Cutting-edge Conference Brings Music Educators from Around the Globe

Move over Mozart. There’s more to music education than the classics.

“We see it as a matter of music education playing catch-up with what’s going on in the world outside of school,” says Professor of Music Education John Kratus, conference coordinator. “As educators, we haven’t been paying enough attention to contemporary music and technology, and our students are way ahead of us.”

The conference, Kratus explains, focused on three main themes. One was how technology has changed the musical landscape. The second was the world of vernacular musicianship—or how students learn music outside of formal education. The third was composing, songwriting, and improvising.

“Our purpose was to show how we can link the world of in-school music with the world of out-of-school music,” says Kratus. “This is important if we expect our students to stay engaged with music after they leave us.”

One hundred sixty educators, professors, and students from 21 states, Canada, Finland, and Brazil attended 55 workshops, lectures, and panel presentations by 92 of the world’s top musical scholars, teachers, and performers.

Workshops ranged from composing on computers, to improvising in concert band, to teaching music with YouTube. Panels and presentations focused on topics like hip-hop pedagogies, emerging trends in childhood education, music programs for at-risk children, and transforming music teacher education programs.

Participants were also treated to performances by members of the MSU Symphony Orchestra playing Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite from memory and without a conductor, singer-songwriters from MSU’s songwriting class, a mother and her 7-year-old daughter leading the audience in singing a song from the movie Frozen, and classical guitarist Oscar Salazar Valera.

“We felt attendees left inspired and energized,” says Kratus. “We received dozens of unsolicited thank you notes saying how they can’t wait to apply the new things they learned.”

Brian McGillian was among those who penned a note to Kratus after the conference.

“In addition to hearing about great ideas that I will certainly try, I found many of the presentations to be optimistic and forward thinking,” wrote the music educator from Ithaca, New York. “In short, it was a breath of fresh air much needed toward the end of the academic year.”

The College of Music held the first New Directions in Music Education conference in 1997. Since then, the conference has grown into a nationally renowned event that facilitates the sharing of research and best teaching practices in developing areas of music education.

That success, Kratus says, has fostered plans for a variety of programs under the New Directions umbrella. One initiative involves a new online journal, edited by MSU Chair of Music Education Mitchell Robinson, that explores scholarship, creativity, and leadership in music education. Other new programs involve funding and support for scholarly work by graduate students during the summer.

“That’s one thing MSU does really well,” Kratus says. “We know how to combine the scholarly and the practical.”

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