We Play the Music

By Nancy Flanagan — December 07, 2009 1 min read
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Live From NSDC, St. Louis-- Don’t want to get on my high horse here, but bringing student groups in to entertain large education conference audiences is a mixed-message concept. At best.

On the one hand, there is the nice idea of celebrating “what we’re all about:" student learning and excellence. In introductions for the very fine middle school band that played at breakfast this morning and the St. Louis Children’s Chorus at lunch, there was warm applause and nice language about “this is why we’re in education” and compliments for the student performers. I spent 30 years teaching middle school music, and these were, in fact, superb student musicians. I know something about the level of preparation necessary for such a performance (not to mention the permission slips, buses, getting the kiddos out of school, the broken reed crises, etc.).

On the other hand, a high-profile performance--especially one for 3500 educators--perversely reinforces the idea that children can be patronized, even ignored. While the videographer was framing the serious, focused faces of the tenor saxophone and oboe players on the big video screens, thousands of people were chatting through the music. The kids became a kind of aural wallpaper--a backdrop for what the adults chose to do: converse. When the first speaker stepped up to the microphone, however, the room fell silent. The message was clear: the kids were cute, but the adult speaker was important.

The kids’ music--what I could hear of it, over the chatter--was fantastic. And I ought to know. I hope someone has explained to them why many adults weren’t really listening.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.