Etown music 4

Instructor Michael Checco leads a group practice July 18. Elizabethtown College is expanding its music offerings with a new Master of Music Education program and a professional development network, Music and Peacebuilding. The drumming workshop includes some of the teachers involved in the new program.

THE ISSUE

Elizabethtown College is accepting applications for a new Master of Music Education program that will begin next May. As LNP’s Jenelle Janci reported Sunday, the curriculum is centered upon World Music Drumming, a teaching method founded by the late Will Schmid that is focused on West African, Afro-Cuban and Caribbean drumming. The program also will emphasize peacebuilding as it relates to music; this comes on the heels of the college’s announcement that Elizabethtown was eliminating its peace and conflict studies minor.

“The college’s legacy is grounded in peacebuilding,” Keri Straub, E-town’s communications director, said in an email to Janci. “For nearly 120 years, our mission of promoting peace, human dignity and social justice has been central to who we are as a community. Our innovative master’s of music with a focus on peacebuilding ... affirms our continued commitment to our peacemaking beliefs, and highlights how we are evolving our offerings for the modern-day student.”

This is welcome news, and we praise the college for adding the Master of Music Education offering with its peacebuilding component.

In a late June editorial, we regretted that the institution was ending its peace and conflict studies minor (it also was dropping theater and philosophy majors, and theater and film studies minors) — while understanding the budget issues confronting E-town and other colleges.

Nixing peace and conflict studies “strikes at the center of what makes the institution unique,” the editorial board said. “As the college notes on its website: ‘Founded by the Church of the Brethren in 1899, Elizabethtown College is imbued with the spirit of peacemaking. ... Our commitment to peace and justice concerns is manifested in our Peace and Conflict Studies minor.’

“In this fraught time of divisive and dangerous rhetoric, programs that encourage peaceful debate and the resolution of differences are vital. We hope Elizabethtown College — even without an official minor — can find ways to continue promoting this tenet of its 19th-century founding.”

The new master’s program looks like a promising, creative fit with that foundational tenet.

In 1993, the Church of the Brethren, an Anabaptist Christian denomination, relinquished its governance role in the school, which has since been run by an independent board of trustees, Janci reported. Eight of the 42 board positions are required to be Church of the Brethren members, as written into the school’s bylaws. Elizabethtown welcomes students of all faiths.

Intended for elementary and middle school teachers who want to incorporate these studies in their classrooms, the Master of Music Education program was spearheaded by Kevin Shorner-Johnson, an associate professor of music education. Because interest is widespread and many of the prospective students are professionals, Shorner-Johnson told LNP he wanted to make the three-year program largely online. The in-person component is an annual weeklong summer workshop at the college.

Shorner-Johnson said he began constructing the new program about seven years ago. After a student was bullied, Shorner-Johnson considered how he might draw on the roots of the college’s history of peacebuilding.

Shorner-Johnson told Janci there are a few clear examples of peacemaking ideology in Anabaptist heritage that can be directly applied to music.

One is the idea of intentional community. “From this tradition, it’s a commitment to be fully present with each other in relationships,” Shorner-Johnson said.

Another is the concept that an individual can make a difference through small acts of kindness, which seems to be a particularly important message for schoolteachers to convey.

“There’s a deep tradition of humility within this particular faith tradition, which means that I believe that small acts of peace matter,” Shorner-Johnson told Janci.

In the World Music Drumming curriculum, students learn complex drum patterns that fit into each other like puzzle pieces. While a musician may be playing one rhythm, the students must listen to the other rhythms to properly fit those pieces together. They’re also learning about the music’s cultural context.

Michael Checco, a World Music Drumming instructor and elementary music teacher in Middletown Area School District, told LNP: “It’s not just about listening to music; it’s about listening to people. … It’s very literally teaching us to be better listeners.”

Again, this seems to be an invaluable lesson, especially for children living in a world brimming with distractions.

Lisa Sempsey, an elementary music specialist in Columbia Borough School District who will teach in the master’s program, said: “I think the peacebuilding aspect for me is about empowering student voices, because when you’re heard, you often are a more relaxed individual.”

Shorner-Johnson has also created an online professional network, Music and Peacebuilding, that connects music educators inside and outside the program. He’s uploaded a few podcasts, including one with peacebuilding examples by Fred Rogers in “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Rogers is an ideal subject to tie into music and peacebuilding, so Shorner-Johnson is off to a promising start.

Kudos to Elizabethtown College for developing this master’s program. After the disappointing news of last month’s budget cuts, it appears the institution wants to not just maintain its peacemaking tradition, but build upon it.