Songs from every era and genre enrich music education

Regarding the March 8 article, "Pop! goes the curriculum": As a music teacher and the producer/arranger of "American Idol" finalist Justin Guarini's jazz record "Stranger Things Have Happened," I'd like to offer a different perspective on the role that music education plays in the future of music.

I think initial interest in music usually stems from its relevance when it's first heard. As kids we hear music that embodies some element of pop culture so effectively that we are compelled to respond to it - so we pick up an instrument, or we sing.

Typical music education ignores this, attempting to bottle a certain era or genre that defines music for all time. What we should be doing is giving examples of how the elements of melody, harmony, and rhythm reemerge in different ways over time - including the present. Then we must reserve judgment until the natural process of discovery and synthesis has occurred.

As every generation comes to realize, the music we liked as kids doesn't speak to us when we're adults. Mr. Guarini was a child of the '80s, but he wouldn't make a metal album in 2006. Rather, we resynthesized the elements of rhythm and harmony to place some standard songs from the 1930s, such as "I'll Take Romance," into a cultural context that's relevant today. So while it is ironic that "American Idol" brought him to our attention, Guarini actually represents the ideal outcome of music education. [Editor's note: The original version misidentified the decade in which Guarini's songs were originally recorded.]

As educators we can't guess the effect that any American Idol, good or bad, will have on a child in the long run. All we can know and appreciate is that it might give him or her a reason to sing at all.
Greg Gordon Smith
Jazz Band director, Brentwood School
Los Angeles

Retirees have so much to give in schools

I read your March 9 editorial, "Grandparents helping in the classroom," and wanted to add my two cents worth. I am a retired aerospace research engineer with a degree and graduate work in mechanical engineering. We live in a small town - population 1,600 - on the shore of Lake Michigan. Since I retired 13 years ago, I have been working as a volunteer (unpaid) in the physics department of our local high school. I think I get more out of the experience than do the students - it is great to work with young people, and they appreciate the experience from industry that I can bring and relate to through the various experiments we perform. It is great to show them that the projects are more than just academic exercises and how the projects relate to real-life issues.
Robert R. Conrad
Frankfort, Mich.

Regarding your editorial on grandparents in classrooms: Nothing helps learning more than a talking history book! Seniors are America's walking history encyclopedias, and their knowledge should be used to the maximum. Personal experience stories are psychologically attractive to young generations, as they can see the person telling the story and know that he or she is also a character in it.
Franklin Martin
Nice, France

A unique peek into Chinese culture

The March 13 article "A spoof hits China's Web - and a star is born," provided an insightful glimpse into Chinese culture. I haven't heard about this anywhere else.

When I finished another newspaper today, I was certain that civilization as I knew it was coming to an end. But when I put down the Monitor, I felt educated, informed, helped, amused, and my faith in humanity was restored. Thank you. This newspaper is indeed a blessing.
Ann Tumlin-Carnes
Los Angeles

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