In the heat of this political season, the airwaves are full of talk about systems that don't work, about reform. I recently gave a political speech of sorts at the MTNA national conference, not carried by any of the networks, in which I said that we all needed to be activists. With apologies to those who heard it, I will revisit some of my thoughts here.

In a nation that values economic growth, our art form (music education) doesn't attract much attention. In The New York Times this morning, I read of a hedge fund manager who was moving from New Jersey to Florida, whose incipient change of address meant that the entire budget of the State of New Jersey was looking at a major deficit, simply because his income tax payments would disappear. That's wealth. I doubt that all our incomes put together would match this one man's take home pay.

Just to survive, we need to become activists for our art. At every opportunity we must demonstrate the importance of music and the value of learning to play an instrument. We can't be quiet providers of "extras," those life enhancers that are seen as luxuries. If we think of our art as beautiful music, beautifully played in beautiful concert halls, attended by beautiful people in beautiful clothes, we are part of the problem. If all we are doing as teachers is coaching a louder, faster, more perfect rendition of a familiar warhorse, we are living with our heads in the sand. We are the only ones who care about the latest competition winner, and even we will soon forget the name.

Art's role in society has slipped, partly because we have let it happen.

What is the potential role of art in society? John Dewey (1859–1952) was an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, whose 1934 book, Art as Experience, suggests that there is continuity between art and everyday life. Art is not a frill, a thing only of beautiful surfaces. Art is a transformation of the ordinary; when it has its greatest impact, it is different, unexpected. It exists for human interaction; after all, humans make it for other humans, not to be judged as a "good performance" only, but as an artwork that made you think about something in a new way.

Maxine Greene was a teacher and education theorist for fifty years at Teachers College, Columbia University, who promoted the arts as a fundamental learning tool for children. Her goal was not to produce millions of little musicians. She believed that children could learn things from study of the arts that they could not learn in other ways. I particularly like this statement (italics mine):

Aesthetic experience requires conscious participation in a work, a going out of energy, an ability to notice what is there to be noticed in the play, the poem, the quartet. Knowing 'about,' even in the most formal academic manner, is entirely different from constituting a fictive world imaginatively and entering it perceptually, affectively, and cognitively.1

We academics "know about" too much! We drown in minute details, and hold to a petrified, yet acceptable—even required— performance tradition, i.e., the way it has been done for at least the last fifty years. We must consciously participate in the work, indeed, we must re-create it. Only then do we have a chance at being the artist Dewey sought.

I am drawn to Greene's adverbs. "Perceptually" indicates that our immediate sensory perceptions are involved, listening with fresh ears to the directness of the sound, not caught up in judging it for its correctness. "Affectively" suggests the presence of the emotions, that one understands the message of the composer with the heart, not the left-brain. "Cognitively," however, tells us the brain is still involved. This may be the sensing of the form of the composition, something that reveals itself only with the passing of time. It is not to understand the "textbook" form, but rather to be swept along mentally in the unfolding of the work, carried to its conclusion in excitement or repose, depending upon the piece.

Bronislav Huberman, the great violinist and founder, during the Nazi era, of the Palestine Symphony (later the Israel Philharmonic), said, "The true artist does not create art as an end in itself. He creates art for human beings. Humanity is the goal." Humanity requires community. Again Maxine Greene:

[Community] has to be achieved by persons offered the space in which to discover what they recognize together and appreciate in common. It ought to be a space infused by the kind of imaginative awareness that enables those involved to imagine alternative possibilities for their own becoming and for the group's becoming.2

Art, in particular music, offers that space. We can imagine, through music, a better world. When the Palestine Symphony first played in 1936, the people Clavier Companion 7 July/August 2016 who heard it could not only imagine a better world, but realize they lived in it and not in Nazi Germany.

As much as music and teaching are our lives, this is truly what we live for. We offer a space infused by imaginative awareness. After that, we can hear someone utter "I have a dream," and change can occur.

1 Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 125.

Ibid., p. 39.

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