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Music Teachers


Music has been part of social and religious culture since the dawn of civilization. In music—as well as in politics, philosophy, and science—Western civilization has been influenced by the Greeks. The very word music has Greek roots, although it should be noted that what the Greeks called music included all of what are now called the liberal arts. In the West, music was also strongly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, in the medieval period (c. 476–1492 A.D.), the only places where formal musical education could be found were the Church's song schools, which trained boys to sing in religious services. The music that those boys sang was called plainsong, plainchant, or Gregorian chant. During this era and through the time of the Reformation (c. 1517), music was taught at monasteries and religious schools. Out of these schools grew the first universities that taught students both musica speculativa (music theory) and musica practica (applied music). During this time, music education was also introduced in German and Italian schools.

In the United States, music education made gradual advances when cultural anchors such as churches and schools were established. In 1833, Lowell Mason, a church music director and bank teller, founded the Boston Academy of Music. He is largely considered to be the first music teacher in an American public school. In 1838, music was accepted as a school subject by the Boston School Committee. In the decades that followed, music became an accepted curricular subject in schools at all grade levels. The Music Teachers National Association, a professional, nonprofit organization of music teachers, was founded in 1876. It was the first professional association of its kind for music teachers in the United States. More than 30 years later, the Music Educators National Conference was founded. Today, its membership includes music teachers, university faculty and researchers, high school honor society members, and college students preparing to be music teachers. (The association changed its name in 2011 to the National Association for Music Education to better reflect its mission.)

In the early 1900s, Dr. Frank Damrosch, the head of music education for New York City's public schools, had the idea of establishing an American musical academy that would rival the music schools in Europe. In 1905, he formed the Julliard School (then known as the Institute of Musical Art) as the first step toward bringing quality music education to the United States. Music education at all levels flourished for most of the 20th century. Unfortunately, by the 1970s and 1980s, public school districts began to cut music education programs in an effort to save money and create funding for the introduction of computer science and other new classes.

In response to these budget cuts, music educators began to push for the reinstatement of arts-based programs in schools, citing studies that showed that the benefits of art and music education for students carried over to other subjects and in everyday life. In 1983, Nation at Risk, a report about the educational deficiencies of U.S. students, was published by the U.S. Department of Education's National Commission on Excellence in Education, sparking a renewed interest in and emphasis on educational subjects that included the arts.

In the early 1990s, the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations developed the National Standards for Arts Education, which detailed what a strong education in the arts (music, dance, theater, and the visual arts) should provide. The passage of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act by Congress acknowledged, according to the National Association for Music Education, that the "arts are a core subject, as important to education as English, mathematics, history, civics and government, geography, science, and foreign language." In 2014, the National Core Arts Standards for music, dance, media arts, theater, and visual arts, were created to guide pre-K through 12th grade educators in the U.S. on providing quality arts education for students. Since then, more than 28 states have adopted these arts education standards and music education programs are again growing in popularity at all academic levels.