The Final Cadence: The Effect of Secondary Music Education in Post Secondary, Non-Musical Settings

By Vitale, John L. | The Canadian Music Educator, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

The Final Cadence: The Effect of Secondary Music Education in Post Secondary, Non-Musical Settings


Vitale, John L., The Canadian Music Educator


Nipissing University

"Music education opens doors that help children pass from school into the world around them; a world of work, culture, intellectual activity, and human involvement."

Former US President Gerald Ford

Introduction

During my twelve years of experience in the secondary school music classroom, I had the opportunity of teaching over one thousand music students, many of whom were talented and gifted in a variety of ways. Despite this large number, less than ten had pursued music in either university/college or music-related employment directly out of secondary school. This relatively low number of students (less than 1%) has left me to ponder what knowledge, skills, and ancillary benefits I have provided the 99% of my past students that did not engage in post-secondary music studies/employment.

Context and Methodology

I think it is safe to assume that most secondary school music teachers are aware that the majority of students they teach will not pursue a musical career. Selling the music program, therefore, has chiefly focused on the ancillary benefits of music education; such as the cognitive, emotional, physical, academic, and social growth that music students experience (Demorest & Morrison, 2000; Rauscher, Shaw, & Ky, 1993; Rideout, Dougherty, & Wernert, 1998; Rideout & Taylor 1997; Schellenberg, 2005). But how do these experiences translate to non-musical settings? While in the field, many of my past students continuously and unexpectedly made informal visits to my classroom. The chit-chat and friendly discussion that ensued always generated two specific topics, namely: the past and the present. With regards to the past, topics of discussion chiefly focused on previous classes, musical performances, and trips. The present, however, focused on what students were currently doing in terms of work or study. After several years of engaging in informal dialogue with these former students, I realized that I had a large pool of valuable data at my disposal-data that was not solicited in formal interviews but rather sincere and genuine reflections from past students that felt a connection to a music program they once belonged to. In recent years, with the onset of computer-mediated communication such as Facebook, this dialogue has grown into very informative and well subscribed conversations involving multiple participants. As I realized the value of these casual and authentic conversations from a research point of view, I began anecdotally recording them. After a large pool of data was collected, I started to sift, sort, and code common threads and themes, which I would like to share in this article as a means of exploring the impact of secondary school music education in post secondary, non-musical settings. In fact, this article is over five years in the making.

From a methodology perspective, this process closely mirrors a qualitative research technique known as Conversation Analysis-commonly abbreviated as CA-which attempts to describe the structure and patterns of casual conversation (Sacks, Schegloff, & Jefferson; 1974). Arminen (1999) has stated: "CA treats talk and social interaction as a sufficient object for analysis . . ." (p. 251). Moreover, this field of research has changed and evolved over the years where new terms with slightly different methodologies have emerged, such as Discourse Analysts-commonly abbreviated as DA (please see Coulthard, 1985; Levinson, 1983; Stubbs, 1983). In addition, this paper also adopts an action research component-learning by doing (O'Brien, 2001). As I continued to engage in informal discussions with my former students, I was gaining knowledge (learning) on the impact of secondary school music education in post secondary, non-musical fields. This learning helped to guide, formulate, and cultivate conversations with my students as they transpired, indicative of the action research cycle as defined by Fisher, Bennett-Levey, and Irwin (2008). …

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