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There’s More to Music than Music

What direction is the field of music heading in? In my opinion, music across all disciplines is
being threatened. People, more than ever, are becoming disassociated from music. In fact, people
are not just becoming disassociated from music, but from the arts in general. How can we
combat this growing negative trend? And, why should we bother? While efforts could be made
in a variety of specific yet disparate areas, most professionals agree that the best outcomes can be
achieved by addressing the problem at its foundational roots – with children. Children are the
future of music, of the arts, and of culture. When we impact those searching for purpose by
sharing our love of music, passion for live music becomes a natural and essential outlet for
society in general, and that passion will help to support and grow the kind of appropriately-
sensitive culture most of us currently dream about. Ask the Venezuelans whose lives have been
impacted for 35 years via “El Sistema” – they know.

Sir Ken Robinson believes that schools kill creativity with “industrialization and conformity”
and Tom Peters agrees, stating that our current obsession with testing students actually teaches
our children how to take tests. By doing so, schools can achieve their objectives as marketing
entities, in much the same way that some marching band competitors engage in little music,
social, discipline or aptitude education in favour of acquiring a trophy through military-style
‘leadership’. As someone who has developed a creative perspective from inside the classroom
and experienced tremendous success growing music departments, I chose to design a program to
share not only the lessons I learned, but also the experience of my peers. The first step, the
School Music Teacher Survey of March 2010, revealed a number of interesting trends and facts

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worth exploring. When appropriate changes are made within school music programs, regardless
of entitlement, competitions, directives and disappearing budgets, cultural transformation takes
place. The ultimate goal of creating world class music departments worthy of the individuals
placed in our charge will be closer to reality for those who incorporate the program’s concepts
and learning into their programs.

Before we explore the survey’s findings, let me first share my background in the discipline of
music, what qualifies me to claim success in education, and why I chose to design and
implement a program to enhance the reach, ability and impact of school music teachers.

Stephen P Brown – Setting the Stage for the Future of Music

Born in Rochester, England, my passion for music began at the early age of 7. As an adult, I
chose to continue in my love of music, attending Trinity College of Music London, where I
obtained a percussion performance degree in a mere 18 months before pursuing a second
bachelor’s degree and earning the distinct honor of becoming England’s first undergraduate

After I graduated, I began to apply my skill set as a musician and my passion for the art through
performance coaching for individuals and in workshops, as well as teaching general music
studies in the elementary, high school and college environments. In addition to my experiences
as a music teacher, I am a celebrated and awarded orchestral and choral conductor having
conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra, worked with the Halle Orchestra, the BBC
Philharmonic Orchestra, and toured through Europe as far as the Brno State Opera. While I have
received classical training as a conductor and a musician, my enjoyment now comes from
sharing my personal passion for a variety of styles of live music with those who would not
typically have access to them.

Today, I view my role more as someone who helps others discover and share their own
experiences of music-inspired ‘benefits’, both psychological and physical, by engaging the
general public as well as music lovers. When I considered how best to apply my learnings to the

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problem of music disassociation, I determined that I could make the biggest impact on school
systems, building a bottom-up campaign for re-invigorating interest in music at large.

Stephen P Brown built the Medway Community College Music Program into an accessible and popular outlet
for numerous students - this is one year group's public performance of their classroom activities

The first successful application of my leadership skills within a school system occurred while I
was Head of the Music Department at Sittingbourne Community College. When I transitioned to
the school, there was no music department at all, as they had previously closed it down following
a scathing government inspection. So, it was my challenging responsibility to rebuild the music
department from scratch, and after two years of hard work we were inspected by the Office of
Standards and Education, a government inspection program.

This inspection process involves a thorough review of all documentation, policies, activities and
includes reviews with students, parents, peers and leadership. Upon completion of this
inspection, the school was given a report, documenting the office’s findings. Their assessment of
the department that I had re-created was that it was ‘exemplary’ and one of the four strengths of
the College. Ultimately, I had created a music department that others desired to replicate. It was
working. It was producing results. Students were once again experiencing and enjoying music
and the back office administrative support within the department was also in place.

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This example is just one of many times I was able to successfully transform, re-build, and
enhance a school music program. My hope now is that my experiences can allow fellow teachers
to replicate my results within their own programs and add their own successful practices that will
serve as effective models. In addition to my own teaching, I felt that recent data reported from
current music teachers was necessary in order to tailor “next step” ideas for individual teachers
and programs. This data was collected in a project I developed, the first stage of which was
called The School Teacher Music Survey, performed in March 2010.

