School’s out for the holidays, and it’s probably the last thing on anyone’s mind. But in the marginalized world of music education, a good deal of serious thinking needs to be done. Now that Charles Dickens’s Christmas ghosts have made their rounds for the year, perhaps they might be enlisted to provide perspective and encourage some soul-searching.
The crisis of the moment has partly to do with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s announcement last summer that New York City schools would be required to teach the arts, and that principals would be rated annually on their success, much as they are in other subjects. In theory this could put some muscle behind the adventurous curriculum (or blueprint, as it is called) that the city’s Department of Education and a panel of arts consultants drew up in 2004: a kindergarten-through-12th-grade program that envisions choral and instrumental performance, the fostering of musical literacy and the consideration of the role music plays in communities and the world at large. The music proposed for this course was admirably boundary-free, cutting a swath from Beethoven and Puccini through folk songs, spirituals, jazz and pop.
The problem is that the 2004 blueprint is recommended rather than required. Given the paucity of music teachers in the system — there was one music teacher for every 1,200 students in 2006, Education Department officials have said — schools that could execute it in all its glory were few. Exactly how (and how quickly) that can change is unclear.