EducationWatch: NAMM 2009

Annual trade show features Music Education Day and addresses numerous topics relevant to music education
Laurel Fishman

Amid the abundant new products devoted to the creation and appreciation of music, the NAMM International Music Products Association convention took place Jan. 15–18 in Anaheim, Calif., and featured significant programming on music education. A highlight of this year's convention, Music Education Day brought together educators and music products industry representatives on Jan. 18. At an opening reception, speakers emphasized a unified message that all children deserve a quality education including music and the arts. The stirring keynote by Larry Livingston, renowned conductor, professor and music director of the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music, challenged attendees to think differently about music education. Livingston acknowledged the achievements of traditional, large ensemble-based programs while emphasizing the necessity of school music offerings to embrace a much wider student population. He encouraged music educators to expose students to all musical genres, be more adaptive with curricula and utilize technology in the classroom. He also stressed the importance of empowering each student to pursue independent music making and suggested that a music education program's success could well be measured by the number of its graduates who continue making music throughout their lifetime.

Following the reception, Music Education Day continued to present concepts of new paradigms of what constitutes quality music education. As explained by NAMM's Sandy Jordan, the shift is to "all-in, as opposed to an elite corps of players," allowing students many more educational options and points of access. Jordan said expanding the definition of quality music education requires co-developing new types of programs directly with the students themselves. The results will be "relevant to their futures, either in the field of music or beyond it," Jordan stated, citing the positive effect of music education on cognitive skills, as with those individuals who go on to study medicine after learning to play a musical instrument.

Music education proved to be a prevailing theme throughout this year's convention with other sessions covering topics such as music education advocacy, technology in the music classroom, innovative programs for drums and guitar, and invigorating school string programs. Session themes addressed how sustainable music programs depend on community commitments and the involvement of decision makers including school board members, administrators, legislators, teachers, and parents who value music and the arts as essential education. A panel led by NAMM's Eric Ebel underscored how music teachers are increasing the target audience for school music programs by creating new opportunities for children who may not have been drawn to traditional music education. Donna Hall of the New York School of Music spoke about ways to connect music students with opportunities to perform at community events and explained how to develop relationships with low-cost or free-of-charge venues. Pete Gamber of Southern California-based Alta Loma Music talked about developing a strong lesson culture within retail music stores by training all store personnel to be passionate, dedicated and knowledgeable torchbearers for music lessons.

In its growing support of music education advocacy efforts, NAMM distributed plentiful materials at the show including the one-pager "Now More Than Ever." The piece highlighted crucial guidance about taking action with school boards, elected government officials and parents. This year's convention also hosted the newly formed Jazz Education Network's inaugural meetings and the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. Dedicated to providing students across the United States and Canada with free, hands-on opportunities to produce original music and video projects in the vehicle's state-of-the-art mobile recording facility, the bus held several performances on its own exterior stage including an appearance by Liyana, an extraordinary group of Zimbabwe-based physically disabled musicians. Their performance demonstrated the commitment of the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus to unite young people from various cultural backgrounds through music.

In related news, members of Liyana were special guests of the GRAMMY Museum a few days after the NAMM show. The group was led on a tour by GRAMMY Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli and joined by legendary songwriter and Recording Academy Trustee Lamont Dozier. After participating in the Museum's many interactive exhibits, including laying down tracks with producer Jermaine Dupri and creating beats and loops with DJ Rap in the In The Studio exhibit, Liyana performed an inspirational concert. The band's unusual fusion of genres — ranging from gospel to reggae to traditional Zimbabwean Shona music — delighted an audience of nearly 200 enthusiastic students from four Los Angeles-based high schools.

(Laurel Fishman is a writer and editor specializing in entertainment media. She reports regularly for and GRAMMY magazine, and she is an advocate for the benefits of music making, music listening, music education, music therapy, and music-and-the-brain research.)

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