Learning by Doing

Mike Lawson • ArchivesChoral • March 23, 2007

An important issue within the field of music education is how to provide students with an opportunity to conduct or lead an ensemble. In SBO’s sister publication, Choral Director, an interview with music director William Breytspraak indicates that, “The best way to learn is often by doing, and hands-on experience can provide insight that might never come from simply being taught.” Many of our students do not often have the opportunity to stand in front of an ensemble and lead in their own artistic manner. Mr. Breytspraak indicates that the “turning point” in his life, which gave him the incentive to become a music educator, came about only by chance when his teacher was too ill to conduct. Will stepped to the podium and has never looked back. He has taken this life-changing experience and turned it into a formalized method of providing opportunities for his students to conduct. This may encourage a student, who might not otherwise be interested in pursuing a career in music, to become very attracted to conducting and a career in education.

In an intriguing survey on this subject of collegiate MENC members, by Martin Bergee or the University of Missouri, respondents were queried as to the extent of their opportunities to conduct, rehearse, or teach a class while in high school. Unfortunately, only 24.7 percent said that they had those opportunities sometimes, or regularly, leaving 75.3 percent replying that such instances occurred either rarely or not at all. There are obviously a variety of factors that may lead to this type of statistic, including the size of the program, the amount of classroom time, funding, number of students, and more. When you consider that the students who were surveyed are involved with a college music program, they were more likely to have come from strong high school music curriculums. The statistics would obviously be significantly worse for students who didn’t pursue music as a career. Should a high school music program offer more opportunity for students to lead ensembles? Is there enough time to allow for this type of opportunity within the band class? These answers to these questions would need to be determined on a school-by-school basis, but it is certainly not possible for every student to be involved, nor would they necessarily have the interest. However, there is a strong possibility that a gifted junior or senior member could benefit in many ways from a conducting opportunity.

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