Discussion of the Month – October/2016

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Hello and welcome! I’d like to take the opportunity to introduce myself – Janice Waldron – as the new web editor of the May Day Group (I’ll be taking over from the incomparable Roger Mantie).  For the next several months, this feature of the website will reprint the collection of short articles that first appeared 10 years ago in Ecclectica. The collection was edited by Wayne Bowman, and published online by Brandon University; this particular issue explored the topic, “The Future of Music Study in Canada.” Contributing authors to this collection represent a diverse range of music scholarship and interests. The MayDay Group obtained permission to reprint these articles from Ecclectica and the various authors for the purpose of discussing the ways music in higher ed has changed since these articles were written ten years ago. The original publication may be viewed at http://ecclectica.brandonu.ca/issues/2006/2/Read.ecc.asp  This month’s article from the above collection is by Canadian jazz educator Paul Read, and is the eighth installment from Ecclectica to be featured on the MayDay Group website: Discussion of the Month.

Our hope is that as you read, you will think about what has changed in the past ten years, what may not have changed at all or very much, and where there are signs of shifts in both thinking and practice. While the Ecclectica issue dealt primarily with music in higher education in Canada, the issues, we believe are common to higher music studies in other parts of the world, and this reprint seems timely given the 2014 report from the College Music Society calling for sweeping changes in the approach to undergraduate education in music. Please take a moment after you read to share your thoughts, so that we may generate the kinds of discussions that will lead to the kinds of changes the original Ecclectica authors call for.

A Personal View of The Future of Post- Secondary Jazz Education Studies in Canada

Paul Read, University of Toronto, emerituspaul-read-square

Having taught music in at the post- secondary level since 1979 – twelve years at Humber College (Toronto) and fifteen years at the University of Toronto, I have very positive feelings about the quality of music education offered in Canada at the present time. Over the past thirty years there has been considerable evolution in the content of programs offered and as a consequence, greater diversity in the offerings at many Canadian music schools. I have had the good fortune to work alongside some extraordinary colleagues in both the schools in which I have taught and I have been witness to the appointments of young, highly motivated and imaginative faculty members to part-time and full-time tenure stream positions in recent years. All of this gives me great hope and confidence in the future of post-secondary music studies in Canada.

This said, there are many challenges facing schools of music across this country. Not the least of these is waning resources. Because of the chronic under-funding of post secondary education – this is particularly true in Ontario where I teach – schools of music have been asked to do more and more with less and less for a frustratingly long time. This places heavy demands on the members of the faculties of music schools and seriously reduces the resources available for change and renewal. In one ten-year stretch, our university demanded new five-year plans of the school of music three times. The reason for planning revision was always the same: new and deeper cut backs in funding. Because these challenging days are still with us, fund-raising has become an essential preoccupation in schools that seek to continue operating at full steam. Our school now has a full time Development Officer (a position we did not need or didn’t think that we needed 15 years ago). Fund-raising as a means to sustain and develop the various programs we offer students at the undergraduate and graduate levels appears to be here to stay.

Most Canadian post-secondary music programs offer a traditional menu of degree offerings at the undergraduate and graduate levels in performance, music education, theory, composition, musicology and history. Some of these offerings have obvious subdivisions, particularly performance, which can be divided into opera, jazz1, and various instrument areas. This is the case at U of T. There are schools where the menu is larger and more diverse than in others. It is important that schools constantly upgrade and diversify their curricula and involve students in studies that reflect awareness of that which is most current, and to anticipate, to whatever degree possible, changes that might take place in the future.

Before going further with this particular thread of thought, I’d like to draw a comparison – perhaps a bit thin, but hopefully useful in making a point or two – between learning to drive a car and learning about music (in the broadest possible meaning of the phrase). When learning to drive it is essential to develop a keen awareness of what is going on in all directions: through the rear and side windows, making regular use of the rear and side view mirrors and, of course, the front view taking into account things immediately and further ahead. With a keen awareness of the ‘big picture’ one is well equipped to avoid collisions and one may even be able to drive more efficiently in heavy traffic. When learning about music one must be fully aware of what has happened in the past and what is currently happening in the constantly evolving art of music making. One must be aware of what may lie immediately ahead and anticipate the changes most likely to affect the art and the musician.

The rear window view is important. It provides students with indispensable knowledge about what we do now as musicians. Whether it is through research, or music education courses, performing ensembles, or other areas, the immediate and more distant past naturally deserves and receives considerable attention. This is an important part of what music schools do, and it is crucial that current levels of vigour and commitment to these ends be maintained.

The side windows (am I stretching the metaphor enough for you?) provide an opportunity to look at the present. Schools must offer serious study of what music is being written and performed now. Some schools are better at this than others: Some pay it lip service, while others provide crackling, state-of-the-art courses that offer students opportunities to consider, discuss, criticize, and evaluate this current musical developments.

