Modern Music: a new program exploring an often dismissed discipline


Elliott Austin

Mr. Eddington, guitar and sound production teacher, who proposed the idea for a “Modern Music” program, stands in front of his room, situated behind the front desk.

Elliott Austin, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Throughout the last two weeks, South High saw the year-end concerts of all of our music classes. Choir, orchestra, jazz, wind ensemble, and concert band were all represented. But another program also performed. On Tuesday, May 23, Modern Music also put on their year-end show in the auditorium. A program introduced for the first time last year, the Modern Music show included full class and small group performances from beginner and advanced guitar students, as well as snippets of recorded songs that students in electronic music design have been working on. This same program also performed in the winter at the Hook and Ladder Theater and Lounge, a neighborhood venue. This effort to incorporate modern music and band into South’s music scene has been headed by teacher Jonathan Eddington.

Before coming to South, Eddington taught at Folwell School for ten years, also teaching guitar and modern music. On where the ideas for a “Modern Music” program came from, Eddington says, “Back in like 2011…I was introduced to a program…now called ‘Music Will,’ [which is] a program that really wants to get modern music education into the public school system. It’s a nonprofit organization [and] it’s really based around teaching a philosophy rather than an actual curriculum.” Eddington observes that we’ve been teaching students to play the same kind of instruments and music for hundreds of years, but for whatever reason most public schools haven’t adopted any aspect of “modern band” into their curriculum, despite it existing for nearly a century. “For me, it’s a really important part of music education because this is the type of music that students listen to first. It’s also a really accessible form of music. You can play a guitar in your apartment a lot easier than you can play a trumpet.” 

When Eddington interviewed at South, he proposed his idea of transforming the one off guitar classes into a whole modern band program. “In my mind, in my philosophy, I want modern band to be seen and acted upon as equal to the more traditional ensembles.” He put forward a “five year plan” to expand those guitar classes into a programmatic system, where a freshman could come in knowing nothing about guitar and leave as a senior who really knows their instrument. The interview committee decided they liked the idea and hired him. Now, two years in, he says the proposed “five year plan” is already going to be shorter than that. “The program took off. It was popular…I have enough students here that are interested in the program. In addition to that, the administration has basically given their blessing [for me] to level the classes the way that I wanted to see them leveled out next year.” Within two years the modern music program is going from seeing only semester-long classes to two beginner guitar classes each semester, giving everyone an opportunity to learn about guitar and modern band, as well as intermediate and advanced classes. 

“Program-wise it’s definitely more robust. I think being able to present what we did last year, even though it was just a few smaller presentations, really got us out into the school community’s eye. People were able to see what we did,” Eddington says in regards to how his second year with the Modern Music program has changed from his first. “I always knew there were a lot of guitar players, or a lot of folks interested in modern band, around the building that weren’t taking the class because…they were caught up in their own thing…but I think now that they’ve started to see it, a lot more of those folks are starting to go ‘Oh wait, I can do my own thing, but also still learn and continue playing throughout the day.’” A lot of people are already making their way from beginner guitar last year to advanced next year, proving that a long-lasting programmatic system is viable. 

Concerning changes with Covid this year, Eddington observes that the releasing of the mask mandate has made students a lot more comfortable speaking out and working in groups. “It was really pulling teeth to get people to do anything with another person. It was really hard, especially when a program I try to lead is very collaborative and creative, and I want you to do things with other people and on your own—it’s more of a coaching method than a ‘do-what-I-say’ teaching method. By the end of last year, I think my more advanced groups really got it, and it’s kind of what it looks like this year. It’s a lot smoother this year.” 

Elaborating on his teaching style, Eddington says, “I don’t really have a curriculum necessarily, I have targets I want to hit. I always start my beginning classes the same way, to make sure we have a foundational knowledge. Then, especially for intermediate and advanced, the way we get to those targets is up to the students. I’d like to think I keep students engaged by keeping it self-driven as much as possible.” Students will pick and arrange their music how they want, with help and suggestions from Eddington. “It’s not me pushing you to learn music you don’t want to learn. It’s you having your own intrinsic motivation to learn this music…and I can help you find the quickest and best path to get there.”

Besides the great performances this year, Eddington comments that in the middle of the year they started a routine of “Friday Jams,” a weekly session for the full class to play their songs and have fun. “There’s people that don’t [normally] come to class that still come to class for Friday jams. It’s a way for people to take a risk, try something new. Maybe they’re trying electric guitar for the first time, maybe they’re trying bass for the first time, maybe our drummer’s gone and they wanna just step in on drums for the day. It’s fun because it’s a safe place where people can practice but also feel like they’re supported to try something new.” In addition, the advanced guitar class has found a lot of enjoyment taking a song they already know and playing it in a different style. He says that sometimes you simply learn a lot more from jamming than from being taught at. 

The Modern Music program is a flourishing new program that is already seeing great success in the South music community. More and more students join each year, excited to learn guitar, perform music, or even make their own. Mr. Eddington, music boosters—parents, guardians, family and friends of South—and volunteers work tirelessly to make it all a reality. Modern Music and its students can only improve from here.