Changing the world through music education

While the primary function of music education is often to teach students how to play an instrument or sing to their full potential, students Katelyn Baker and Iris Ramirez as well as Allision Whitelock (BA ‘19) and Aaron Wacker, University of Tulsa assistant professor and coordinator of music education, see the value of music as a human, emotional connection to art.

Wacker says that music education is incredibly important for K-12 education because the fine arts evoke emotion. “It’s critical that music is a part of elementary and secondary education,” he said. Many studies show music helps people access their emotions and understand human behavior. “It’s incredibly important for these students to have that access through music education,” Wacker said.

Baker is a vocal music education senior who is expected to graduate in 2020. She has seen how music education integrates physical, emotional and intellectual stimulation into daily life and how participation in music can foster a wide range of skills that enrich the human experience. “Singing in a choir allows students to learn how to work together toward a common goal, to take turns and be patient, to make mistakes and learn from them, to be dependable and responsible, to take risks, to understand the value of failure, to respect other individuals and their abilities, and to learn about and appreciate other cultures,” she said.

Music Education program at TU

Through music, students also develop a keen sense of identifying and portraying nonverbal cues from facial expressions, recognizing emotion through a certain tone of voice and using body language. “These skills and characteristics create well-rounded individuals capable of entering society as self-disciplined, creative, unique, successful and musical citizens,” Baker said.

Whitelock is working at Springdale Elementary in Tulsa as a music teacher. She has seen kids constructively use music as a creative outlet. “I have also seen how music education helps to develop life skills that will become invaluable to the students for the rest of their lives,” she said. Whitelock explained she would not be the person she is today without the multitude of skills she learned from her music and band classes in school.

Ramirez is a vocal music education sophomore who was inspired by a student teacher in her high school choir class. “I remember walking into our high school rehearsal at 8 a.m. I saw our student teacher working with another student and knew that’s exactly what I wanted to do,” she said. “I want to be able to have that connection with people through music and be able to teach them.”

Formal TU music ensemble

Wacker had a similar experience when he was in school. “I’ll forever remember when I stepped into a high school classroom during my student teaching,” he said. He was running a rehearsal with the teacher and was seeing the students light up as they understood the lesson. “That was so much fun. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Initially in college, Baker was undecided about a college major because she had a variety of interests. She recognized, however, that music had been the biggest part of her life since early childhood. “I realized the impact that music had on me, it was something I wanted to impart to students and impact them just as much as I was impacted,” she said.

Both of Baker’s parents sang in the house while she was growing up. She also has several family members who are educators, including her mom who is a kindergarten teacher. “I’ve been in her classroom my whole life. Seeing how much music influences how young people learn and how it cultivates people as they age into well-rounded students. It’s always been in my life,” Baker said.

TU music class

Ramirez also has had a long love for music. She began singing in the fifth grade. “I just loved singing. I was so bad at first. I was awful, but I loved it so much I just kept working at it,” Ramirez said. She performed in talent shows throughout middle school and in high school decided to join a choir and focus on competitions.

At TU, Ramirez auditioned for the School of Music and loved everyone in the program. At TU, She says that the music education program builds close working relationships among its students. “It’s so nice to have friends and colleagues always there to help out,” Ramirez said. “From the students that I see, everyone just has this passion for music. Everyone wants to work with other people. We all just want to be able to change the world using music.”

Last year, Ramirez and Baker worked with Wacker to form the National Association for Music Education Collegiate (NAfME-C) chapter at TU. Ramirez serves as TU chapter president. The TU chapter hosted an event every month that included seminars and information on a day in the life of a music major program for incoming freshmen. “It’s important that we continue to make a difference in our community and show everyone our awesome music education program and NAfME-C does that,” Whitelock said.

Katelyn Baker conducting music class

From the classroom to the real world

TU’s music education program is designed to introduce students to real-world classrooms as soon as possible.

The music education degree has three main categories of study. First, students learn general music including theory, applied lessons, ensembles, working with directors and becoming proficient in piano. Then, students study in the TU Department of Education. During this time, they take foundational education courses on topics such as diversity, the history of education and classroom management. The third category combines both areas in music education to focus on elementary and secondary education. Students specialize in an instrumental or vocal discipline and also observe and teach students in the classroom.

Baker has visited most of the high school choral classrooms in the Tulsa area and has conducted warm-ups since her freshman year. Ramirez recently observed a local choral director at Will Rogers College High & Junior High School. “We want students to know what it’s like out there,” Wacker said. “It’s one thing to think you love children, and it’s another to be out in a classroom and see what having 30 of them in front of you is like.”

Every method and education course has some amount of field experience. “To us, it’s very important to not just learn the theoretical side, but actually have application. We also think it’s very different teaching peers versus teaching actual students,” Wacker said.

Bird's eye of view of the TU orchestra

The longest internship occurs during the last semester of senior year when students spend the entire 16 weeks in a school. This is divided into eight weeks in elementary and eight weeks in a secondary school. “You spend so many hours preparing, rehearsing and immersing yourself in field experience, it becomes second nature,” Baker said.

The music education program at TU is accredited through the School of Music and the Department of Education. It’s a licensure, professional program so when students graduate, they are licensed through the state of Oklahoma to teach K-12 music education in primary and secondary schools. Additionally, students are prepared to attend a graduate program if they want to further their education by earning a master’s degree in music education, conducting or other area of specialized music.

Opposites attract

Wacker says many TU students pair music with courses in science, technology, engineering and math. “One of the reasons our country has historically done so well is because we combine STEM and humanities studies. We don’t just focus on one or the other. That’s why I’m so passionate about music being out there,” he said.

Several TU undergraduate students in the Kendall College of Arts and Science are also majoring in engineering. Wacker often wondered why so many critical, math-minded people chose to double major in the arts. “I think it’s just the connection between the emotional and analytical side of the brain to create an outlet for them,” he said. “It goes together like a symbiotic relationship. They seem less stressed, happier and better all-around students.”

Baker said one of her goals as a future educator is to cultivate a love of learning and thirst for knowledge through continued participation in music. “It’s sometimes difficult in the world we live in where everything is changing, but music is a constant,” she said.

Small TU music class

After graduation, Baker plans to teach for a few years and then attend graduate school obtain a master’s degree in conducting. In addition to music, Ramirez is also considering a degree in arts management because she wants to own her own business that’s music centric.

Wacker said it’s exciting to see current students thrive and alumni like Whitelock succeed in a professional setting. “Last year there was 100% job placement, which is a statistic we’re very proud of,” he said.