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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, (
Musikpedagogiska Institute)
, who
has also been challenging us to consider these issues,
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

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

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

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,
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
 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

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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