The concept of community significantly impacts the lives of human beings. Communities, through their local traditions, social constructs, and values, shape the musical nature of each community member. These community influences are present in the lives of children and play a significant role in the ways in which children interact with music and interact musically within the classroom. In order for music educators to teach effectively they must take into consideration the nature of the students in their classrooms including the several community-based constructs in which their students are immersed.
The purpose of this study was to determine if music educators are influenced by issues of community and how they approach instruction to reflect the urban, suburban, and rural communities in which they teach. Several guiding questions were established which addressed possible community influences on music teaching including, music teachers' approach to instruction to accurately reflect community, differences in these possible influences among urban, suburban, and rural communities, and teacher/student cultural synchronization.
Music educators from urban, suburban, and rural areas of Pennsylvania were invited to participate in an online questionnaire. This questionnaire gathered information depicting a broad picture of the concept of community and its influences in music education. It was, additionally, used as a recruiting tool for the second phase of the study. Interested questionnaire participants volunteered to participate in the next phase of the study that included a qualitative based telephone interview. The data from the online survey and telephone interviews were coded and analyzed for common themes.
The questionnaire participants (N=20) represented urban, suburban, and rural communities. The majority of teachers reported that the surrounding community does, in fact, influence their music teaching in various ways. Narrative responses indicated that socio-economic factors and community interests often impact their music programs. Additionally, several music educators explained that their repertoire selection is frequently influenced by community interests.
The interview participants (n=3) also represented urban, suburban, and rural communities. These three teachers revealed that community interests/support and socio-economic factors were highly influential in their teaching situations. Additionally, the interviewees described ways in which they adapt their teaching to fit in with their school's community, ways in which incorporate students' extra-curricular musical opportunities, and advantages to teaching in different types of communities.
In summary, it was discovered that it is difficult to classify communities into the categories of urban, suburban, and rural. Each community and school situation has its own unique characteristics that set it apart from others. It is hoped that through this investigation music educators will have a better understanding of the influence of community in music education classrooms. Understanding how community affects teaching may lead to new and inventive ways in which educators can create opportunities for learning that are reflective of the communities in which children live.