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Research Evangelism by Mark Montemayor Editor’s Note: This article appears as one of a series written especially for Ala Breve by experts in the field of music education.


As Research Chair for the Colorado Music Educators Association, I wrestle with some fundamental questions when writing a quarterly column for our state journal. “What do I want to say, and what is it that I think my audience needs to read or hear?” There are already other important journals where interested readers can find reports of original research, most notably the Journal of Research in Music Education. And there are other excellent publications where one can find reviews of literature on a particular topic, written in prose that is largely free from cumbersome technical language — I’m thinking in particular of Update: Applications of Research in Music Education. Research- informed articles intended for practicing teachers can already be found in genre-specific sources such as the Choral Journal, the Journal of Band Research, or General Music Today, and excellent articles of broader interest — also informed by research — can be found with ever-greater frequency in the Music Educators Journal. It doesn’t seem appropriate or worthwhile for me to duplicate those efforts, even if on a briefer scale.


So, for my recent columns, I have found myself attempting to play the role of a “cheerleader” for research, so to speak. Knowing that many of our members don’t have a background in scholarly inquiry, I’ve tried to demystify various components and concepts seen in research efforts, such as literature reviews or statistical testing. I’ve shared quips and insights I’ve gathered from having taught my introductory research class. I’ve shared my enthusiasm from recent research conferences I’ve attended. I’ve made analogies between research and teaching… and performing, and composing, and several other endeavors (sometimes somewhat untenable as they might be). Perhaps most importantly, I’ve promoted the research efforts of our members who share their work at our annual state conference. In so doing, I’ve hoped to generate — dare I say it? — a little excitement about research in our field, and about the role it might play in our members’ work as music teachers.


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Admittedly, I am a bit uncertain about my success in these efforts. Attendance at our research events at the conference has held steady at best. And I don’t find myself fielding questions about research from my elementary and secondary teacher colleagues in the state.


I certainly don’t “blame” teachers for not taking a more active interest in research, if for no other reason than I know — as a former high school band director myself — that all of them are extremely busy attending to matters of more immediate and direct importance to them. And to be sure, I am certainly not the first researcher to have wrestled with trying to illuminate the value of research to the music teaching profession at large. Articles on that very topic are still found every so often in MEJ and elsewhere,i


albeit with decreasing


frequency. I’m not sure if that’s indicative of our success in these matters, or if the scholars who would otherwise write such articles nowadays no longer consider it a worthwhile endeavor.


Still, I’m restless. Even after nearly ten years in the professorate, I still occasionally find myself self-conscious about my identity as a “researcher,” and about the role of research in the collective life of the music teaching profession. I want to make a difference, I want to make an impact, I want music education research to be a positive influence on our profession… and gosh, I want to know what I ought to write in my next CMEA Journal column. Exploring these ideas further, I made a brief inventory of my casual encounters with “research” (in various guises) over the last several weeks. I sought examples that were specifically outside the realms of music or of education, so as to perhaps generate a little insight about possible pre-existing myths, stereotypes, and portrayals of research that might bear on practitioners’ understanding of what researchers do.


Encounter No. 1. Shortly before the school year started, I indulged in watching a few reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In one particular episode,ii chief medical officer organized a


the


Fictional though this was, its depiction of scientific inquiry is not uncommon. I might call it the “Einstein-ization” of science (and imagine here the posters of Albert, often seen on classroom walls, with his unkempt hair and timeless gaze accompanying some inspirational quote of questionable authenticity): The notion that research is an extraordinary process, beyond the intellectual grasp of most people. Researchers in this scenario are rarified geniuses, whose powers of query transcend understanding and whose labors unlock the secrets of the universe.


Perhaps researchers in our field don’t quite rise to this level of mystique. Still, I’ve encountered friends and students and colleagues who seem nearly awestruck when I share a table of results from a study I’ve done, or when I share a paragraph laden with a few statistical tests. I smile. But I find myself disheartened if our conversation doesn’t proceed past their fleeting admiration. And I remain convinced that our profession isn’t well-served by having teachers who are only “impressed” by research.


Encounter No. 2. Unable to agree on a music style while on a weekend road trip, my family and I happened upon the TED Radio Hour from a local National Public Radio station. The topic at hand was


February/March 2015


gathering of top researchers from around the galaxy to test an obscure and controversial concept, “metaphasic shielding.” Its precepts were impossibly complex and were understood by only a fraction of those among the so-called “scientific community.” The participants themselves were aloof, cerebral characters — a tad eccentric, even by alien standards, with most clad in knee-length laboratory coats. They gathered around computers and other equipment of incomprehensible sophistication. If their research proved to be successful, metaphasic shields would enable starship pilots to venture inside the corona of a star — a feat heretofore hardly even imaginable, let alone possible.


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