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Abstract

“City With Lifted Head Singing” explores the practice and politics of music education in Chicago within the context of urban neoliberalism: how intersecting layers of both formal and informal cultural policy shape, and are shaped by, on-the-ground music pedagogy, with a particular focus on music programs at the boundaries, and therefore on the peripheries, of the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. The dissertation is an ethnography of cultural policy in practice, examining the ideological, political, and day-to-day effects of the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan and the 2012-2015 Chicago Public Schools Arts Education Plan. In this dissertation, I argue that Chicago’s 2012 cultural policy interventions were primarily about positioning Chicago as a global city. Arts education in this context is a mechanism for bringing Chicago closer to global-city status through training children in the practices and behaviors of citizens of the global city. In a neoliberal context in which policy interventions must be justified in terms of economic utility, both policymakers and practitioners frame music education as a response to either of two problems (or to both): first, the problem of unevenly distributed access to music education; and second, to a broader set of “urban problems” in which music education is believed to be able to intervene. This problematization of the city, explored in the dissertation’s second chapter, shapes the ways in which music education programs are conceived and run, and the terms on which philanthropists and foundations relate to programs and their administrators, administrators to teachers, and teachers to students and their families. The “solutions” to these “problems” center around music education’s purported ability to effect social mobility by training students in middle-class behavior, as described in the fifth chapter. The fundamental logic of problematization also provides the ideological and financial grounds on which Chicago’s music teaching workforce has been privatized and destabilized; the 2012 cultural policy interventions did not initiate this shift, but merely officialized it. In the third chapter, I examine the rise of the figure of the “teaching artist” and dissect, via ethnographic case studies, what the teaching artist’s newfound prominence means for both teachers and students. The fourth chapter, a companion to the third, describes the working lives of music teachers as they become destabilized. I argue that music teachers’ work experiences are shaped by the competing archetypes of the craftsman, the professional, and the amateur, and that the tensions among these archetypes in practice explain many facets of Chicago music teachers’ working lives, especially the emotional and ethical labor that they are asked to provide in addition to teaching musical skill attainment. Finally, in the fifth chapter I connect discourses around class and “classical music” to discourses around citizenship. I argue that the performance of music associated with the upper classes is discursively and politically tied to the performance of social mobility and thus, in theory, to actual social mobility. I conclude by questioning the utility of the rhetoric of problematization, offering alternative intellectual and political ways forward that integrate music education into holistic concepts of urban education.

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