnic root: the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Both the United States and Australia are industrialized nations with high levels of education and influential culture, and former colonies of what was at one time the largest world power: the United Kingdom. Although both were populated with native peoples prior to colonization, Great Britain and other European nations dominated and subjugated those indigenous cultures to the point of minority. While all three nations share cultural and musical commonalities as a result of their British roots, the United States and Australia have grown in unique ways since their respective colonial eras. While parts of both countries were also colonized by the Dutch, French, Spanish, and others, this research will focus on the British influence. Given their commonalities, such as Western values, British folk music, the English language, and similar ways of making vocal and instrumental music, these three countries may share music education practices quite easily. By comparing the development of music education to its current state in these nations it may be possible to uncover ideas and practices that could benefit all.

The questions I ask are: a) What similarities and differences exist in the historical development of elementary music education in these three nations? and b) What unique strengths does each country have in music education at this time? I offer comparative discussions of the major developments in elementary music education in the countries, including: the cultural bases of music education, the teaching of singing, the influence of radio and phonograph technology and music appreciation, the broadening scope of elementary music curricula, the influence of Carl Orff and Zoltan Kodaly, changing music philosophies, the growth of multicultural awareness, the development of national curricula, and a profile of who teaches music in each country. In the last section I highlight some of the strengths of these different music education systems and discuss possible factors that may have influenced these strengths.

Since the scope of this study is to compare broad trends of music education in all three nations and not to present an in-depth treatment of specific aspects of music education (which could conceivably fill volumes), secondary sources pertinent to each nation constitute a major source of information used here. Primary sources such as national curriculum documents are also considered. Elementary school is broadly defined here as the formal schooling that involves children between approximately five and eleven years of age, most commonly with a single teacher working with a single age group in a class numbering between fifteen and thirty students. It is difficult to precisely define elementary music education; in fact, its changing nature is the very subject of this study. Broadly, it refers to the intentional study of music in an elementary school that is offered to all students in the school without the need for specialized training or experience. Consequently, this study does not focus on band, orchestra, or choral music programs. It can be taught by either a classroom teacher (one who teaches a broad curriculum to a single class full of students of a similar age or academic achievement) or by a music specialist (one who only teaches the subject of music; working with the students of each classroom teacher, often on a rotational basis). …

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