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The Art of Teaching Music

reviewed by Frank Abrahams - October 07, 2008

coverTitle: The Art of Teaching Music
Author(s): Estelle R. Jorgensen
Publisher: Indiana University Press, Bloomington
ISBN: 0253219639, Pages: 344, Year: 2008
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The Art of Teaching Music is the third music education text by Indiana University Professor of Music Education Estelle R. Jorgensen. The other two, In Search of Music Education (1997) and Transforming Music Education (2003) are collections of essays (eight in all) that set an agenda for music education as a profession.

In her first book, Jorgensen states, “How a profession conceives of itself, its reason for being, and its assumptions about the world with which it interacts has much to do with how it goes about doing what it does and practicing what it professes” (p. xi).  All three books wrestle with this idea.

Transforming Music Education, published six years later, suggests that music teachers are catalysts who shape culture and set a direction for society. In that context, Jorgensen asks, “What should music education be about and for? What can musicians and educators do to model and engender educational transformation? What principles should guide this transformation?” (p. xiii). Throughout the book, she proposes “a dialectic and holistic approach to musical and educational transformation.” This approach, though idealistic, challenges traditional notions of gender, leadership, student-centered teaching, and more.

In The Art of Teaching Music Jorgensen directs her attention to the teacher but this time with a vision that is both suggestive and descriptive. She conceives the role of teacher as one which encompasses value and disposition, judgment and leadership, and posits music teachers as musicians who are listeners, performers, and composers. Her purpose here is to set forth an agenda for design, instruction, imagination, and reality. To do this, Jorgensen artfully weaves a tapestry that joins the aesthetic perspectives of Suzanne Langer, Vernon Howard, Alfred North Whitehead, and Nel Noddings with ideas on pedagogy from Paulo Freire and John Dewey and notions of spirituality gleaned from Parker Palmer, Martin Luther, and others. In terms of music education praxis, she looks often to Patricia Sheehan Campbell, but also discusses the contributions of Carl Orff, Zoltán Kodály, and Émile Jaques-Dalcroze. In addition, she considers the work of Randall Allsup, Wayne Bowman, David Elliott, and Maxine Greene.

The style speaks to teachers in a friendly, first-person conversation and, like Jorgensen’s previous books, builds on her own personal experiences as a teacher and performer on several continents to ably provide credibility. She is what Elliot Eisner (2001) calls an “educational connoisseur”—one who through lived experience can make the finest and most sophisticated inferences about standards and quality.

Author Mark Edmundson (2008), in a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, writes, “Good teachers perceive the world in alternative terms, and they push their students to test out these new, potentially enriching perspectives” (p. 17). Later he adds, “Good teachers…are constantly fighting against knowingness by asking questions, creating difficulties, raising perplexities” (p. 18). I think that Jorgensen would agree. In the first section of the book, she examines the characteristics that make a good teacher. She suggests that good teachers are leaders who keep an open mind, are tactful, and remember that teaching is about people. In a chapter on judgment, she discusses formative and summative evaluations as helpful models in shaping teacher dispositions and suggests that evaluation is mediated by experience, though students must always come first.

The teacher as musician occupies the center chapters of the book and as such is its centerpiece. Jorgensen examines the role of the teacher as listener, performer, and composer. It is in this section of the text that she also acknowledges music teaching as “craft” as well as “art.” She defines craft as “the range of skills and techniques that musicians employ in doing their work, that is, the work of making and taking music” (p. 95). Referencing Vernon Howard, she lists various aspects that contribute to the teacher as musician metaphor and the teaching as craft perspective. Elsewhere in the text, Jorgensen suggests that because the arts have a logic and rationality quite different from other academic subjects, music teachers need a rich imagination and intuitive skills to envision possibilities rather than absolutes. This is a theme throughout the book.

In the final section of the text, Jorgensen describes a music instruction model that connects the whole to the parts—seeing them together rather than as separate entities. She uses her own teaching of graduate students in a foundations-of-music-education course as an example. Her assignments require students to read primary resources and connect them to class discussions. She also has students read their work to their peers in class and builds an atmosphere of respect and open-mindedness. She views her own teaching as “a holistic enterprise…where mind, body, and soul are inextricably bound together” (p. 279). She notes the importance of teachers becoming themselves and suggests that while role models are important, teachers would be well served to look inside themselves and acknowledge their fallibility. Teachers are not perfect, she reminds us, and are not right all the time. She calls on teachers to “cultivate a sense of wonder, awe, and mystery” (p. 281) in themselves and for their students.

Others have written similar texts on teaching for teachers of subjects other than music. The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer (1998) and Teaching Passionately: What’s Love Got to Do With It? by Joan Wink and Dawn Wink (2003) speak to many of the same general issues and themes we find in The Art of Teaching Music. The difference is that Jorgensen’s book is in the context of teaching music; that is, the teacher is someone who nurtures musicality in students through compassion and empathy and enacts the principles of caring and introspection.

Consistent with the theme of this text is the way that Jorgensen relates to her own life’s journey as a musician and music teacher. Rather than the “pie in the sky” platitudes one often hears from voices of experience, this text begins with the author’s own reality of experience and finds theoretical frameworks in philosophy and pedagogy. It would be easy for Jorgensen to pontificate. She does not. Instead, she uses her own experiences as a springboard to unpack the complexities that conjoin the art of teaching with the art form that is music. Such complexities are mediated by a commitment to aesthetics and contemporary pedagogical thought (there are references to Paulo Freire’s work throughout).

In Pedagogy of Freedom (1998), Paulo Freire writes that

when we live our lives with the authenticity demanded by the practice of teaching that is also learning and learning that is also teaching, we are participating in a total experience that is simultaneously directive, political, ideological, gnostic, pedagogical, aesthetic, and ethical. In this experience the beautiful, the decent, and the serious form a circle with hands joined. It is in our becoming that we constitute our being so, (pp. 31–32)

Jorgensen’s writings support this idea.

Jorgensen’s latest book offers sound advice for the new teacher or the student who is about to become an in-service teacher. However, the veteran music teacher will also find The Art of Teaching Music to be refreshing, in that if affirms and validates much of what good music teachers know through experience and have been doing by connecting to philosophers and pedagogues inside and outside of music education.


Edmundson, M. (2008, September 21). Geek lessons: Why good teaching will never be fashionable. New York Times Magazine, CLVII (54,440) pp. 17–20.

Eisner, E. W. (2001). The educational imagination: On the design and evaluation of school programs (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy and civic courage. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Jorgensen, E. R. (1997). In search of music education. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Jorgensen, E. R. (2003). Transforming music education. Bloomington, ID: Indiana University Press.

Palmer, P. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wink, J., & Wink, D. (2003). Teaching passionately: What’s love got to do with it? Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 07, 2008
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15401, Date Accessed: 10/17/2021 7:50:18 AM

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About the Author
  • Frank Abrahams
    Rider University
    E-mail Author
    FRANK ABRAHAMS, Ed.D. is Professor of Music Education and Chair of the Music Education Department at Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton, New Jersey. He is the co-author of Case Studies in Music Education and the forthcoming text, Teaching Music Through Performance in Middle School Choir. Both are published by GIA.
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