About the Declaration
In June 1963, the Yale School of Music hosted a twelve-day “Seminar on Music Education,” organized by musicologist Claude Palisca and attended by thirty-one participants from across the broader music field. The seminar’s self-proclaimed goal was to “bring the subject matter and method of teaching in line with contemporary knowledge and culture,” and its final report, Music in Our Schools, was published by the U.S. Office of Education in 1964.* It identified the perceived weakness of the nation’s current music education practices and issued a series of recommendations to improve the quality of music instruction, repertoire, and aesthetic education.
In 1979, Palisca invited the seminar’s participants to contribute to a fifteen-year review of the impact of the 1964 document. In the resulting collection’s preface, Palisca wrote:
If more did not happen in the past ten years, this may be owed to discontinuities between 1963 and the present that none of us foresaw. The post-Sputnik movement was interrupted by the painful realization that many children in the cities and of the racial minorities were not enjoying even the quality of education that we were criticizing, that before we could improve education for some … we ought to extend to all the basic opportunity for an adequate general education.**
Indeed, the issues which had seemed so pressing to the seminar’s participants—improving the quality of student repertoire and prioritizing musicality over superficial showmanship—now paled in comparison to the realization that opportunities for a musical education remained unavailable to a significant number of American students, especially “children in the cities” and students of color.
Nearly forty years have passed since Palisca lamented the irregular distribution of musical opportunity, yet this inequality remains largely unaddressed. Both the quantity and quality of musical opportunities vary widely based on school demographics and locale, especially in America’s city schools. With this reality in mind, the Yale School of Music hosted its sixth biennial Symposium on Music in Schools June 15-17, 2017, at the Yale School of Music in New Haven, Connecticut. Like the seminar fifty-four years earlier, the symposium gathered a broad coalition to inform and shape an inspirational document, this time designed to pursue equity in music for each student in each city in America.
The project was inspired by our observations of the Music in Schools Initiative, the Yale School of Music’s partnership with New Haven Public Schools. As we have observed over the past ten years, the beauty of this partnership is found in the home it provides New Haven students, both in their school music programs and at Yale. It became clear that music played a significant role not only in their experiences at school, but in their families, their communities, and their relationships to their city. Simultaneously, we saw our graduate music students develop mature social consciences as they were inspired and changed by their experiences with New Haven students.
We are privileged to partner with a school district that values music education as an important part of a healthy, vibrant school. But as we looked at nation-wide statistics and spoke with colleagues across the country, we observed that city schools are the least likely to offer substantial music opportunities to their students. While there is a great deal of excellent advocacy for music education, little of it focuses specifically on the needs of city students, and we saw the opportunity to create a policy document focused specifically on city schools and students that could galvanize conversations at the local, regional, and national level. Two years after our initial planning meeting, we are publishing the Declaration on Equity in Music for City Students.
This document is designed primarily for the fields of music and education at their broadest contexts, and we challenge these fields to assertively claim music as a social, educational, and cultural right for our cities’ students. It will also inform urban education policy discussions, ensuring that music is recognized as an important part of a comprehensive education system. We choose to provide a policy framework rather than a “road map” because each city’s needs, history, and populations are unique. It is up to the members of each city’s “music ecosystem” to determine how best to provide a robust music life to its students.
It is our hope that this declaration will invigorate the national discussion about the role of music in affirming dignity, uniting communities, and transforming the social landscape of urban schools and their cities.
*Music in Our Schools: A Search for Improvement (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Office of Education, 1964), 1.
**Claude V. Palisca, ed., Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 60 (Fall 1979): 2. Emphasis ours.