Unified Voices for Music Education

Amid an Uncertain School Year, Music Educators Cultivate Inspiration and Support 

By Cillea Houghton

Launched in July ahead of the 2020-2021 school year, the CMA Foundation’s Unified Voices for Music Education (UVfME) isn’t just an initiative; it’s also a community.

UVfME was created as a way to support music educators nationwide, by supplying them with resources and bringing them together to share lesson plans that can be implemented in both in-person and virtual classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As teachers, parents and students entered uncharted territory this year, Unified Voices for Music Education was created as a way to help connect teachers across the country and supply them with resources and advocacy tools, so they could support each other and their students as they navigate this new landscape,” explains CMA Foundation Executive Director Tiffany Kerns. “When CMA Fest was postponed this year, we were heartbroken, but we didn’t let that stop us from supporting teachers and music education. By creating UVfME, we found a way we could bring resources to music teachers and stay aligned with the CMA Foundation’s core mission of advancing students through music. It has been incredible to witness how our efforts have already provided teachers, parents, students and communities a way to access music education lessons despite so many challenges the school year has already presented.”

While the CMA Foundation serves as the host of this initiative, it is really the music educators who are the champions driving the program. Dr. William J. Earvin, Director of Bands at Baker High School in Baker, LA, is one of the lead educators involved in guiding the program. As the Band Instruction Lead, Dr. Earvin oversees the band instruction lesson plans, facilitates focus groups and works alongside several other leads who oversee their areas of expertise, including music technology, jazz band, choral instruction and K-12 general music. According to Dr. Earvin, UVfME builds a network and repertoire among the music educators. “It provides an opportunity for directors to collaborate with each other and I love that,” says Dr. Earvin. “I immediately wanted to be a part of it.” Stating that it was “crucial” to virtually bring teachers together to address the needs of student musicians at all levels, Dr. Earvin says that UVfME creates an opportunity for teachers to come into a “collective space” with “like-minded” educators and create a “roadmap” for success during these unprecedented times. Additionally, teachers from across the country who may have previously seen each other once a year at a conference, or perhaps may have never met at all, are now able to collaborate on a frequent basis.

As an accomplished band director, Dr. Earvin was a natural fit to serve as a leader for this initiative; he has a history of bringing music educators together virtually to share ideas and discuss challenges in music education. Prior to his involvement in UVfME, Dr. Earvin served as the co-host of the “Devmusic Band Directors’ ShopTalk and Happy Hour,” a weekly Zoom call that draws up to 100 band directors from as far away as Australia, with teachers laughing and engaging with one another as they share educational content. “It is phenomenal to hear the many ideas that come out,” Dr. Earvin says of connecting with other music teachers in the space. This knowledge and experience has made him an incredible asset to help guide the band instruction portion of UVfME.

Lesson plans created through UVfME that Dr. Earvin has already implemented in his classroom include an A-scale worksheet that he co-created to help teach students chord progression, along with a rhythm attendance chart. He also plans to introduce percussion audition lessons that students can do virtually. “It’s a wide array of things that provide immediate success to both the educator and the student. It immediately benefits students because it comes up with innovative ways to engage them in the music-making process again” and keeps “music at the forefront of their curriculum,” Dr. Earvin says of the program.

“The CMA Foundation, and other entities around the world that are really pushing for continuity in music education, understand that, in order for music to thrive in the educational forum, we have to have a direct path from when students first start learning to sing or play an instrument to when they become an advanced performer. Seeing these same students later become music educators underscores the notion that the future of music education is in good hands and that music will continue to be shared around the world.”

A powerful resource that has come from this initiative is a compelling visual tool, “We Will,” which shows teachers’ commitment to their students as they vow, “We will adapt,” “We will teach,” and “We will use music to grow, laugh, inspire, love, heal.” Though the initiative was created during a pandemic that altered the landscape of education, Dr. Earvin believes that the sense of community established among music educators, along with the lessons learned through the virtual space, will carry on for years to come. “If anything, it’s important to keep the music playing,” he professes. “If Unified Voices for Music Education is a viable option for music educators and students to tag and tap into, to get those lessons or to find those resources, by all means go to the CMA Foundation to find out what’s out there because there are a number of lessons that can suit any of those programs, and I promise you they’ll be coming back for more.”

“The most important thing, even through this process, is to remember that students and families, and even teachers, are going through a lot during this pandemic. So as we create things, as we approach this new school year, keep the social and emotional aspect of what’s going on in their lives at the forefront of your mind when you’re creating things and when you’re implementing policies and procedures and even classroom lessons,” Dr. Earvin concludes. “Just remember to keep the students at the center of what we do.”

The CMA Foundation’s Unified Voices for Music Education is an ongoing initative. To access resources and to join the conversation, visit CMAfoundation.org/voicesformusiced.

Unified Voices for Music Education Band Instruction Lead, Dr. William J. Earvin
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Dr. William J. Earvin
Dr .William J. Earvin, Director of Bands at Baker High School in Baker, LA, shares a lesson plan video that teachers can utilize in both their  in-person and virtual classrooms as part of the UVfME initiative. 
Photo Credit: CMA