Thursday, March 9, 2017

Elementary Japanese Brass Band

Year of the Dragon-Philip Sparke
Prior to arriving at Iowa in 2015, I worked as K-12 music teacher for 20 years.  I have another 7 calendar years of experience as adjunct faculty in community colleges, and I start my 11th year as a municipal band director in Dixon, IL this summer.  I have taught elementary children how to play band instruments for much of my career.  

As I look and listen to this video.  I am impressed with the concept of sound, technique, musicality, and fluency of their performance.  I am just blown away.  These kids are marvelous.  Then I think about it.  Is this performance developmentally or educationally appropriate?

Philosophically, I struggle with this as a music educator.  I am not sure this is music education, but more along the lines of technical musicianship.  Do the students really know the musical goal or are they playing a part that was learned by rote?  Where does critical thinking begin or artistry begin?  I have loved watching my students grow as musicians, but none of them were capable of playing this well at age 16 let alone age 10 or 11.  

Let's examine culture for a moment.  Japan's culture is completely different than the United States.  Order, respect, and honor are key to the society.  Imagine cramming the entire population of the US into California.  These are the population conditions in Japan.  Respect and order are needed for society to function.  I remember watching a television show and the train ride the host took was completely silent.  Three generations sometimes live in an apartment together.  Children, parents, and grandparents all sharing a living space.  Honoring one's elders is key to culture.  Tradition and hard work are also expected in all walks of life.  

It comes as no great surprise that this ensemble is as good as it is.  I imagine rehearsals are completely silent.  The students drilled and practiced for hours each day.  I imagine the Suzuki method is applied here as well.  To question any of the teachers involved would be dishonorable.  Could you imagine a US elementary band functioning in that manner?  I don't think so.  Is this music education?  I am unsure.  I would have to do some sort of ethnographic study to determine just how meaningful the educational delivery is.

Despite my philosophical difference (due to a Western bias) I still marvel at this performance.  The Japanese culture loves their bands. These children get to experience music differently thanks to the opportunity provided.  I can only dream of my children having a brass band to play in at their elementary school or even after school.  Moral of the story:  I am content to enjoy the music and the work.  I hope these children enjoy it as well for as long as they can.  Meanwhile, Enjoy Philip Sparke's Year of the Dragon.

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