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Identity through Illinois Music Education

Deerwood Adirondack Music Center Summer Camp Choir Practice.jpg

     In America c. 1800, music making was beginning to be recognised as an ability which nearly all humans had the ability to partake in. Some American religious scholars even saw it as a duty, essential to the worship of God. In 1838, Lowell Mason, a leading composer in American hymnal tunes, persuaded the Boston School Committee to include music education as a curricular subject. This was one of the key steps toward wide-spread music education as is common in America today.

     Post WWI, music education shifted its focus to American patriotism. In this new era, teaching methods began to be standardized. Educators came up with various number or solfege systems to teach their students melody.

     An increase in music literacy and general literacy encouraged the rise of independent schools and businesses to create mail-order music education catalogs, which allowed interested parties to self-teach, or use in standardized classes similar to what we are familiar with now. 

     Now, in the 21st c. era of music making, many people still bond through music. American culture has changed, but music education still often reflects the values of patriotism, and group identity building. Social connections flourish through the simple love of music, and often, adolescent identification with musical artists or groups serves the desire to fit in and be accepted.

     Ensembles provide a place where young students are able to find and develop their individuality while being a part of a community. According to Elizabeth Cassidy Parker, a music education researcher who has been teaching and writing in the field for 25 years, “Related studies in school music and community choral ensembles have focused on belonging, meaning, motivation, and ensemble singing as providing therapeutic benefit.”

     Further studies have shown that identity development often starts with the decision to get involved in music whether that is choir, band, or musicals. William Dabback, music ed. Ph.D. says that, “Music allows for the structure, expectations, and an avenue for members to express identity.” Through those experiences with music, adolescents grow and find identities which follow them into adulthood.

     Through the collection of these items, we can see the effects of music education on students in Illinois. These artifacts are what remain of the happy memories, and community building which went on in the Illinois education system. Our featured items span from 1942-2018, and are from several different institutions, but they carry similar meanings as part of their owners identities. We have mainly compiled artifacts from students' high school experiences, as that is when many adolescents begin to develop autonomy, and choose the groups they wish to identify with.

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