The sounds of experience

MSU assistant professor explores role of music education in social change.

The new book by Dr. Juliet Hess takes an innovative look at activist music education.
The book by MSU Assistant Professor of Music Education Juliet Hess is published by Routledge Taylor and Francis Group and available for purchase online (see link in article).

MSU Assistant Professor of Music Education Juliet Hess recognizes the historic and continuing role of music in activism and resistance. She also perceives the role that music teachers can play in inspiring social justice and change.

Hess explores the dynamics between music education and the social climate through her recent book Music Education for Social Change: Constructing an Activist Music Education. Through seven chapters, she honors the rich traditions of activist musicianship, and explores how the profession can help youth build community, develop their ability to express themselves musically, and foster critical thinking skills about ideologies and social constructs.

“The book is less about teaching activism than about activist teaching,” said Hess. “Within a school context, there is a lot of shaping community, noticing ideology and inviting students to share and express their experiences. The book suggests fundamental things educators can and already do to help youth feel confident in their own experiences, and to make changes themselves.”

Hess was driven to develop the book by the 2014 incident in Ferguson, Missouri, when the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer sparked widespread unrest, debate and activism on issues of justice, race and police violence in the United States. Combined with her own teaching and research into music as a social practice, Hess was inspired to look at how music educators might enact social justice in the classroom.

Hess interviewed 20 activist-musicians in the U.S. and Canada, examining common themes, perceptions and philosophies. She also considered what these individuals may have liked to have had in their own school music education. Like activism in general, she asserts, activist music education focuses on bringing people together, expressing experiences, and identifying and challenging oppression. Hess concludes by suggesting a tri-faceted approach to implementing activist music education.

“Activist music education is essentially the pedagogy of paying attention to what is happening and inviting students to express their experiences through music,” she said. “Traditionally, we’re taught to accept what we experience—not challenge it. If we support youth in noticing and critiquing the ideologies that shape what they encounter, it’s a powerful message for change.”


To order or get more information on Music Education for Social Change: Constructing an Activist Music Education by Juliet Hess, visit the Routledge Taylor and Francis Group site.

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