Action for Change in Music Education

“Action for Change” (1997) [click here] stands as the original articulation of the aims and key questions—the Action Ideals—that arose from the founding of the MayDay Group.

In 2011, find at MayDay Group Colloquium 23 in Salt Lake City, a committee was formed to undertake a revision of the Action Ideals in order to renew a fresh commitment to the challenges presented by the educational and social realities of the 21st century. Brent C. Talbot and Thomas B. Malone were selected to focus and re-shape this key document in a way that retained the revolutionary spirit of the original, but with a greater awareness of language inclusivity, identity constructions, as well as the increased role that technology and internet based media play in contemporary life among musicians and teachers. A call for volunteers was issued at Salt Lake City. Vincent Cee and Ben Hawkins were added as two additional members of the committee that proceeded to develop a draft document.

Prior to Colloquium 24, a call for additional input was made to both the MDG steering committee and the membership at large. Marie McCarthy, Hildegard Froehlich, David Elliott, Deborah Bradley, Terry Gates, and Tom Regelski helped to provide additional feedback.

In May of 2012 an initial draft of the new document was sent to the membership by email and publicly presented by Brent Talbot, Vincent Cee, and Tom Malone (via Skype) at Michigan State University in a session entitled “Discussion of Revision of MayDay Group Ideals.” Brent Talbot used this information to coordinate a second round of edits with Karen Salvador, Aaron Wolf, Vincent Bates, Danny Bakan, and William Pinar.

In light of the climate crisis, Ideal IX was developed over the course of 2017-2018 and feedback was recieved from the membership throughout 2018-2019. The purpose of this ideal is to draw attention toward ecological matters and the need for sustainability while also reframing the issue beyond anthropocentric optics. In early 2020, the Steering committee voted to fully adopt the ecologically-directed action idea.

The Action Ideals embody the MayDay Group’s aims and represent its belief in “Action for Change.”

I. All music and music learning is culturally situated. Diverse communities generate and sustain diverse musical meanings, values, and individual practices. Thus, music learning works best when we are mindful, reflective, and critically aware of cultural contexts.

Only a partial musical reality is presented if musical concepts, information, and skills are taught without regard to their place within larger cultural contexts. Formal education in music must help students become independent music makers who are culturally adaptive and critically reflective.

  1. How can we continue teaching information, skills, and understandings while empowering students to engage critically with music outside of their formal instruction?
  2. How can we better recognize and promote existing programs that produce independent and culturally adaptive musical engagement? How can we identify effective characteristics of programs that develop musical autonomy and musical sharing?
  3. How can educational institutions and programs best strengthen the performative skills of their musicians in diverse cultural styles, while also developing corresponding receptive, critical, and reflective skills among their students and audiences alike?
  4. How can we assist people to develop musical identities that stem from their areas of expertise and interests, and equip them for changing musical realities?

II. Since social, cultural, and political contexts of musical actions are integrally tied to the nature and values of all human activity, a secure theoretical foundation that unites the actions of music with the various contexts and meanings of those actions is essential to music education in both research and practice.

We must account for the fullest range of meanings inherent in individual and collective musical actions. This will require robust rationales that encompass the widest range of musical experiences in school and community contexts. As teachers of music we are participants and collaborators in a living cultural praxis; therefore discussions of music’s meanings and educative values must concern not just the sounds themselves, but encompass all of music’s humanizing and concrete functions.

  1. How can musical values be understood in relation to the nature of human needs and the social and cultural contexts that bring them forth, while at the same time teaching and promoting culturally relevant musical practices? By what criteria can such decisions be made?
  2. How can non-notated musical practices, along with their relevant pedagogical and performative standards, be strengthened alongside those of notated musics? How can we identify and enlist exemplars and knowledgeable culture-bearers from these musical traditions among our schools and communities?
  3. How can we become more aware of the ways in which our own musical identities inevitably intersect with, and adapt to, the broad range of musics and musical situations with which we engage?
  4. Accounting for the personal, social, cultural, and political situatedness of musics, what specific tangible qualities of musical processes, products, and contextualized actions should constitute the basis for ethical music teaching, learning, and assessment?

III. As agents of social change who are locally and globally bound, we create, sustain, and contribute to reshaping musics, ways of knowing music, and spaces where musicing takes place. Thus, music educators must always strive to provide equitable, diverse, and inclusive music learning practices.

Musical cultures are human-driven, living processes, not merely sets of works or established practices. Musical activity develops out of an emergent synergy of change and tradition within human contexts and communities of practice. Thus, we need to foster the capacity for change in our musical and educational traditions.

  1. How can music educators address social issues surrounding equality and privilege that stem from identity constructions such as socioeconomic status, ability, race, sexual orientation, age, gender, sex, ethnicity, and religion, etc.?
  2. How can we work towards increased accessibility and equity in music curricula for all learners?
  3. How can we create continuously developing, socially responsive, and sustainable partnerships for musical activity within our local communities?
  4. How can engagement with these local partnerships develop increased sensitivity and awareness in ourselves as globally bound musicians?

