Creating a Musically Accessible Culture
by Christine Stevens
It's like creating handicap-parking spots.
It's like building on-ramps.
It's like making reachable doorknobs.
We live in a culture of musical disability. "Music is healing" a message we've inherited from indigenous tribal people seems to be rarely shared. We live within the myth that music is a complicated, discipline-oriented task, filled with grueling practice, lengthy time commitments, constant critiques, and frustration. We have high expectations and we fall short.
Guess what? There is a paradigm shift occurring. It's time to return music making to the accessibility it enjoyed in hootenannies and jamborees, to it's purpose beyond entertainment and performance. It's about creating safe, success-oriented, fun, playful musical experiences. We call this recreational music making. According to Merriam Webster, the term "recreatio" actually means "restoration to health."
It just may be the most important revolution our culture has ever witnessed - the revolution of musicality.
To create a musical accessibility we need to build on-ramps, ways for people to enter music more gradually, instead of struggling up a long, steep staircase. Such construction is already happening in two main areas.
1. A growing number of music coaches - facilitators of the new paradigm. The names of the professions are many; music therapists, drum circle facilitators, ORFF educators, and Music for People facilitators. They work within their stated professions to create musical accessibility. But imagine the impact of a more concerted effort. Imagine yourself belonging to this inter-disciplinary organization of troubadours, musical coaches, and visionaries of musical accessibility. Notice the difference?
When you think of what it truly takes to change a paradigm, you begin to appreciate the connections.
Last November, in a period of one week, I attended both the ORFF and Music Therapy conferences. It appeared amazingly synchronous. Is it any coincidence that only a few days later, a 200 person drum circle took place at the Percussive Arts Society Conference? Imagine three separate conferences with a similar desired outcome.
2. Quick-start musical products - More and more user-friendly, non-intimidating instruments are being created. From paddle drums to electric keyboards that light up; boomwhackers to strum sticks. But perhaps the simplest, most immediate access ramps are the drums. Offering the experience of community rhythms, many untrained people are entering the benefits of active music making. We are no longer limited to noisy kazoos! The quick-start instrument market is growing. Keep an eye out for the newest ideas.
Making Reachable Doorknobs
How many times have you heard people say, "music is out of my reach?" The ORFF teacher's pentatonic scale and the drum circle facilitator's heartbeat rhythm. Both are portals into music making. Both create reachable doorknobs.
When we look across the various disciplines of musical coaches, some overall principles can be identified which create reachable doorknobs.
1. Improvisation is KEY. Improvising seems to be easier for the "non-musician" and more challenging for the trained musician. How ironic!
2. Musical development does not require an instrument from the start. Musical development begins with the music within and extends to singing, clapping, banging around in the kitchen, and eventually playing an instrument.
3. Community support is critical. As opposed to individual lessons which isolate the musical experience and force a state of self-conscious attention on the "student," in community music making and group experiences, there is a feeling of belonging, support, and camaraderie.
4. Musical skills development may not be the primary outcome. Music making extends beyond entertainment, into health, recreation, fitness, and spirituality. Let's continue discovering and sharing these benefits of music making.
5. The first music lesson in school is NOT the first experience with music. Children have been singing and playing for YEARS already. Let's not treat them as if they are inexperienced. Let's recognize and celebrate the experience they bring through their playfulness in music.
I'm proposing we broaden our professional identity. Envision the larger perspective of musical accessibility, a culture rich with hootenanny-consciousness that once permeated barns, churches and parks of the 1920's in the Adirondacks and Blue Ridge Mountains. Music making can become part of every medical center's treatment program, every long-term care center's activities, every fitness center's creativity component, and every school's requirements in every grade. Imagine families playing together, kids drumming together after school in the playground. Councils in every community made up of an interdisciplinary team of doctors, teachers, musicians, and facilitators working together to create musical accessibility in their neighborhoods.
I leave you with this story. Two stone-cutters were asked what they were doing. The first stated, "I use tools to cut down the stone to form a brick." The second one stated, "I am part of a team that's building a castle."
The next time you facilitate a musical event in your home, school or workplace, remember you're not just making a brick. You're part of a team that's building a castle, an incredible culture of musical accessibility. As our team builds more ramps, more parking spots and more reachable doorknobs, we are witnessing the recreational music making revolution here and now. Happy building.
Happy revolutionizing. See you in the watchtower.