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    Newsletter February 2022

Dialogue between Dan Shevock and Austin Showen

Welcome to what we hope will be the first of many discussions where we place two voices together in order to frame issues to which music educators are drawn. Within each newsletter we will be asking music education philosophers throughout our international community to dialogue with us and with each other in ways that manifest both the theoretical and the pedagogical. Realizing that our first two guests are from North America it’s important to note that they were chosen as they have both published in PMER or presented at an ISPME conference on issues that bring music education and ecological concerns together; an issue that is of dire importance to all of us. Ketil Thorgersen, however, (Stockholms Musikpedagogiska Institute), who has also been challenging us to consider these issues, will be responding to this dialogue in our June newsletter.

Here are the links to their essays that they wrote to initiate this conversation:
    Dan Shevock's essay is here
    Austin Showen's essay is here

Thus, we welcome Dan Shevock and Austin Showen. Each of them has been thinking and writing about the ways music educators need to be more mindful about our responsibilities, our connections—our entanglements, as it were—to and with the natural world. We invited each of them to write a short response addressing the broad guiding prompt: How are we complicit, what role have we played, and in what ways can our pedagogical choices either reproduce, or interrogate the environmental disasters of this world? After having a chance to read what the other wrote they came together in dialogue. What follows is an edited version of that hour dialogue.

Cathy: Austin and Dan, thank you again for taking the time to help us with what I believe might not be something that many of us consider in our day-to-day practices. Perhaps this meeting can help our field move more quickly to embrace the kinds of issues that both of you have been raising for quite a while.

I would love to hear both of you chat briefly about why this topic, and why it's important to you as scholars and human beings, and why should the rest of us be interested in these ways of being.

Austin: Sure. First of all, to me it's an ethical call to be responsible for the children, and people we teach. To be aware of what kind of world they're born into and what kind of world we prepare them for. I think back to the ways that we've done music for the past couple hundreds of years and how that does not fit in with contemporary realities of climate; the ways we think about music was for a different world then the one we have now. And so, I am suggesting that we want to move away from thinking of things as enclosed and bounded.

Cathy: I think that is a beautiful opening and I'm imagining Dan is right there with you.

Dan: I think it's wonderful that we are two music teachers sitting here in Appalachia, the oldest mountains in the world with sister mountains in North Africa, split apart millions of years ago. So here we are sitting in a place under attack from resource extractions of all kinds, including fracking. The people who make money from this are sitting in a distance city. And as Austin said, for 200 years music education has been a dissecting—not an ecological— venture and music education philosophy has been the opposite of ecology. Just as one might take a frog and throw its carcass onto a table and cut out body parts. That's what music education has been. And yet we came into a world that had something like music education for 200,000 years since we evolved into Homo sapiens. There has been music education long before we started dissecting the natural world and the more than human world, that did not privilege humans above all other species in all situations.

Cathy: Both of you in your own ways referred to this idea of the way we have done music.

All of us reading are drawn to philosophical conversations but my wonderment is whether and how these philosophical arguments operationalize in people's pedagogy. How does your thinking on these issues operationalize in your own contexts and your own teaching? This is powerful because you both have had experiences at the tertiary level and in public schools with younger students.

Dan: One way I begin is to consider Dr. Boyce Tillman and her suggestion that we find out where the materials in our classrooms come from. We track those down; are the tonewoods we are using (for instance) destroying real communities of life - people and non-human animals and ecosystems in the global south? What is the ecological cost of this Chromebook, what is the ecological cost of this dulcimer, what's the ecological cost of the paper were using, what's the ecological cost of every item? But also, what are the ecological benefits and how do these things root me into a place?

All of this is just part of consciousness raising as part of a music educator’s job; consciousness raising on ecosystems is one part of consciousness raising on issues of racism, gender inequality, and ableism, for instance. All of these are things we must become aware of, things that are hidden from us, that we affect with ‘normal’ everyday actions, micro aggressions, ‘right’ ways that we speak, ways that we buy, ways that we act every day, and every single moment. Music education has a place in that grander consciousness raising effort of education; it has a place in our survival as a species on this planet.

