Ludwig van Beethoven believed “music can change the world.”
Don Wright Faculty of Music professor Paul Woodford might add that change is more likely if we listen to that music critically and understand its origins.
“Music is all around us, but we often don’t pay attention to it,” said Woodford, associate chair, music education, graduate studies. “I want my students to think twice about the music they create, compose and consume, and to consider whose music they are listening to, and why and how it was made.”
That is one impetus behind a unique course Woodford is offering to music education professionals in the master of music in music education program this summer.
The course, Music education as a global phenomenon: Social, historical, and political foundations and challenges of music education in state school systems internationally, runs online via Zoom July 19 to 30 in the department of music education.
The course encourages students to take a global and comparative approach to surveying public school music education programs. While rooted in Woodford’s scholarly interests, he doesn’t see his primary role as teacher in delivering the program.
His work came in gathering a cadre of 16 international scholars to help students explore the origins, evolution, politics, teacher education and curricular structures of music education in state school systems within a destabilized world.
“Involving these guest music education scholars from around the world is what makes this course truly unique, and very much in keeping with Western’s commitments to globalization, diversity, anti-racism, equity and inclusion.”
Students were assigned small group research projects in advance of the course, with each group exploring one of 26 countries’ state music education systems. They will present their learnings through audio-visual presentations during the two weeks of daily classes.
With a three different countries assigned to each day, visiting music education scholars from those regions will commentate on the students’ presentations.
Woodford is delighted that eight of the commentators are students in Western’s doctoral program in music education, representing their homelands of Australia, South Africa, Azerbaijan, Honduras, the United States, Canada and China.
Another three are graduates of Western’s music education doctoral program and citizens of China, Romania and the Czech Republic.
“That aspect and the course itself is very much in keeping with Western’s commitments to globalization, diversity, anti-racism, equity and inclusion,” Woodford said.
Other international scholars will be joining from Spain and Brazil.
“I’m hoping these guests will intrigue the students and maybe correct us and elaborate on the subject as someone who really knows,” Woodford said.
“Canadian students won’t know a lot about a country like China, for example. They’ll know something about it from their research, but they’ll never match what someone who is a native of the country would know. The same is true with the United States. We think we know a lot about the country as Canadians, but most of us haven’t been in their schools, so we will be learning something from the U.S. representative as well.”
A weapon in the wrong hands
Of the 16 scholars, three will be giving presentations on music education in their respective home countries. Nasim Niknafs, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, will speak on music education in her native Iran.
“That will be an interesting conversation,” Woodford said. “It is very difficult to get information about music education in a country like Iran because there is not much written in English. (Niknafs) will be able to tell us how music is used and treated in that country and what is and isn’t permissible.”
The type of knowledge is critical in understanding the power dynamics and political aspects of music Woodford said.
“Historically, music can be a weapon in the wrong hands. It has great potential for abuse. Hitler loved classical music but used it as Nazi propaganda. In China, the government is still censoring music.”
Music as an ‘educational force’
Woodford hopes his course will help students realize music education’s potential to contribute to social and cultural welfare in times of social and political disruption, or even, a pandemic.
He also hopes they’ll develop a deeper understanding of music as a powerful educational force in the world and think critically about the purposes and values of music education in educational institutions.
On that, he can point to his own experience, benefitting from a public music education system growing up in St. John’s, Nfld.
The accomplished musician, conductor and scholar was one of 10 children in his family, and there wasn’t a lot of money to support his active interest in music.
“I would not be where I am today without the public-school system. Luckily, in grade seven, I got into a public school where they were starting a band program. I had a reason to go to school, and it changed my life.”