Learning Music: In Praise of Print

Mike Lawson • Resources • November 11, 2015

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(c) ShutterstockI grew up in a home with a grand piano. Although today a trim electric keyboard or other nifty digital instrument may be the musical centerpiece of a home, when I was a kid, growing up in a rural community, many homes had acoustic pianos – and even a few families had cherished home organs! My memory doesn’t offer accurate recall of my earliest piano training (I think my mom was my first teacher), but what is crystal clear to me is what my first piano method book looked like.

The John Thompson “Teaching Little Fingers to Play” beginner piano book in which the first piece had me position my right thumb on middle C and directed me to play the four quarter notes on the musical staff. As I recall those earliest piano lessons, I remember that encountering musical notation was sort of a jolt to my cognitive system. Sound, sight, rhythm, and playing the music were all jumbled together – or so it seemed. Still, I jumped in with print music as my anchor. So much so that the look, including all the pencil notes in the margins, of my first piano book remain sharp in my memory.

My personal anecdote is meant to highlight a critical asset to the field of music education: print music. Be it beginner method books, scores and charts for school ensembles, music for annual regional and state solo and ensemble contests, or published arrangements of current top hit tunes and artists, the availability of print music is critical for music learners. Music manuscripts transmit emotional creations of all types and offer a limitless journey of musical discovery. There is a group of like-minded music industry professionals who have dedicated their careers to being experts in print music who are also members of the Retail Print Music Dealers Association (RPMDA). Among music stores today that continue to offer customers the option to browse stacks and stacks of music manuscripts and review potential repertoire for their students and themselves, many are likely to be RPMDA-affiliated music retail stores – and if they are not, they should be! 

RPMDA members are passionate about music education and music manuscript in its many forms; they believe in, produce, and distribute print music that becomes a pathway for learning and making music at every level – from beginner to professional. They are also informed and passionate advocates for music education. In Spring 2014, during the RPMDA national conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, RPMDA hosted a SupportMusic Coalition “mock policy debate” that featured Kevin Cranley, president and CEO of Willis Music Company (and publisher of the aforementioned John Thompson piano method!), Ron Manus, president and CEO of Alfred Music, and Marcia Neel, president of Music Education Consultants who also serves on the steering committee of the NAMM Foundation’s SupportMusic Coalition. RPMDA conference attendees were treated to a fictional (though not far-fetched!) debate, written and produced by the NAMM Foundation staff, about the merits of offering music education curriculum during the school day – taught by certified music teachers. Kevin, Ron, and Marcia rocked the house with a debate that pitted reasons for-and-against the role of music education in the curriculum and it stirred the RPMDA troops to recognize and appreciate the important roles they serve in their communities as supporters of music education. Spoiler alert: pro-classroom instruction of music education won the debate by a large margin!

Proving that advocacy is a lifestyle and not just a one-time deal Kevin and Ron, (and their companies) are leaders in the print music field, as well as strong and seasoned advocates for music education. In fact, both Ron and Kevin have made numerous trips to Washington, D.C. to participate in NAMM’s Music Education Fly-in to advocate at the federal level. In 2016, our friends at RPMDA will celebrate 40 years as an association and as a prelude to this important year, we say, “CONGRATULATIONS!” Sincerest thanks to all RPMDA members for what you do every day to support music teachers and music learners everywhere. You are all music education advocates when you put a piece of sheet music, a chord chart for a song, a first method book or a reprint of a proof of a work by a master composer in the hands of a music learner. Print music in all of its forms provides pathways to deep and meaningful music making. 

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