Cathy: I know that Austin will be happy to enter this conversation because he's been thinking about these issues, particularly the wooden bars on Orff instruments, so again, the intersections between your work is profound.

Austin: I approach things a little bit differently. I would like to help students, especially the ones I have who are in music teacher education, to reconsider how we are in music, what our relationship is to music, how music relates us to place, and to the world, and to all the beings and material processes that go into what we do. And so, I like to pose questions pretty early on, asking them to consider why we do what we do; can we think about other ways of engaging musically rather than our typical performance modes of doing things in specially designed buildings? What do we think music is and does? I have recently been tying that to work in ritual studies, which does go into some issues of spirituality, also bringing in Indigenous perspectives on the ontology of music. So, there is a life and vitality to music. But I, like you Dan, want to help students inquire and be curious about the material impact of the ways we do things in the classroom. I was just talking about this yesterday with students: these are the Orff bars sitting on your table, where did these come from. And then they look up what rosewood is on Wikipedia and say, “Oh, actually, it's destroying tropical forests when we harvest rosewood.” But they are the ones coming to these realizations. So, I don't know that I would say it was a matter of consciousness raising. I'm thinking of Hannah Arendt in the Crisis in Education where she's talking about preparing children for the renewal of a common world and how that is not something that we can accomplish for someone. But rather how we need to remain open to a future that we can't currently possibly imagine. I think maybe it also has to do with a different relationship to time. Do our current music making practices continue the timeline of progress, or do we interrupt that and insert alternative temporalities is in music making. How can we disrupt the ways that fossil fuels support our performances? I'm interested in how music can become a way for us to enact the world otherwise performatively. All these issues are important here; there's no such thing as extra musical to me and that's one thing I think we need to reconsider. But a deep rethinking and your connection to deep time Dan, that’s really powerful to think about, if we take a much broader perspective on what has music making meant and has been for the earth, or the cosmos, that might help us to reorient and disrupt the linear progress temporality.

Cathy: I appreciate this discussion because it's impacting how I think about my own pedagogy. However, I continue to be drawn to the ethical implications: Do we continue to allow our students to play Orff instruments once they've grappled with this? How do you balance these issues? Once you have this conversation, but then say okay let’s engage with the Orff process, is there a disconnect there?


Austin: We do play them. I could leave all the instruments and things in their cabinets and closets, but that doesn't really do anything for me. Me just pretending that the Orff instruments aren't there; I don't know if that's pedagogically valuable.

Cathy: But you're teaching them that it's an option. Every time they engage with these instruments and experience the seductiveness of them, you're presenting this is an option they can take in their own future contexts.


Dan: Austin is talking about progress and if you look at the first three Western thinkers to write about ecology, Rachel Carson, Murray Bookchin and Ivan Illich, all three of them wrote back in the 50s what we would consider philosophically ecology today and were well known for critiquing progress. So that critique of progress connected to the ecological sustainability, ecological regeneration, these have been paired conversations from the start; for 70 years now of ecological philosophy. Rachel Carson's writings were foundational to the deep ecology movement, which was really the first philosophical school for the environmental movement through the 70s with Arne Næss, the Norwegian philosopher. Vandana Shiva is still doing her work on deep ecology as eco-feminism. Ecology and place conscious education has also been inseparable. With all things connected, if we return to the question that Cathy asked, Orff instruments specifically have a history – and their history has always been something “of school.”

Is it the purpose of school to have students learn things that are for school, and for nothing else? For me, that seems to be connected to teaching students an ethic of waste. This is something we do here, and we will never do it again. This goes back to progressive education and knocking down the walls between the classroom and society. You know, it's one thing to have students go make their own Orff instruments, to go and find materials in a local park and come back and make them. It's quite another to go and purchase them, especially knowing that the rosewood comes from felled trees. Whereas the original marimba rosewood came from old railroad ties. These were more sustainable production practices that have now been transformed into industries that are not sustainable.

