St. Michael's at Forefront of "Popular Music Education" (By Steve Moreland)

One student said, “I listen to music all the time, but I never thought much about how it was actually made… very cool!”

There is a new trend coming in music education and St. Michael’s is leading the way!  This summer I was fortunate enough to travel to Nashville and attend a conference hosted by The Association for Popular Music Education (APME).  During the conference, I was surrounded by other musicians, industry professionals, university professors and educators and sat in on some round table discussions and seminars discussing the future of music education. I was amazed and thrilled when I discovered I wasn’t the only one teaching music through a popular and music industry-related viewpoint.

In fact, many universities have adopted this “popular music ed” philosophy and now major institutions are offering degrees in “commercial music” or “popular music.”  For example, you can now attend the University of Miami and major in music and choose your primary instrument as “the computer.” And even in Europe, countries such as Sweden have adopted and implemented this approach in their schools. Now that major universities and institutions around the world are adopting “popular music education” (PME), it is only a matter of time before this filters down to secondary schools.
St. Michael’s is one of five high schools in the nation that teaches PME in the classroom. While sitting in a seminar, word got around that a high school teacher from Texas was attending the conference, and I was brought into the conversation to discuss our answer to “the marching band dilemma,” which is a major consideration for other schools looking for an alternate approach to traditional music education. I explained what we do at SMCA and how we have a drumline that plays in the stands and during halftime we essentially roll out a stage and play a rock show from the field resembling a miniature Super Bowl show. Afterwards, I was asked to give a presentation at next year’s conference discussing how to implement similar models at other schools.  
While not disregarding the traditional music education model - in fact, I am a product of that model - I believe there is more than one way to teach music to students. And to teach music to students in a way that can prepare them to move into the music industry, either as a career or as a consumer.  Yes, the world needs musicians and artists, but they also need more consumers of all of the arts. There are many more opportunities to have a career in music than ever before, but it requires a new skill set, much of which is not currently taught in most traditional music programs.  Given the vast amounts of technology that is easily available to students, somebody somewhere needs to begin teaching them how to use that technology and how to find their place in this world.

So… this week, when my Varsity Symphony arrived to class on Tuesday, I had the music room set up like a professional recording studio.  I had them go through an actual recording session with one of my senior students working as the engineer and producer. We took the song “Yesterday” by The Beatles and rehearsed and recorded multiple tracks. Some students played their instruments on the recording, while others worked as audio engineers and helped setup microphones and run cables. After the class, all I heard from students was how much they enjoyed experiencing the whole process.  One student said, “I listen to music all the time, but I never thought much about how it was actually made… very cool!”
Which brings me back to my main point.  St. Michael’s is a pioneer in this new movement called “popular music education” and we’re reaching more students than ever before!