For voice major Mary Goetze ’65, a professor at Indiana University’s School of Music, the importance of music education also goes beyond the value of the discipline itself. Goetze spent much of her career as an expert in children’s choirs, and the last two decades have seen enormous growth in the number of children’s choirs in the U.S. But her current preoccupation is different.

Goetze came to believe that schools of music were too Euro-centric, training teachers in only one kind of music. In 1995, she started the International Vocal Ensemble at Indiana University, a group that performs music only from outside the Western art tradition. “I decided we’d do this with as much integrity as music performed by other ensembles in school,” Goetze says. “That meant we were going to learn it in the way it was learned in the culture. I may bring in an expert guest from another country to teach. I also travel to that country and collect contextual video and photos to help students see what the music means to people in that culture. If it is notated, we learn it in that notation. Perhaps the biggest and most provocative aspect of it is that we sing it their way. I’ve worked with multiple vocal timbres, [going against the music school belief] that the only way to sing is the bel canto style.” The ensemble, which ranges from 35 to 60 members, has tackled an enormous variety of music—from Argentina, Botswana, Hungary, and China as well as shape note and Native American music, to name only a few.

This unusual ensemble experience gives music education majors, who are required to take it for one semester, a new tool to teach the ever-more-diverse population in the schools. And Goetze, the author of numerous books, has now taken the project to the next level, producing Global Voices, a series of CD-ROMs that give teachers detailed instructions and illustrations on how to teach these songs to their students, together with cultural context information.

This is not just another “textbook” for Goetze. “I do world music because I think we have to get along with people and understand each other,” she says. “Music embodies emotion. When people take in a song, they identify, they know things you can’t put into words about a culture its and people. When kids sing, there’s a deeper understanding that they can’t always articulate. I believe we can affect people’s attitudes this way, and if we can do that, we can improve the world.”

As the universe of music education continues to shift, the need for committed, qualified music educators keeps growing. Jody Kerchner says that Oberlin’s music education graduates—numbering between seven and 11 per year—are quickly hired. And while the number of K-12 music teachers in public and private schools has grown from 119,064 in the 2000-01 school year to 129,343 in 2005-06, according to Market Data Retrieval, a national marketing mail house, research reports show that the teaching field in general is facing potential shortages as the baby boom generation of teachers retires and more new teachers, disillusioned with the profession, leave teaching altogether after three to five years on the job.

Good, versatile teachers can make a difference. “We have to prepare our students for teaching in any type of music education venue. Music education does not only refer to public-school music teaching, but rather all situations in which music instruction occurs,” Kerchner says. In the current climate, specialization is the exception rather than the rule for teachers, so Oberlin’s music education graduates are licensed to teach all levels and disciplines of music from pre-K through grade 12, including general music as well as choral, orchestral, and instrumental music. “Employers are seeking those music educators who not only can teach band, orchestra, or chorus, but also who can teach general music, theory, or music appreciation. Having refined skills in more than one area of teaching makes our Oberlin music education students more marketable,” Kerchner says. Oberlin also teaches its students how to collaborate with teachers in other disciplines. “Any time we try to make connections for students, that is important.”

Good teachers are especially needed in communities that have to fight for their music. “Programs that are strong do well,” says Bill Wagner. “Those that aren’t good are easy to cut.” Wagner himself started playing trumpet in the public schools in California, before its arts programs were decimated in 1979 by Proposition 13. “Diminishing high school and junior high school programs will affect the quality of the teachers of the future.”

So far, Wagner’s program remains strong. He received a 2004 Bravo award from the Los Angeles Music Center Education Division, which recognizes teachers and schools for creativity, innovation, and excellence in arts education—the sort of public recognition that makes school districts happy. And at Nordhoff High School, there’s “a lot of respect among the students for what the kids do [in music],” Wagner says. “The school musical is considered cool. We have football players in the band, and cheerleaders in choir. The best thing that happened this year is that we got a huge influx of boys—12 new ones—in our advanced choir. We told the girls that in order for us to have a larger choir, we needed boys. They got them.”

Heidi Waleson, a New York-based writer, is the opera critic for the Wall Street Journal. Gwendolyn Haverstock Freed ’85 offered reporting assistance.