So, when I see the Appalachian dulcimer, I know this is an instrument that they can continue playing their whole life. They can go and make an instrument, or they can buy one, take care of it their whole life, and it'll take care of them musically their whole life. They can sing with it to their children; it’s an instrument with a history and with a future. At my school I use Orff instruments because they're there, but I see them as part of an ethic of waste. Just one part of an ethic of waste to have things that are specifically for “school,” and nowhere else.

Austin: What's interesting to me with the Orff instruments is that I would challenge the claim that the Schulwerk and elemental music, was developed in a school context. This is not quite right, because what Carl Orff, Dorothee Gunther and Gunild Keetman were doing originally wasn't really aimed at school age kids. It's the ethic of waste, however, that is striking me, and I see where you're going with that, especially in the ways instruments are currently produced. But historically there were other issues that could contest current practices with Orff. During the war, for instance, they were making instruments out of local materials. They used old cabinets and scrap wood basically to make them because everything basically got destroyed.

Dan: It would be a different thing if today Orff teachers acted in that spirit and collected wood and made instruments, like Satis Coleman’s students did in the 1920s; that would be a completely different thing. But it still wouldn't have a post school life. Are you going to take this home and play it, keep it, use it, reuse it? The postmodern R’s—reduce, reuse, recycle, with reduce as the best, reuse as second best—well, we can reuse certain instruments outside of school, beyond school. Even a clarinet can find its way into a klezmer band somewhere and have a life that lasts longer than its time as a school instrument.

Cathy: But I think that this is what Austin might be trying to suggest. One finds themselves in a school that's inherited Orff instruments. Orff instruments, if taken care of, can last a very, very long time. The problem that I have with too many teachers is that Orff has been codified into a way of making music that does not have a post school life. If we can recognize how our pedagogical engagements are tied to a set of instruments and have conversations with our students, we will perhaps vow not to buy new ones and those that we do have will be taken care of as part of our community. I've inherited them, I'm not going to throw them out on the street. I am however going to figure out music making processes/engagements that I can facilitate that do have post life, long term music making implications.

Austin: That is what I would like to think about, and I would want to definitely think about materials and materiality in a very concrete way. But also thinking about this same issue: If we just change the instruments we’re using to be sustainable, and then we keep on doing the same musical practices, that's also problematic. So musically, performatively, and pedagogically considering what that also might mean.

Dan: I feel in my time teaching since 1997, when I graduated with my first degree, that music education has become more narrow and more codified. Orff was a thing you did to add a couple different ideas to your eclectic curriculum in the 1990s. If you were around North America in the 90s you remember that term eclectic curriculum. That was the standard - the eclectic music educator. Today it's not so much. Narrowing is part of the pedagogical challenge right now in North America. Somehow, we can have people learn music from Africa and never even learn the basic fact of the ecological knowledge systems that are embedded in many of the musics of Africa.

Cathy: What all of us are saying in our own ways is that our pedagogy is always already intertwined with these issues. That's why I would like you to talk about entanglements, so perhaps Austin you can jump in. Because it seems that we're all arguing the problematics of codification, and the problematics of pedagogical engagements that are not more humanely grounded and connected to the issues you are both raising. Austin did you want to talk about that?

Austin: Sure. What I'm thinking right now about entanglements, and especially drawing on Karen Barad, is indeterminacy and complementarity in quantum physics. Barad reminds us that for a scientist like Heisenberg, for example, the weirdness of quantum physics comes down to the limits of our knowledge: you can know either the position of a particle or its velocity, but not both at the same time. The knowability of one variable is entangled in a complementary relation with the uncertainty of the other. But on this account, complementarity is merely an epistemological limitation rather than an ontological condition. Barad allows us to see, by way of Niels Bohr’s interpretation of quantum physics, that entanglements and complementarity reveal not just epistemological uncertainty but ontological indeterminacy at the heart of matter. In Barad’s words, “determinacy, as materially enacted in the very constitution of a phenomenon, always entails constitutive exclusions (that which must remain indeterminate)” (2012, 7). Thinking ecologically, then, and in terms of what might be entangled with our music making processes, means recognizing that what comes to matter through our musical performances necessarily excludes other ways of being from mattering; and that our music making has real, material consequences that we cannot always foresee or determine for ourselves.  

