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current projects

#1 Popular Music and Meaning in the Classroom

I am working on a handbook that provides K-12 teachers a guide for exploring meaning in popular musicking in the classroom, focusing primarily on grades 9-12. Since the early 20th century, at least in the US, music education in the K-12 context has focused on developing skills in music making and production and less on skills related to the interpretation of music’s meanings. Pre-service music educators are, naturally, provided little guidance on how to go about this; the handbook will provide such guidance.  Under contract with Routledge.

Abstract: This textbook guides teachers and students in the exploration of popular music’s meanings as they present themselves within real life contexts. Focusing on music’s relational qualities, the author brings to light a multitude of fruitful sites for interpreting music’s meanings.  Music can be meaningful in and through relationships among musical sounds, listeners and listener activities, musical artists, music industries, and media, among other phenomena. Designed for a wide-range of readers and uses, the book comprises sections on theory and application, and allows for multiple entry points. The theoretical section includes summaries of frameworks that music scholars across the disciplines use to interpret music’s meanings, for example: semiotics, aesthetics, critical theory, social constructionism, hermeneutics, and embodied/ecological theories of perception. The application section includes case studies that demonstrate how the theories can be used to interpret specific pop songs and their contexts. Particular attention is paid to media contexts: music videos, gaming, and streaming sites, among others. Detailed classroom activities help teachers envision how the content of each case study might be brought to life for students. The author addresses how these explorations fit within a larger curriculum while also encouraging teachers to customize the explorations and song selections to their curricular contexts.

#2 Pop Music, Youth Experience, Youth Expression

My second ongoing project is evolving and multi-faceted, but is held together by an aim of exploring the wellbeing of adolescents and late adolescents as it relates to music making and pedagogy within the current socio-political and technological climate.

 

I have so far written two papers that fall under this general area of inquiry, one with a pedagogical focus, ‘Millennials, Media, and Ethics in Music Teaching’ (currently under review) and the other with a musicological focus, ‘The Politics of Coming of Age: Nostalgia for Innocence in Millennial Music’ (soon to be under review). I presented the first paper at a sociology of music education conference in London and the second at a pop music studies conference in  Uppsala, Sweden this past year. Feedback at the conferences was positive; related areas of inquiry were raised that seem worth pursuing. The following hypothesis, proposed in the nostalgia paper, has begun to focus additional work in this area: technological, political, social and economic developments have precipitated the first major shift in youth experience and youth musical expression since the boomer generation, where rebellion may no longer be the dominating sentiment.

 

Testing this hypothesis necessarily demands a multi-method approach. First there is a historical component to testing this thesis, because it invokes the idea of change across generations. Secondly, there are psychological and sociological components, that are typically explored via quantitative or qualitative research designs (interview based studies, survey based studies etc.) that can be used to explore what youth experience currently consists of. Then there is a musicological component that requires analysis and interpretation of youth music as an expression of youth experience across time. There’s also the cultural analysis related to the technological, political, social, and economic developments that have potentially precipitated the shift. Then, of course, for me, there is the pedagogical component. What does this all mean for how we engage with music within the classroom? This final question necessarily invokes philosophical methods, as related to education and music education. This project is in its early stages, but I can imagine it developing into multiple papers or possibly a book.

#3 The Absence of Music

Finally, in a study somewhat related to project #2, I am investigating possible effects of not listening to music.  The concept for this study emerged from conversations with music listening scholars at the most recent LED conference (Listening Experience Database Project) at The Open University in Milton Keynes, England when I presented there last summer.  I plan to use a qualitative, journal-based research design, in the tradition of narrative inquiry. My research question for this study is: how does ‘not listening to music’ affect wellbeing and coping strategies for handling daily life, including music making, according to self-report? University students volunteered to participate in the study and were asked to forego listening to music on any of their personal devices for a week.  Not only will the results of this study help me better understand current youth musicking experiences in service of exploring the hypothesis in project #2, but it will also contribute to the literature on music listening and wellbeing, where numerous studies investigate the use of music to cope with daily life, but none, that I know of, investigate the possible effects of the absence of music.