Introducing the "Music Collaboratory":

Reimagining the Lab Ensemble for Future Music Educators


Josef Hanson, University of Massachusetts Boston


Today's music teachers require skills that enable them to meet the needs of diverse student populations with eclectic tastes in music. Traditional ensemble programs like band, orchestra, and choir are now complemented by various "new alternatives" (Berman, 2016), including pop/rock ensembles, iPad chamber groups, and steel drum bands to name a few. Music teacher preparation programs must address this reality through curricular changes that better equip future teachers with the skills and knowledge to successfully teach commercial and vernacular styles. This session will detail the development of one such effort, the Music Collaboratory, which was launched within the music education program at a large public research university in 2017. The portmanteau of "laboratory" and "collaboration" captures the spirit of the endeavor: an open, welcoming space where music education students explore styles and co-create musical experiences.


Numerous music education researchers have explained the importance of "informal" music learning approaches (Green, 2008), relevance of popular music in K-12 curricula (Abril, 2014), and need for more equitable approaches to ensemble music-making (Doyle, 2014). Yet, these researchers also cite a lack of established curricular models for preparing pre-service teachers to lead non-traditional ensembles in schools. The Music Collaboratory is one such model. Loosely based on the conventional lab ensemble format found in conducting classes at many colleges and universities, this one-credit class serves two purposes. First, it provides immersive musical experiences in alternative styles to music education students, serving as a workshop for building different kinds of musicianship skills. Second, it more generally offers participants the ability to lead, rehearse, arrange, and compose for a performing group built upon a foundation of shared governance. One unique aspect of the Music Collaboratory is that it is a shapeshifting endeavor: no two semesters are alike. Each semester brings a new focus—everything from rock and pop to steel drums and ukuleles.


In this session, attendees will learn about the origins of the Music Collaboratory and the philosophy behind it. Supporting literature will be briefly reviewed to provide context for the establishment of non-traditional ensembles as a fixture of American music education. Attendees will also hear testimony from students who participated in the Music Collaboratory's first semester and review samples of the performances and interactive workshops that resulted. With a nod to the Symposium theme, "Imagining Possible Futures," the session will also include a review of best practices and lessons learned in the hopes that this unique twist on the standard lab ensemble will proliferate. The session will end with a question-and-answer session that allows the audience to glean specific information from the presenter and fellow attendees.




Abril, C. R. (2014). Invoking an innovative spirit in music teacher education. In M. Kaschub & J. Smith (Eds.), Promising practices in 21st century music teacher education. New York: Oxford.

Berman, A. S. (2016). The new alternatives: New modes of learning and performing are stretching the boundaries of what it means to be "alternative" in the music classroom. Teaching Music, 24(2), 32-37.

Doyle, J. L. (2014). Cultural relevance in urban music education: A synthesis of the literature. UPDATE: Applications of Research in Music Education, 32(2), 44-51.

Green, L. (2008). Music, informal learning, and the school: A new classroom pedagogy. Burlington VT: Ashgate.