NJ Music School Owner Responds to NAFME
In response to recent events pertaining to Minorities in the Music Education Field, specifically the comments made this past week by Michael Butera, former National Association for Music Education (NAFME) and the Billboard magazine article "Music-Education CEO Says Minorities Lack 'Keyboard Skills,' Loses Job".
Spotswood, NJ - May 15, 2016
I would like to respond to the published comments made by former executive director and CEO of the National Association for Music Education (NAFME) Michael Butera. Specifically, according to Billboard Magazine, Butera stated that '"Blacks and Latinos lack the keyboard skills needed for this field" and suggested that music theory was too difficult a subject for minorities.'
I'm a former public school music teacher and the owner of my own music school in Middlesex County, NJ for nearly 20 years. I've employed over a hundred, part time and full time music teachers at my studio. Sadly, less than 5% of them have been Black or Latino. Truth is, we just don't see the job applications and resumes.
I agree with Butera that having the keyboard skills combined with the music theory skills required for becoming a music teacher (e.g. school band/orchestra director, general music teacher, or school choir director) almost always requires a formal education in music; piano lessons are very important. And, generally, you can't just teach yourself and have all the skills necessary for the job.
But, suggesting that the color of one's skin dictates any kind of intelligence level or potential for learning, well that's just wrong. I wonder if Butera's comment was taken out of context.
Fact is, as we know, still too many minority families fall under the poverty line and not only can't afford or get to piano lessons, they also often live in environments that simply aren't conducive to studying music theory. Many don't have access to a piano and, sadly, even in a city as rich in the arts as New York City, 57% of public schools don't have full time music teachers on staff. (according to the New York City Department of Education's Annual Arts in Schools 2011-2012 report). Hence, all these children are missing out on a basic school music education; and the majority of these children are minorities.
Fortunately, I think there may be a silver lining as I've watched our student base change from approximately 80% white in 1997 to now 55% minority; both from the influx of Indian families, and also from a growing number of Black and Latino families. So, if my school in Central NJ is any possible reflection of a trend, I'm hoping that in time the face of the music teaching industry will change to more accurately reflect our diverse population.
My staff and I believe now is the time to take advantage of this conversation being open and brought to the forefront by NAFME and Billboard Magazine. In efforts to take a proactive measure to this issue, we would like to join other music educators to create a mentorship program.
Academy of Music and Dance