“Glee” and the Real Music Classroom

SBO Staff • August 2010ChoralSurvey • August 17, 2010

Whether you like it or not, the recent boom in television shows and movies that focus on school music groups is undeniable. Shows like “Glee” and movies like High School Musical have been extraordinarily successful, and such programming shows no sign of abating in popularity. This recent trend begs some interesting questions: Do these shows and movies have an influence on actual school music programs? Does “Glee” help bring students into the choir? Do the negatives of unrealistic portrayals outweigh the positives of exposure to the joys of singing in primetime media?

With queries like these in mind, Choral Director recently sent out a reader survey on the subject, eliciting a wide range of opinions. The one thing everyone seems to agree upon, however, is that both choral directors and their students are watching these shows. Of the several hundred vocal music educators who responded to this recent survey, 77 percent indicated that they sometimes or often watch these types of shows and, to put it simply, the vast majority of their students do, too.

Many readers echoed the sentiment expressed by Lisa Fusco of Saint Gertrude High School in Richmond, Virginia, who says, “I’m delighted to see this popularity for choral singing! It’s about time everyone found out how much fun it is to sing in a choir.” Others, however, dismiss this recent trend as a relatively useless fad, pointing to the depiction of an alternate reality that ignores the virtues of practice and hard work, glosses over issues like funding and time constraints, and overemphasizes petty, dramatic, or farfetched plot lines. (It should be noted that not a single respondent thought that these types of shows were an accurate depiction of music education!)
Regardless of where your opinion falls, if you haven’t yet weighed in on this fascinating topic, you can still do so by e-mailing esussman@symphonypublishing.com.

1. Do you watch television shows and movies based on school music programs, such as “Glee” and High School Musical?

Yes 32%
No 23%
Sometimes 45%

“Love them ‘Glee’ is great! I really loved the a cappella competition show that was on TV last year too. We talk about it in class regularly.”
Beth Mercer, Robious Middle School, Midlothian, Va.

“I didn’t like ‘Glee’ at first because of the stereotype that only geeks sing and jocks don’t. But the acting and music are fantastic, and I got sucked in. I only watched High School Musical to stay current with my students’ interests.”
Catherine Bennett, Thurgood Marshall Middle School,Tumwater, Wash.

“I feel these shows present 1) a completely unrealistic picture of what music education in schools actually is, and 2) a superficial, glammed-up version of pop music that negates the worth of actual training and practice.”
Marc Dicciani, The University of the Arts, Philadelphia, Pa.

2. Do your students watch them?

Yes 30%
Most do 30%
Some students do 36%
A few of them 3%
None of my students watch those shows 1%

3. What is your general impression of the sudden, and relatively recent, explosion of school music-based TV shows and movies?

“I love them! ‘Glee’ has really helped choral music become popular.”
Dana Brandwein, Merrick Avenue Middle School, Merrick, N.Y.

“It is definitely helping awareness of high school programs and their importance to students. It does bother me that, on ‘Glee,’ for instance, they manage to put together a great performance with just a week of practice! This does give people an unrealistic impression of what can be accomplished.”
Elaine Schaefer, College of the Siskiyous, Weed, Calif.

“TV is a powerful medium for making things acceptable and popular. I think immediately of positive racial attitudes and the promotion of sex outside of marriage. I expect that choral music, at least in schools, may be similarly affected.”
Mary Anne James, Covington Elementary School, Los Altos, Calif.

“I am glad that students get excited for TV shows that have music-related themes, but I am not a fan of the unrealistic impression these shows give of our music programs.”
Jason Falkofsky, Saint Ignatius High School, Cleveland, Ohio

4. Has their popularity had a positive impact on your program?

Yes 43%
No 19%
Don’t know 38%

“It is a good thing for music education. Students now have a greater interest in choral music and more of them think it is cool to sing.”
Molly Fazio, Floyd Light Middle School, Portland, Ore.

“It serves to bring interest to choral music and shows that choral music is for a wide variety of students from the star athletes to the music geeks to everyone in between!”
Katie Talsma, Central Valley Christian School, Visalia, Calif.

5. Do these TV shows and movies accurately depict the realities of school music ensembles?

Yes 0%
No 46%
In some ways 54%

“I’m a GLEEK! [But] my girls getting pregnant, my students falling in love with me, and having to choose between a basketball scholarship and a Juilliard scholarship are not daily issues in my program.”
Brent Rose, Buffalo High School, Buffalo, Wyo.

“If they really depicted what happens in the everyday life of music education, few would watch the show. Mr. Holland’s Opus, some years ago, was to be a savior for music education. In fact it was just another entertainment movie like Drum Line or ‘Glee’… I am not saying they are not entertaining in their own way, but if you are a teacher, they are not reality.”
G. Daniel Fairchild, Univ. of Wisconsin Platteville, Platteville, Wis.

“Real life cannot come up to the standards of fiction; students are disappointed and drop out when they find this to be the case.”
John Lindberg, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Mankato, Minn.

Additional thoughts on the proliferation and popularity of programming based on school music programs?

“The sudden rise in music and drama programs appearing in the mainstream entertainment world is interesting to say the least, but unfortunately is misguided. While it raises an interest in the subject in general, it trivializes what actually takes place in quality music programs. Often the characters in these small and big screen productions are individuals who suddenly find they have a talent and immediately become the most popular kid in school because of their vocal skill. This happens miraculously with little or no training, while those who have stuck with the vocal program for years muddle through in the land of mediocrity#149; In the end, if the ‘Glee’ and High School Musical fads increase numbers in vocal music programs, great! I tell my students, ‘I don’t care why you join choir, I only care why you stay.’ If students join because they wa

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