IV. Like all elements of musical culture, contributions made by schools, colleges, and other institutions must be systematically and critically examined in order to evaluate the extent and directions of their influence.

Music institutions permeate 21st century life, from garage bands and a-cappella groups, to media conglomerates and government bureaucracies. Individual musical actions are guided, often invisibly, by institutions. We must find ways to account for the effects of established institutions on the musical health of individuals, and in shaping their musical identities.

  1. In what ways do small and large musical institutions influence the actual musical lives and identities of persons and communities, and on what basis can their effects be identified and evaluated?
  2. What barriers to individual and community musical development do institutions perpetuate, and how can their effects be addressed?
  3. What can we do to encourage lifelong amateur musicing as a cultural norm?
  4. How can we find ways to bridge existing institution-based musical activities with other types of lifelong musical participation/musicing?

V. We commit to fostering ongoing engagement with fellow music educators of all traditions, seeking knowledge from disciplines other than music, and collaborating with practitioners of those disciplines.

We recognize that musicing takes place in a context created by the relationships that connect us to one another and to the myriad modes through which we construct knowledge. We embrace opportunities for insight and innovation presented by encounters with other disciplines in pursuit of meaningful musical action.

  1. How can we broaden the range of our professional and general knowledge? From what disciplines should such a broadened knowledge base initially be drawn?
  2. How can we nurture rational, reflective, effective, and creative personal teaching approaches that, at the same time, are grounded in the integration of new evidence with elements of positive traditional practices?
  3. How can we, in our multiple roles as students, teachers, performers, and as members of professional organizations, certifying organizations, and accrediting agencies, support efforts to improve general education, citizenship, and critical inquiry skills?
  4. As collaborative partners, how can we share musical ways of knowing, being, and learning with other disciplines and communities?

VI. We must continually refine and broaden scholarship for music education in terms of inclusivity, relevance, and theoretical and practical interest.

Issues and questions in music education are inextricably wed to inquiry in other disciplines. Because music takes place among a network of social practices in action, and these practices are connected with peoples’ beliefs and theories, research in music education must continuously examine and reach beyond traditionally accepted paradigms and limitations. Therefore, our approaches to music education inquiry draw problems and solutions from musical actions, narratives, and identities of all people, and thus from music that incorporates rich diversity of musical meanings and experience

  1. What processes can we develop to critically examine current and past research found in our profession? What theories and methods from other disciplines support this ongoing critical approach?
  2. How can we create a more inclusive and expansive research agenda–one that produces a richer research base for better-informed and improved thought and practice?
  3. How can we influence leaders of professional institutions to encourage independent and critical researchers? How can we support innovative forms of scholarly inquiry and collaborative action?
  4. What additional means can be devised to referee and disseminate research findings? How can we include referees with a wider range of methodological expertise?

VII. An ongoing reflective effort towards understanding the context of music curriculum and education must serve as a common starting point for nurturing robust communities of music educators and learners. We are committed to engaging a discussion which reframes all musical learning, including what takes place in schools, as a lived and diverse set of practices that encourages practitioners to be critically reflexive towards concepts of music pedagogy and curriculum as well as those practices represented in local, national, and global paradigms in education.

Any discussion of school and institutionalized music learning must engage a critical philosophical perspective questioning the conceptualization of what schooling is, what learning is, what curriculum means, and how policy can best support the goals of music as a lived cultural practice that enhances and gives meaning to the individual and collective members of diverse communities. Seeking to apply the same values to schooling and learning that we apply to music making, curriculum can be repositioned as a lived enacted process of learning and teaching, one in which all stakeholders are empowered to understand the cultural context of music, schooling, and ideas about learning and the institutions of education. As musicing is a trans-disciplinary and diverse global practice, an acute criticality towards cultural bias and hegemonic educational
institutional practices must be maintained. This critique must also address the language of outcomes, standards, methods and systemic oppression of creativity and culture through cultural bias in educational policy and practice.

  1. What philosophical, curricular, psychological and social principles and criteria should guide curriculum theory, development, evaluation and criticism in regards to music learning?
  2. Recognizing that music education practitioners are often operating within contexts that embrace the language of standardization and outcomes, how can we further support policy decisions that promote a broad concept of music as a diverse and varied lived praxis that empowers and engages teachers, musicians, learners, and members of communities in and beyond schools and institutions?
  3. Considering that music learning practice in schools are influenced by standards developed and imposed by national or regional entities, such as music educators associations and central governments, how can we organize locally to take specific steps to make theoretically critical understandings of learning a strong part of music teacher preparation?
  4. How can a clearer articulation of educational approaches that take into account the institutional priorities, local conditions and resources that relate to implementing a robust curriculum work to reconcile governmental or other institutional influences on
    curriculum with what we know of our students’ needs and our communities’ resources and

VIII. We commit to understanding the wide range of possibilities and the limitations that technology and media offer music and music learning.

