Music education at a crossroads in the United States
Author’s Note: The speaker is a leading expert in music education who has taught music to more than 10,000 students of all ages. Her experience includes leading music productions in opera, symphony orchestras, children’s theater, and concerts for hundreds of thousands of listeners. Linda Flanagan has many musical connections to Japan. In fact, as a member of the now-defunct Montreal-based group, Ragtime Boyz, she played music for over 25,000 Japanese listeners as a means of educating youngsters in Japan about the classical world. Additionally, she still periodically visits Japan.
Linda Flanagan, President & Founder of ReVAMP Productions, believes that music is an integral part of all learning opportunities and feels that teachers who challenge their students to embrace new experiences during music lessons are more likely to provide better musical instruction and better learning experiences for their students. As a teacher for over 30 years and research leader in the field of teaching music, Linda Flanagan, Esq., Ph.D. is in a unique position to comment on this topic.
Attending the prestigious Youth Symphony Orchestra concert in central Tokyo
In Japan, children from kindergarten to the 12th grade are encouraged to take part in symphonic activities as part of their national education system. Most students in Japan are raised by their parents to be musical. The child is encouraged to study and perform music as a common practice while growing up, and the child’s natural musical ability often elicits the highest praise. Parents instill in their children the belief that good music comes from practicing. Thus, there is no “right” way to learn music. “Good” is dependent on a student’s aptitude in the particular musical skill.
Motivating students to play many musical instruments
Most of the music schools in Japan offer both extracurricular and standardized daily piano and/or concert or ensemble classes. The students go through rigorous conditioning programs to keep them interested in music and to prevent them from concentrating on “how long it takes” or “do they have a red bar” (as in, the room starts to get cold, they have to keep playing and “it feels like the strings are moving” etc.). Those who are unable to continue playing after their training level, provide players of a lower skill level with a great mentor.
Kids get “out” of their comfort zone
Classical music in Japan is so iconic that children learn it in kindergarten, and the complex symphonic forms are respected as a standard in elementary school. It is then expected that a student will grow to be a talented pianist and perform at a wide range of concerts and awards ceremonies.
Japanese children set records for playing a thousand notes in a single sitting
The entire system of musical education in Japan is based on the central principle of “integration” (which includes integration of dance, drama, sport, musical, visual, movement, communication, computer game, language, etc.). As a result, classical music is enjoyed in all of its many forms, that is, the piano piece as well as the concert and ensemble pieces. The sheer variety of available music, the unique colors and styles, and the different levels and scales are all what kids enjoy the most.
Teaching multi-ethnic children plays a big role in their learning
As children are born in Japan and later living in the USA, Italy, and England, they will bring their unique experiences with them into their own classes. For example, they will have a different perspective, a different cultural background, a different understanding of what music might sound like for them. Even though music is a universal language, different cultures will bring their own unique aspects to music. This whole situation is similar to the Japanese children’s performances of any genre they bring to a Japan performance.
Also, for a while now, no matter the country a person lives in, they are able to take part in a symphony orchestra or concert in all countries in the world, which demonstrates their level of musical brilliance.
The Blue Danube Waltz in a classical, 6th grade class
When Linda began taking on the roles of creative agent and director in 1998, one of the groups she represented was the Cali String Quartet. In those early years, the group had a lot of growth opportunities as they grew from a small group of players, to a group of soloists. The great thing about the business of music is that with time, the music companies are able to provide a record deal, a great recording contract, a recording session, and all sorts of merchandise. However, what really matters is the artistic relationship between the group and the listeners and teachers. This is one of the things that Linda loves to do. To her, it is always important to play