Purpose, Service, and Community Through Music

Christine Carucci • September 2022Wind Talkers • September 5, 2022

In a recent recording of the Civil Rights anthem “I Shall Not Be Moved,” Grammy-award winning musician Rhiannon Giddens spoke about the unique opportunity she had to learn this song from her mentor, fiddler Joe Thompson. She explains how in the traditional folk roots of Thompson’s era, music was driven by a sense of purpose and service for the community. In keeping with the general theme of the past two WindTalkers articles that were focused on transforming our student’s learning through use of the affective domain, I’d like to close this series by elaborating on how these foundational principles of purpose, service, and community can drive the educational choices for teachers. As ensemble directors, we bring so much more to our communities than performance ratings, division rankings, or trophies earned. Rather, we have a unique position to reach beyond the walls of our classroom, stirring our communities to share in the multi-faceted powers of music, embracing music learning opportunities for all students, and planting seeds of music appreciation to last a lifetime.

As we enter this new school year, it’s worth taking the time to reflect on our purpose as music educators. In more structured terms, this might be considered one’s philosophy of music education, which is a continually evolving set of beliefs that drive our short- and long-term decision making. Our purpose is the “why” behind our choices, such as the repertoire we select, the performances we schedule, and the assessments and evaluation tools we use, just to name a few. Each of these choices continually reflects our beliefs about the purpose of what we do. A strong sense of purpose allows us to build a program that evolves with reason, research, and regular reflection. Our purpose statement can be reimagined as a mission statement to be shared with students, parents, and administrators. 

When we have identified the purpose of our program, we can be of better service to our students and community. We recognize the need to serve the student musicians that sit before us, but how do we serve beyond the walls of our classroom or concert halls? The visibility of service is a way we can help build support for our program but is also a way we can teach our students about the power of using their gifts and skills to better the world. Sharing music as a service in the community is a priceless way to do just that and will bring a sense of connection and empowerment to our students. 

The fabric of every community is unique, so it is necessary our service is specialized to meet the needs of those we serve. Of utmost importance is how we build community through relationships. This happens regularly in how students interact and work with others within the framework of our ensembles. There is a sense of community within our schools and districts and involving our program at this level helps to share our student’s work with family and friends.  In addition, we can look for ways to build and strengthen the greater community by developing collaborations with novice to professional musicians within the community, as well as those in the music industry at large. These relationships demonstrate the amazing network musicians form, as well as offering students’ thoughts on how they can develop a long-term relationship with music throughout their lives. 

The Director’s To-Do List
The following list contains action items the practicing music educator can incorporate to strengthen the sense of purpose, service, and community within their program:

Purpose: Revisit your beliefs on the role of music education. Identify the reason for your program and role in the school. How does your purpose reflect in the daily decisions you make for your classroom, as well as the longer-term curricular decisions? What are your beliefs surrounding the reason for music to be included in a child’s development, and how should this be executed? Translate your ideas into a mission statement that can help drive your teaching and be succinctly shared with constituents. 

Service: Consider how your program serves the community. Are your service-related activities filling needs in the community, and promoting visibility of your program? Is there a way to expand this to help foster a sense of service in your students? How is service being used to help students learn the value of sharing their time, efforts, and skills with others?

Community: Visibility, often through service in the community, is one way to help build a strong program. Consider ways your program can integrate individuals within the community. Bringing in guests in the field to talk about how their experiences can help students understand how music can find its way into life beyond the classroom walls.  Collaborations with other community music programs or alumni can also bring the uniqueness of intergenerational learning to our students and show how music can be embraced across the lifespan. 

Reflecting and acting on our purpose from the inside out can help fully develop our music programs. Doing so can transform how we teach purposefully, while serving our biggest supporters—the community in which we teach.

Christine Carucci currently teaches orchestra for the Boardman, Ohio local schools and serves as an online learning specialist for Lisa’s Clarinet Shop.

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