Technologically mediated musical experiences are eclipsing live face-to-face interactive musicing as the means by which music students directly engage with music in daily life. The widespread use and remarkable capabilities of technology and media devices are affecting mandates made by governments, arts organizations, and educators about how music instruction is conceptualized, defined, and delivered. Given the global scope of this issue, we commit to keeping a critical and hopeful eye on both the emerging benefits and the potential harm stemming from the pervasive role of and access to media and technology platforms in 21st century global-industrial culture.

  1. Given the pervasive use of digital technology and communication, how do we integrate alternatives; for example, acoustic, live, hands-on, face-to-face, and culturally situated interactive music making, as an essential component of human cooperation and community?
  2. How can we ensure that the ease of access to video clips and sound bites do not replace the more complex and challenging encounters with living culture-bearers found in our communities?
  3. How can we use contemporary media and technology to empower people to assert their own local and personal identities, and to critically resist the onslaught of global marketing and branding aimed at their particular demographic?
  4. How can we further the development of music-related open educational resources? What innovative and locally sustainable initiatives can we develop that would allow greater musical collaboration across cultural and political boundaries at the community level without undue reliance on corporate interests?

IX: Music education practices are inescapably bound within ecology—interactions among organisms and physical environments. Diverse cultures and species can be sustained by environmentally regenerative music education attuned to cultural and physical commons, pollution-free soundscapes, the inherent value of non-human being, and people musicking for environmental activism.

We live in a time defined by ecological crises, many of which intersect with and initiate economic, gender, racial, and other injustices. Long-placed, sustainable, and indigenous cultures throughout the world contrast with an uprooting industrial culture that has brought Mother Earth to the brink of ecological collapse. Music education has an essential role to play in cultivating eco-literacy, educating citizens to take action in alleviating ecological crises. Therefore, we should critically review former, current, and upcoming musical practices from an ecological scope, taking into consideration the following questions.

  1. What actions can music educators and institutions take to enact sustainable approaches to music teaching and learning and to foster the genuine interest of music educators and learners for the sustainability of local and global natural ecologies and soundscapes, as well as the musical practices that originate from them?
  2. In what ways do some musical and educational cultures and practices sustain local ecologies, while others are environmentally destructive?
  3. How often and to what degree do the actions of music educators in economically, industrially, and militarily dominant countries impact ecological systems throughout the world?
  4. In what ways do environmental justice and musical diversity intersect with class, gender, race, place, ability, and other relevant categories of experience within the field of music teaching and learning?

2020-2021 Revisions:
The MayDay Group first met on May 1, 1993 with the intention of critically reexamining the status of practice in music education. This eclectic group of thinkers, from a variety of disciplines and countries, continues to function as a think tank. Its primary focus is to identify, critique and change widely established patterns of professional activity, polemical approaches to method, and social, musical and educational philosophies, educational politics, and public pressures that have threatened effective practice and stifled critical and open communication among music educators.
This ongoing debate has resulted in a more formal two-fold purpose guiding future deliberations: (a) to apply critical theory and critical thinking to the purposes and practices of music education, and (b) to affirm the central importance of musical participation in human life and, thus, in the general education of all people.
Action for Change (1997) was the first effort to put this view forward––through a set of Action Ideals followed by questions that sought to point out directions for music teaching and learning. In 2011, MayDay Group revised the earlier document, reviewing the values embedded there in light of current practice, updating the content, and adjusting the approach to speak more directly to music teachers and learners at all levels and in all types of musical contexts. This version was ratified in 2012.
MDG again set out to revise the Action Ideals document in 2020, in response to significant shifts in the field and world at large, and to more accurately frame and articulate the group’s current thinking about music teaching and learning. Informed by perspectives gathered at open Town Hall meetings and ongoing Steering Committee meetings, these revised AIs were drafted by a subcommittee and sent to the membership for feedback via the newsletter and at MDG Colloquium 32 in late June 2021 in order to determine their viability and determine any further recommended changes.
The following revised Action Ideals are the result of that process. They are stated broadly as ideals for guiding dialogue and change, not as narrow or dogmatic conclusions. The AIs are not meant to be taken in any kind of order, so they are now listed alphabetically by theme. A brief rationale follows each. Questions have been eliminated in order to allow for greater flexibility of AI interpretation over upcoming years’ Colloquia and thematic journal volumes. With the expectation of future collaboration and continued refinement of these Action Ideals by leading minds across many disciplines, the signers put these revised ideals forth as bases for real action in music education.
The current Action Ideals were developed by Julie Beauregard, Nasim Niknafs, Anita Prest, Brent Talbot over the course of 2020-2021. They were reviewed and approved by the membership of the MayDay Group.