Evaluating The School Teacher Music Survey’s Findings

It would have been very easy to make The School Teacher Music Survey a large, cumbersome
document focusing on many different aspects. Ultimately, to keep things manageable and user-
friendly, I decided to focus on just one primary activity of a school music teacher’s role: that of
creating, sustaining and leading a musical ensemble of some sort (even in a “general music”
classroom). The survey comprised of 10 questions in which teachers could choose answers on a
sliding scale allowing my team to rate responses numerically. There were also many sections for
written comments. Let’s explore the survey, its findings and how we can utilize this information
to transform our music programs.

Question 1- How favourably do you feel about conducting school ensembles?

Answer- As expected, most people involved in school music programs love their chosen
profession. In fact, 63% of the survey’s respondents answered that they Love conducting school
ensembles. An interesting point is that 2% of the respondents answered that they ‘hate’

Question 2- How favourably do you feel parents and teachers appreciate school ensembles?

Answer- 43% of the respondents chose the answer, ‘It’s Okay’, whereas 14% chose ‘Love it’.
One primary goal of any music teacher should certainly be to gain the appreciation of the
student’s parents, particularly as parents are often the primary support system in students’ lives.
And with a strong support system involving encouragement, it is more likely that a student will
either pursue music as a career or as a hobby somehow in the music industry throughout their

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adulthood, also enabling future generations to experience the tangible and emotional benefits of
live music.

Question 3- How big a challenge is marketing for your school music ensembles?

Answer- The results from this question were somewhat perplexing. The overall score was fairly
low, indicating that this is not much of a challenge for the respondents. 20% of the group
answered that marketing is a ‘huge challenge’, 54% stated that it is somewhat challenging and
18% stated that it is ‘routine.’ The reason that I found these responses to be surprising is that so
much of a teacher’s job today requires marketing: not only their classes to existing students to
maintain enrolment, but to the surrounding community as well. Funding opportunities, student
test scores, enrolment totals and percentages of students graduating and/or completing schools
seem to be on everyone’s minds today. So, teachers must work harder to market the strengths of
not only their schools, but their programs, in order to remain competitive.

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Question 4- How big a challenge is recruitment for your school music ensembles?

Answer- Most of the respondents felt that recruitment was a bit of a challenge. In fact, nearly a
quarter of the participants stated that recruitment for their programs is a ‘huge challenge’. In the
comments section of the survey, some participants noted reasons for recruitment challenges as
being scheduling conflicts, competition with other school groups, and other extracurricular
activities. On the bright side, nearly 25% of the survey’s participants stated that they did not feel
that recruitment was a problem. Hopefully, teachers can learn from those who are experiencing
success in the area of recruitment.

Question 5- How big a challenge is finding the time to get everything done?

Answer- This is likely a challenge for teachers across the board today, as they are constantly
being asked to complete more with less support and fewer resources. Unfortunately there are few
sympathetic ears in the world as this is just about true of every single other professional in just
about every industry. Of the music teachers surveyed, 52% stated that they find time
management to be a ‘huge challenge’. There is good news – there are time management tools
available that can help individuals overcome this challenge. One of the concepts that I applied
successfully in my own programs was to tap the students already participating in my music
ensemble program to ask for help: appropriate delegation to interested responsible parties will
not only engage the students in the program further, but will help free up quite a bit of your time.

Question 6- How big a challenge are rising costs for school music ensembles?

Answer- According to our findings, approximately 60% of the survey’s respondents stated that
rising costs for their program was a ‘huge challenge’. How can teachers combat rising inflation
rates, increasing music equipment costs and decreasing school budgets? One of the most
important proactive things that a music teacher can do is to get the surrounding community
involved and supportive of the program. Hosting free concerts, attending community events to
capture publicity and even fundraising efforts can work to ensure that you not only have the
added funding needed in the event of a budget cut, but can also capture the support of the parents
which can help lobby to keep your program alive for the long-term: let a ‘music boosters’

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organization grow out of your community support and you’ll soon discover how easy it can be to
raise much needed funding.

Question 7- How big a challenge do you think negative publicity is for school music programs?

Answer- Most of the survey participants answered that they did not believe negative publicity
affected their respective programs. While the question is arguably vague, it hits on several
possible components to perception within a community. Most press will not be negative
surrounding a particular music program, as in fact, press is typically the opposite- supportive of
the programs and negative toward school board administrations when they attempt to cut
funding. One area though that can have a greater impact on the school’s ensemble program are
teachers themselves. If any teacher is dissatisfied with their program and vocal about it to
students, faculty or the community at large (via Facebook or Twitter), this can have tremendous
backlash on both their own program but also the entire teaching profession as a whole. It is
important to realize that as teachers, we are viewed as respected professionals and mentors. As
such, in the event that we are not satisfied with our programs, the amount of hours worked, the
community’s support or any other factors, we must be sure that our grievances are voiced to the
appropriate people - defined as those individuals that can partner with us to address the problem.

