In 1921, nationally known music educator and Oberlin professor Karl Gehrkens overcame opposition, from the College and from society, and established America's first four-year degree program in public-school music.
This November, Oberlin Conservatory music-education alumni gathered to celebrate the last 75 years of music-teacher preparation in this country--and to address some of the real-world problems still facing music educators today.
The reunion, 75 Years of Music Education, was held in conjunction with a four-day tribute to the late Oberlin choral conductor, Robert Fountain [See "Honoring Robert Fountain" in the "Around Tappan Square" section of this issue]. Reunion events included demonstrations and lectures by Oberlin faculty on eurythmics, rehearsal techniques, and general music, as well as discussions about the issue uppermost in everyone's mind--how to educate teachers, administrators, students, and parents about the urgent need for enhancing public music education.
"The children come first," said Laura Mazziotti '90, a middle-school instrumental teacher in White Plains, New York. "But the one thing I've found most difficult out in the 'real world' is school politics. What on earth do I do all day? I don't think my colleagues or administrators have a clue."
Eileen Cline '56, dean emerita of Peabody Conservatory, has had a lifetime of real-world experience. She has held teaching and administrative positions in public schools, universities, and community schools in Indiana, Colorado, and Connecticut.
"The ills of the world won't be solved purely by addressing economic and other issues," said Cline, who is currently working to help create a public policy on the arts in education as a senior fellow in the Institute of Policy Studies at Johns Hopkins University. "Nowadays we need to pay attention to cultural issues as well."
"Arts policy happens, whether we guide it or not," she said. "At Oberlin the music and education aspects are so well integrated; it was my musical development here that made all the difference. It's our charge to open up those possibilities for others."
Karen Schaefer is a freelance writer living in Oberlin. Her work appears regularly in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Northern Ohio Live magazine, and on Cleveland's WCLV-FM radio.
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