“Just as there can be no education without learning; no education is complete without music” Growing Up Complete (1991)


As we gather this March to celebrate “Music in Our Schools” month – many of our readers may not be aware of the events that occurred twenty years ago to help preserve music education in our schools and launch the modern era of music and arts education advocacy. Thus, my riff on the opening stanza of the Beatles, Sargent Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

But it’s also a question for the future. When leaders of the future twenty years from now look back on 2011… what will they say… about our actions?

It was March 1991. Several hundred people from music education, the record business (yes they did sell records at one time), the music products industry and government leaders all gathered at the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington DC to release a groundbreaking report to Congress and the Bush I administration, Growing Up Complete – The Imperative for Music Education.

 The release of this report, and the recommendations embedded in it, served as the first public salvo of the modern day music and arts education advocacy movement. This was the culmination of two years of organizing of the broader music community against the threat of marginalization in our schools.

The threat came from the establishment of the “National Education Goals” by the National Governors Association. The goals, released in the summer of 1989, at a meeting chaired by the Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton stated:


Goal Three: “children will demonstrate competency in core subjects English, math, science, history and geography.”


This is the first time our nation had attempted to codify core subjects. Noticeably absent was music and arts education. This served as a clarion call to some key leaders in the music community.

A breakfast meeting was convened in 1989 between Mike Greene, President-National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Inc. (The Grammy folks), Larry Linkin, President-NAMM and Karl Bruhn, Director of Market Development-NAMM. These three meet to discuss the problems that music education had been facing over the previous decade: declining enrollments, gutting of programs, and outright systematic removal of music programs around the country. Recognizing that the current trend would be devastating to music in our culture the three gentlemen decided to take action.

These leaders then contacted John Mahlmann, executive director- Music Educators National Conference (MENC) and together the four of them and the three organizations that they represent went to work to create the National Commission on Music Education.

The National Commission was a blue ribbon panel of 60 national dignitaries from all walks of the music community, including high profile names – Henry Mancini, Quincy Jones, Wynton Marsalis and Leonard Bernstein. Three forums were held (one in each in Los Angeles, Chicago and Nashville) to gather testimony before the commission during the fall of 1990, petitions were being signed from coast to coast to show public support for music education and materials were being prepared for a national campaign. These activities culminated in a symposium in March 1991 entitled America’s Culture at Risk. The results of all of the forum testimony were brought together in the commission report “Growing Up Complete: The Imperative for Music Education”. Along with the report came 150,000 petitions for all corners of the nation. The two daughters of Nashville Congressman Bob Clements pulled them into the ballroom on little red wagons.

The petitions and report were delivered to Congress. The report was delivered to President Bush I, all members of Congress, the Governors of all 50 states as well as the chief education officers in the Department of Education in each state.

The Commission, with its work complete, was disbanded.

A new group was formed out of this meeting to lead the national campaign and thus began the National Coalition for Music Education. MENC, NAMM, NARAS were joined by the American Music Conference (AMC) to lead the push to implement the recommendation from Growing Up Complete. The Coalition developed state level affiliates in 43 states with thousands of local advocacy groups around the country working to support music education in the schools.

Major accomplishments from those recommendations included:

This collaboration, born at that breakfast in 1989 and cemented in the release of Growing up Complete in 1991 has led to tremendous collaborations between these organizations benefiting the music education community and, in many instances, helped save music programs. The addition of music and the arts as a core subject at the national level and the establishment of national standards for arts education are two of the most significant moments of the last century in music education, efforts that were an outgrowth of this work.

I share this story for a couple reasons:

  1. Many people do not know this background (There is more to share), but more importantly
  2. To illustrate that all of us in music education and the music community have the potential to create change. The challenges we face today pale in comparison to the threats of 1989.

Contrary to popular opinion – we have more music and arts programs in our schools today than we did 20 years ago. Most children in the United States have music and visual art as a part of their basic education (with a few notable exceptions like California.) I will go further to say that the quality and diversity of the programmatic offerings in music has never been greater. Guitars, mariachi, keyboard labs, technology stations, and rock bands all in the classroom are initiatives implemented over the past 20 years.

Do not let all the doom and gloom of threatened budget cuts take our eyes off the prize of realizing a system of education where every child has access to an education that includes music. Although it may not at times feel like it… we are closer to this goal than ever before.

It is up to all of us to finish the important work that was launched twenty years ago and write the positive ending to this story future leaders will write about 20 years from now. It is our responsibility. It is our obligation because…

“Just as there can be no education without learning; no education is complete without music”

And that means music… for all.

Note: There are plenty of resources to help you and your parents groups advocate for music education in your community at MENC.org and SupportMusic.com


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