Working from home? Switch to the DIGITAL edition of School Band & Orchestra. CLICK HERE to signup now!

The Annual Music Ed Wish List for Santa (2011)

Josh Harris • Archives • December 12, 2011

It has been a really busy, harried, controversial, and challenging year for most of us. And if you are like me, you are ready for a well-deserved break. But before mine starts, I have one last task to complete: my annual Christmas Wish List for Santa!

Dear Santa,

As I have for the past eight years, I would like to forgo any gifts for myself and instead recommend a list of gifts for others who could certainly benefit from some thoughtful presents. Yes, some have been naughty and some have been nice. But everyone deserves something, right? So without further adieu, please deliver the following gifts as soon as possible:

For Congress: A calendar and a watch. 

The Obama administration has done an end-run around congress by allowing states to apply for waivers from the daunting No Child Left Behind legislation. This has happened because Congress is not only late taking action on the law’s reauthorization, they are four years late. Come on, guys (and gals). What the heck are we paying you to do in Washington – go to dinner with lobbyists? I can’t wait for the first state to be awarded waivers from NCLB (which would dub most schools in the US as failing by 2014 if nothing is done) since this would be followed by the requisite lawsuits! At this rate, the law will be reauthorized when my grandchild starts high school, and I don’t even have a child old enough to have provided me with a grandchild!

For the Presidential Candidates: Box set of the 2008 Presidential Primary Debates or a new candidate. 

Yes, I know I asked for this last year, but this request obviously went unfulfilled. 2008 was the first time in our history where we had a majority of the presidential candidates speaking eloquently about music and arts education and the need to help support the arts in schools. This is not the case with our current crop of candidates. Actually, they have all been scarily silent! In fact, these folks couldn’t spell “arts” if we spotted them an A-R-T and an S. 2008 was an informed discussion about arts education. It is time to remind this years crop of candidates where we stand. Is it too late to draft Mike Huckabee?

For the Arts Education Community: A new narrative. 

Yes I know we have lost some teachers and our programs are getting squeezed… but the reality is the vast majority of our schools offer music education and nearly 100 percent of our high schools provide these programs. The rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated. We need to push back against this notion that music has disappeared from our schools and it is okay to cut arts programs because everyone is doing it. Everyone else is not doing it, so it is not okay. Instead of bemoaning cuts, we need to showcase the prevalence of our programs so we show those who wish to cut programs exactly what they are: out of touch with the majority of schools in the country.

For All Teacher Evaluation Task Forces: A Research 101 course. 

Using student performance scores to measure teacher effectiveness is an interesting sound bite and certainly has become all the rage for education reform. But as I researcher, I learned a long time ago not to use a measure designed for one thing (students skills and knowledge) for something not really related (teacher effectiveness). If we want to measure the effectiveness of teachers, we need to develop the appropriate measures. The last thing we need to use to measure a music teacher’s effectiveness, which some states have proposed, is how a student performs… in math!

For School Administrators: A new way to evaluate students!

Our schools’ rabid obsession with testing is sapping all of the joy out of learning. A wise person once said, “You don’t fatten a pig by weighing it all the time.” And I might add: you do not impart knowledge to our students by testing them all the time. Enough already!

For the National Association for Music Education: A better acronym. 

I’m sorry, but if you thought NAfME was a better acronym than MENC, I think you might be mistaken. Just as the American Symphony Orchestra League (Acronym: ASOL – say it slowly as a word) switched to the League of American Orchestras because of the teasing over those four awkwardly aligned letters, how do you think it will go over as people start saying the letters NAfME slowly and with a certain emphasis? A concerned member pointed this out to me! I am certain this is not what the organization had intended. The betting is now open on how long it will be until the “f” in NAfME disappears. Even my spell checker wants to remove the “f”.

For Ohio State University Marching Band: A new band director. 

Jon Woods, the man who has led the “Best Damn Band in the Land,” will be retiring at the end of this school year. “For a quarter of a century, Jon Woods has always struck precisely the right note as director of The Ohio State University Marching Band,” said Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee. “Jon’s legacy, like Script Ohio itself, is simply incomparable. We are grateful for his unflagging leadership and countless contributions.” Which means…

For Jon Woods: Our thanks and gratitude! 

For his years of contribution the University gave him the one of the greatest presents ever… he was selected to dot the “I” in the Script Ohio formation for the final home game – an appropriate tribute to a true leader in music education. Jon Woods has always conducted himself with utmost integrity and class as leader of the Buckeyes. Which is a fitting contrast to:

For the Columbia University Band: A day with Jon Woods. 

It is certainly clear this group needs some adult supervision. After embarrassing the football team’s players, coaches, alumni, and parents with their, ahem, different rendition of the schools fight song, “Roar, Lion, Roar,” at the conclusion of the football contest against Cornell the Columbia University Marching Band was barred from performing at the season’s final game of the season against Brown. Instead of “Roar Lion Roar,” it became “We always lose lose lose; by a lot and sometimes by a little”… and continues while getting increasingly juvenile and tasteless. While it may have sounded good when you were doing pong shots, it was a very bad idea. A day with Jon may allow enough class to rub off on you to keep you from being, well, banned!

For Tulsa, Oklahoma: A bottling company! 

I am not really sure what is in the water out there, but after having three Tulsa high school marching bands placing in the top seven bands at the Bands of America Grand Nationals (Broken Arrow, Union, and Owasso) it must be something really good. Could it be that the center of the Marching Band Universe is shifting west from Indianapolis to Tulsa? Only time will tell! But in the mean time, I’ll take a truckload of whatever water they are drinking! And while I am at it a big shout out to Darrin Davis, James Stephens and the entire Broken Arrow High School Marching Band for their Grand Nationals Championship!

For Representative Gabby Giffords: The life-long gift of music! 

Less than a month after she was shot in the head, Giffords met with music therapist Maegan Morrow at the Rehabilitation Hospital in Houston. Giffords was unable to speak. Marrow felt she might have a way to cut through the trauma Giffords’ brain was dealing with by way of “a very familiar song”: “Happy birthday!” Morrow sang “Happy Birthday” to the mute congresswoman and “left the end of the phrase out and tried to get Gabby to sing along.” Giffords didn’t sing. Instead, she grabbed the hand of the therapist to physically but silently complete the missing word of the phrase “Happy Birthday to…” Thus began a several-month journey to restore Giffords speaking voice, highlighting once again the incredibly powerful impact music has on cognitive development. It rewired her brain so she could speak! Just think of the impact music must have on the developing brain of our students! This is a story worthy of sharing with all our school administrators.

For Steve Jobs: Our undying thanks! 

I know many of you, like me, have used or been influenced by Apple products and the design genius that is the late Stave Jobs. From the original Macintosh computers, we all used to do the first computer-based scoring, arranging and drill design programs, to the iPod music player that changed how the world consumed and explored music, to the iOS devices (iPhone/iPad), all of which have altered the way we teach, communicate, and consume media. I am hard pressed to think of another company or visionary whose products have contributed to not only our music but the quality of our lives. Thanks Steve!

And lastly, to all our readers, who bring the wonderful gift of music to students across this nation everyday: may you receive as much joy this holiday season as you give to your students and have a very happy, healthy, and prosperous new year!

Robert B. Morrison is the founder of Quadrant Arts Education Research, an arts education research and intelligence organization. In addition to other related pursuits in the field of arts education advocacy, Mr. Morrison has helped create, found, and run Music for All, the VH1 Save The Music Foundation, and, along with Richard Dreyfuss and the late Michael Kaman, the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation.

He may be reached directly at bobm@artsedresearch.org.

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!