Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Allan Kozinn on 'Drive-by' Music Education

Allan Kozinn has a must-read opinion piece on music education in the New York Times. I wonder if there is a backlash building against the inefficiencies in the processes of the non-profit/philanthropy industries. I am reading Writing for a Good Cause by Barbato and Furlich. It has helped me understand more about the process, but it still grates on me that so much of a non-profit's resources are spent on this process rather than the project.
That’s what arts organizations are worrying about publicly. But the fact is that Project Arts and grant programs like it have become a dependable gravy train for these groups. In the absence of the teachers and the budgets necessary to offer comprehensive and coherent arts courses, the schools, encouraged and financed by such programs, have formed partnerships with performing groups, charging the ensembles with the task of creating arts programs for children.

Typically that means a few performances for each participating school, dressed up with classroom preparation sessions and specially created handouts. They often include discussions with musicians, who are not usually members of the “partner ensembles” but young “teaching artists.” They are paid fees equal to, and sometimes considerably more than, a classroom teacher’s hourly wage (but a fraction of what a unionized orchestra member would receive).

Sometimes the ensembles offer regular repertory; sometimes composers are commissioned to write dippy children’s pieces, in the mistaken belief that children don’t know when they’re being condescended to.

All involved in these programs understand that they give schoolchildren little more than an inkling of what music and performance are about. If challenged, they say that it’s a start, and that something is better than nothing.

But a decade later we are still at the same starting line, and the organizations have grown complacent. Or worse. Not incidentally, the grant money that drives these programs finds its way directly to the arts groups, and it’s easy to see the inefficiency at work. Although most ensembles and concert halls have long had education directors, now they have expanded departments that oversee the writing of grant proposals, preparation of classroom materials and coordination with the schools.

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