Cynthia Taggart, Mitchell Robinson, Judy Palac, and Bruce Taggart

Michigan State University


            Cooperation and meaningful interactions with institutions outside of higher education have long been central to the success of music education programs. In recent years, community music schools have become more prominent in the music education community and are providing instructional programming that serves as a supplement or even an alternative to public school music instruction. To what extent is collaboration with community music schools valuable to music education programs and vice versa? How can such collaborations play an important role in preparing future music educators? In this presentation, three music education faculty members and the director of a community music school present a model of collaboration between a university music education program and a community music school that has benefited both institutions. In addition, the tensional integrity, or tensegrity, of the collaboration is considered in terms of the conflicting goals and needs of the two institutions.

            Central to the mission of music education programs in higher education must be preparing future music educators who will be outstanding teachers and leaders in the music education community. All three faculty members on the panel incorporate the community music school into their methods courses as important components of field experience, and have found that experiences at the Community Music School have enabled them to minimize the gap between what they are teaching in their methods courses and what students encounter in field experiences. Perhaps the most far-reaching benefit is that, following methods courses, students often continue to work in the Community Music School on a volunteer or paid basis, gaining additional teaching experience in a setting in which they continue to receive supervision and feedback. Engaging professionally and on an on-going basis in a close, interactive educational community with other music teachers while students are still in their degree programs has proved to be tremendously valuable in helping them make the transitions from thinking of themselves as students to thinking of themselves as teachers. In addition, several faculty members have engaged in research in the Community Music School and have included their undergraduate students in the research projects. The result has been a deepened student understanding of the process of conducting research and, equally important, of the value of research to educational practice. Students who have participated in the Community Music School programs have completed their undergraduate education with a stronger sense of the profession and their place in the music education community.

            Community music schools have at the core of their missions to provide the best quality instruction in music to students of all ages, backgrounds, and means. In this context, there are clear benefits of the collaboration with an institution of higher education. These include helping its teachers continue to grow and learn as educators through interactions with students and faculty who are actively engaging in questions concerning teaching and learning. Also, university students serve as important resources in meeting instructional needs of the institution.

            However, tensions are inherent in collaboration between two institutions that have different missions. These tensions, which can be productive rather than destructive, should be considered and contextualized as healthy for the integrity of the collaboration.