Cathy: Dan did you want to jump in before we wrap this up?


Dan: The Buddhist monk Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, passed away this week. He had a saying

that we should walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet. I feel like when it comes to entanglements that music educators could do well to walk as if we are kissing the earth with our feet, with our pedagogy. So, we are entangled with these things.

I think Satis Coleman, with whatever students Columbia University threw her way, wouldn't have started off lectures saying, “How is music human-only?” There are scientists with PhDs who spend their whole life studying whale songs. But so many music educators have to come in with the hubris to say that these scientists are stupid and that we know better because music is human-only. This isn't walking with your feet kissing the earth. This is stomping in, with real hubris, real grandiose “we are the humans.” We talk about religions. This hubris doesn't line up with Thomas Merton or, Dorothy Day’s Christianity. It doesn't go with any of the deep thinkers of any religion that I know. But it’s like a religious thing for music educators to believe that music is a human thing, regardless of everything around us that tells us differently. How do we not even look to our chickadee older brothers who have been musicking for beauty, mating, and for war, and all the things that we music for also, for millions of years, in our music classroom? We've had to work so hard to disentangle what's already entangled.

Cathy: One of the things I’m wondering for you, Dan, and this leads me to my final question, to what does the international community need to commit? You're asking us to commit to a very different kind of humility. We do some things so well but walking with our feet kissing the earth is probably not one of them. My question is, then, when we present this discussion to our colleagues throughout the world to what should we be asking all of us to commit?

Dan: I think our first commitment should focus on the fact that we've had 100 years of something like world music, something like multicultural music, something like non-Western music. You can look at the old books from the 1920s and you can even make fun of how badly they did “music around the world.” And then you could look at the ones from the 80s and see how badly, and you could look at the ones today, if you have enough insight, and see how badly we're still doing it. But the reason we do it so badly is because we're always trying to flatten the diverse, the multiple. If there's a rule of ecology, it's persistent diversity, not just diversity of appearance. It's embedded deep at the core of the way that people think about the world. So, I think that we should have leadership coming from around the globe. We could think about the things that Koji Matsunobu uncovered about shakuhachi and think about the whole musical process that begins with meditating in a bamboo forest and finding a unique instrument, not as a reproducible one, but one that is in some way a different size and shape than every other shakuhachi flute that's ever been made. And then becoming an expert on that, the particular. And truly getting into it and knowing that the history of the shakuhachi and a way that represents the wind through the bamboo groves. Or another instrument from Japan, the biwa, and how it's supposed to sound like the cicadas who each year come and make their sound; a rhythm that produces a broader sense of time, a beat that emerges once a year. The cicadas spend most of their lives underneath the earth, getting prepared to make their music. And if you truly take non-Western cultures on even footing with the West you don't have to peg non-Western ways of thought into a Western concept. You can begin by exploring, knowing that no one in the class is going to come to a full understanding as if somebody had lived there their whole life, or like a cicada living underground and coming out to make its music; or somebody who was taught biwa from the early childhood. But there is something that we can have. There's a gift that has been given, from other beings, a way of thinking that then produces what I've called eco-literate citizens. An eco-literate citizen is someone who has a variety of ways of thinking about what it is to live sustainably and regeneratively. It's not someone who takes the standard story that they're fed in school about the world being ours to waste, the world is ours to destroy, to use, to consume, and school is there so we can make some money and get a better job and live in suburbia.

Cathy: Austin do add your thinking on this and our commitment to what we should be doing as an international community.