Question 8- How many hours per week do you work on average?

Answer- Part of the participant group worked part time, so taking these responses out of the mix,
approximately 1/3 of the group answered that they work above the 40 hour standard workweek.
Another 1/3 of the respondents answered that they work more than 50 hours per week.
Surprisingly, 2% of the respondents stated that they work in excess of 70 hours per week.

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Question 9- What are your three biggest frustrations as a conductor in school?

Answer- There were a variety of answers to this question. So, for review purposes, the most
common responses formed a list of categories into which every answer could be assigned, and
included facilities, community, instrumentation, materials and equipment, sports, parents,
practice, scheduling, administration, workload, financial support, the students, and colleagues.
Of these common responses, 7% of the participants stated that their colleagues were the source
of greatest frustration, 6% stated that practice was the largest factor and 6% stated that parents
were of significant concern. The two largest categories were the students themselves (17%) and
scheduling (18%), which was somewhat surprising.

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Question 10- Why do people teach in music programs?

Answer- The answers we received varied greatly, as expected. We chose a few common themes
to highlight in this article and praise respondents for sharing their sometimes very honest driving
motivations. Of particular note was the last comment so we have included it as the last response
below, too – for us it seems to encapsulate our entire desire for sharing our musical and teaching
gifts with others of all ages.

Some of the responses received included:

• Inspiring students

• Helping students to become better musicians

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• Making music everyday

• Working with students and watching their faces ‘light up’ when they learned or mastered
a new concept or skill

• The bond created with my students

• Seeing the ‘light’ come in my student’s eyes when they successfully made good music

• Helping to create the ‘aha’ moment for my students

• The learning experience during and after performances

• The ability to pass along my passion for music

• Watching young musicians grow into mature adults who share a passion for music

• It’s fun!

We have now explored concrete information collected from the survey and considered a few
recent successes that we would like to emulate in our respective schools. It is time, therefore, for
next steps.

Next Steps- Building your Ideal Ensemble Program

We can be successful. We can ensure that we have longevity in our careers. We can transform
music programs into opportunities that students are excited to participate in, and administrators
are keen to keep funding.

First, it is important to evaluate the state of your own current music program. What level of
enrolment are you experiencing? How many students per year are expressing an interest in
exploring a music-related career or hobby in their adulthood? What kind of support are you
receiving from the student’s parents? Take an in-depth look into your program so that you can
establish a baseline.

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Next, paint an imaginative but very detailed picture of the type of program you would like to
build. Are there existing programs in other schools that resemble the type of program you
envision? You may even wish to model your department on specific aspects of more than one
other department, and seeking advice, support and input from more than one of your peers.
Mentorship is one of the best methods for replication of results.

Consider baking as an analogy. Baking, unlike cooking, requires an exact science. The baker
must add the ingredients in the precise order listed, in the exact amounts, and the specific
techniques listed in the recipe must be followed as written. When the instructions are followed,
the same result will be obtained each time the baker attempts the process. If any of these steps
are not followed properly, the end result will not be as expected. Now why does this analogy
relate to your school’s ensemble program?

If you seek out a mentor that is currently running or has setup the exact type and size of program
that you would like to build (it’s hardly wise to seek a mentor from an affluent 500 student rural
school if you are the Head of Music of three urban schools boasting an enrolment of 6,000
students), you will be sure to achieve the same outcome if you replicate their processes exactly.
It will, of course, take time, focus, dedication and a mentor willing to support you during the
process, and every one of our environments has slightly different characteristics, but the key
thing to note is that your ideal program can be accomplished.

In addition to developing a mentor relationship, seek out other tools that can provide you
additional information; videos, articles, training sessions particularly designed for school music
teachers, or even a coach – the best performers and athletes maintain coaches so why shouldn’t
you? When you invest in yourself and your ensemble program, you will not only be making a
difference at your school, but you will be transforming the lives of the students you teach and
helping to reenergize the nation’s love of live music.

For more information or for answers to your questions, please send an email to, or visit my website at

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Stephen P Brown shares his experiences and study with other teachers hungry for growth and security
through workshops, coaching and mentoring

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