Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

THE LAST WORD: Black Musicians and Music Education

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

THE LAST WORD: Black Musicians and Music Education

Article excerpt

THE LAST WORD: Black Musicians and Music Education.

Black musicians and music education signify a proverbial crossroads between ever-present possibility and impending disaster. It is self-evident that HBCUs still produce the majority of young Black music educators now entering the teaching profession. On one hand, the pool of music education graduates has rapidly declined over the last fifteen years, and the decline follows upon 1960s school integration, which cut in half the number of Black music directors in schools, and, from that point, the decline in student numbers has compounded. Stemming from connections between music and race in our culture, Black youngsters are not as inclined to join choirs and bands directed by whites. On the other hand, the Black musician's life's work is most often outside the academy. This "school of hard knocks" is the street and the church, poles between which essayist Albert Murray has asserted that Blacks have, for years, been "Stomping the Blues."

Yet, HBCUs have, generally speaking, not embraced Black music as a topic for teaching and learning because of a seemingly prevalent fear of being stereotyped or limited by our own culture and the philosophy that Blacks need to focus upon social and economic uplift. But at least three ironies follow from this position. First, many faculty who remain in Black colleges earn a lower average part- or full-time salary than some of their own students who serve as local church musicians in the "hood." Second, music departments most progressive about legitimizing Black music genres have been at predominantly white institutions. Third, school system officials now say "we would hire more entering Black music educators, but too few Blacks are qualified." That old self-fulfilling prophecy again!

Obvious Conflict

This raises an obvious conflict between values, those of the culture at large (the "hood" included) and those of music programs in the Black academy. For example, I know of programs in popular music, few in jazz studies and only one in gospel music at Black institutions. However, more than a few predominantly white institutions offer courses or concentrations in various

African-American musics. Well, enough of the blues, where's the vamp? What can we do to fix the situation, if, of course, you agree that it is broken?

Shouldn't we realize that the academy must respond to the community? The impetus of the Million Man March is that we want to redeem the values and the authority so long lacking in the "hood. …

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