Austin: I would like to ask us to consider what kind of worlds we enact performatively in the ways that we make and teach music. And that requires deep thinking and consideration and not quick action. For instance, if I want to reconsider the ways that I engage and teach music, I can't just make that happen tomorrow. I like that you brought up the gift because I've been thinking about whether our real relationship to music, whatever that means, is often one of taking, and appropriation, ownness. And if our musical practices are reoriented toward gratitude and generosity this connects to what I was trying to find a way to argue in my 500-word essay. But for me where the ritual kind of thinking comes in is considering what if instead of the accumulation of knowledge, or whether we know how to do these practices, what if we thought of it as a giveaway of what do my musical practices contribute to the possibility of livable common worlds. And I think we are learning that our modern categories and certainties, especially institutionally—and I'm talking here about the givenness of a liberal democracy—are no longer givens. Bruno Latour is very instructive on this - the modern world that the West constructed and the notion that this was the End of History, has now turned out to be quite mistaken. It’s as if the Global North thought that if everybody just becomes like a Western liberal democracy that will be it. And now we’ve realized that now the really hard thinking comes, where we can't just assume what it means to live in a world together, but rather the world has to be built and constructed together, not something that's going to be automatically given. I'm recently drawn to animist thinking, with the aliveness and vibrancy of life and matter, but also that the idea that the world is never simply given but requires ongoing acts that construct the world whether we realize that or not. And that each, each day, any ongoing continuity of the world, is an accomplishment, not something that's just given.

Cathy: I believe that what you're both talking about can be presented to even young children. I think these are ways of knowing the world that children embrace and then we too often disregard; animist thinking is a place where they absolutely live. I don't think that young children have any issues with grappling with questions like what our practices do to contribute to a world made common.

Austin: I am thinking of one little pedagogical strategy I've been doing it, both in my Kodály level teaching and with my undergraduates here; I ask students to consider what we think a song is and how that lives and contributes to creating a world. And if we think about any song that we come across as a gift, we can't just hoard that. How are we giving back and helping to sustain livable worlds from where any of these songs come from? Last semester when I was teaching general music pedagogy the students were really drawn to the idea of giving back to a community where our song comes from. If I'm just doing a song to simply advance Western literacy, I’m really doing a disservice to the world.

Dan: And what gifts they might receive from the communities wherein they find themselves.

Cathy: There are multiple ways of thinking about what it means to give back. I think another way we can give back is by honoring silence after song. Music teachers are fond of singing a song or rehearsing music and then immediately speaking when it ends. Even with those seemingly simple songs, if we present them as an aesthetic spiritual moment, which we're not taught to do in teacher preparation programs, we are giving back.

Austin and Dan, I want to thank both of you for your time and your essays. I am thankful to the two of you for beginning what will hopefully be a series of conversations that serve to bring philosophical dialogue to our community.


    Dr. Austin Showen, Assistant Professor, is Director of Music Education at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia where he teaches general music pedagogy, elementary education, music theory and aural skills, and directs the Shepherd Youth Chorus. He is a West Virginia native and a proud alumnus of Shepherd University where he earned his Bachelor of Music Education. He also holds a Master of Music Education with Kodály certification from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and a Doctor of Philosophy in music education from Arizona State University. As a music educator, Dr. Showen is passionate about building collaborative artistic communities that promote critical and creative inquiry. He has taught pre-kindergarten through graduate-level students in public school, university, healthcare, and church settings in West Virginia and Arizona. He also teaches summer Kodály certification courses at Arizona State University and the University of Montevallo Kodály Institute in Alabama. As a scholar, Dr. Showen focuses on the intersection of philosophy, aesthetics, and curriculum studies. He explores how our ideas about the nature of music, learning, and aesthetic experience afford and constrain possibilities for artistic-pedagogic engagement both in and outside of schools. He is also interested in promoting creative approaches to music education that incorporate popular music, composition, and contemporary forms of musicianship. Dr. Showen has presented his research at state, national, and international conferences and has published in the journal Leisure Sciences.
    Daniel J. Shevock is a music education philosopher from the Central Pennsylvania mountains. Dan has taught music students from Kindergarten to University levels. He currently teaches Middle and Elementary school general music and choir in State College, Pennsylvania. The author of Eco-Literate Music Pedagogy, Dan’s scholarship blends ecology, creativity, and critique. His degrees are from Penn State (Ph.D.), Towson (M.S.) and Clarion University of Pennsylvania (B.S.Ed.). Dan upkeeps a website and blog at can be reached at
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