The windshield view provides us with a chance to see what is about to happen and to react when it does. Looking further ahead may have some value in the study of the music, but is probably the thinnest part of the metaphor, so I will leave it to you to draw your associations with the idea.

In any case, students need the biggest, most comprehensive picture that schools can provide. There needs to be serious discussion of the musical present and some conjecture about where we are going, and we need to continue to broaden our view of the past and all other views.

Leaving this metaphor behind (do I detect a sigh of relief or two?), one of the more important things that schools of music do is teach students to teach themselves – to adapt to a world where music is expanding in every possible way. To illustrate this point, I will focus for a moment on the recording industry. This area of the music world is in tremendous upheaval at the moment, and the number of recordings available has grown to a degree unimaginable even a few years ago. Nearly every young musician now has produced a CD (these are quickly becoming the musician’s business card). Those mature artists who have produced high quality recordings have seen a revolution in the way that their music is marketed and distributed. Internet distribution, mp3 production, selling music track by track, iPods, iTunes and iDon’tKnowWhat’sNext have changed musicians’ lives forever – both as producers and consumers of music.

To help to illustrate the point: In the 1960s one could visit the second floor of Sam the Record Man (a major music retail store in Toronto) and find virtually every available jazz recording in a room no larger than a small classroom. Today, Sam’s second floor still holds jazz recordings, but what one finds there is a small fraction of what is actually produced and available. Major record labels have been replaced by smaller aggressive independents, and there are now artists who produce and distribute their music entirely in digital form available only through the Internet. Students emerging from post-secondary music programs today are entering a world that is strikingly different from the one entered by graduates even ten years ago. Schools of music must do what they can to prepare their students for this rapidly evolving revolution in the business of music. Music schools can and should play a role in addressing the issues surrounding contemporary music distribution, including the advisability of on-line distribution and purchase and the ethical issues associated with illegal downloading – a practice many younger musicians engage in without much thought at all.

Earlier, I said that schools of music must constantly upgrade their curricula, involving students in studies that reflect awareness of what is most current and anticipating, to the extent possible, changes that might take place in the future. There is a lot of catching up to do first. For example (though you might expect such a stance from a director of jazz studies), it surprises me that all Canadian music schools do not offer significant studies in jazz (composition, history and performance). This is music with a rich past, which embraces all sorts of musical traditions and has earned its place as part of the mainstream of what schools of music offer. I take the position that all Canadian universities and colleges should offer serious courses in jazz to undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in performance, music education, musicology, or theory and composition.

I won’t belabour the point, but jazz (in the most inclusive meaning of the term) is a serious, challenging, and relevant art worthy of inclusion in the curriculum of all post-secondary schools. While many of Canada’s universities – Brandon, McGill, Toronto, St. Francis Xavier, Manitoba and others – have adopted full bore programs at the undergraduate and, in some cases, at graduate levels, others still resist its addition. Why? Part of the problem facing the acceptance of jazz as a core subject is that many academics have misunderstood what jazz is and what musical forms it includes. The contemporary jazz musician well knows that jazz now encompasses such a broad range of styles that the term’s current usefulness may be questionable. Its multiculturalism and stylistic plurality blurs the meaning of the term sufficiently that musicians and listeners are regularly drawn into disputes about whether or not the work of one artist or another is properly considered “jazz”. This is an exciting musical genre that is expanding at an exponential rate in its stylistic reach and diversity. Young jazz musicians are as likely to be interested in such disparate idioms as Balkan folk music, hip-hop, or Brazilian folk music as they are in classic jazz. This creates a very healthy and lively dialogue among the most ardent. Arguments break out as to whether or not Egberto Gismonti is a jazz musician, if the word “jazz” has any contemporary meaning, and on and on.

A few years ago a graduate of our jazz program was a semi- finalist in the Martial Solal2 Competition in Paris. As one of the few North American pianists selected to perform in the late rounds of the competition, he noted that the trends in Europe were vastly different than those with which he was familiar. The entrants in the competition in Europe played a freer, more ‘classical’ form of the music. The classic jazz components of ‘swing’ and standard forms were nearly non-existent. All music reflects its cultural environment and this is particularly evident in jazz. Like a sponge it absorbs the cultural waters within which it is cast.

Already a part of the mainstream curricula in some Canadian universities, jazz performance curricula continue to grow and evolve; degrees in jazz studies are being developed in nearly all our provinces with new ones added each year. Further, Canadian community colleges are engaged in parallel developments, creating and offering applied degrees in jazz and commercial music. It wasn’t that long ago that jazz was relegated to the fringes of curricular offerings in the form of electives and after-hours rehearsals. All that has changed.

Jazz is just one of the curricular components that should appear in windows of the metaphorical car. None of us have the ability to forecast what will be important additions and deletions in the curricular designs of post secondary music schools in the future, but if we keep the big picture, we have the best possible chance of addressing the needs of the students we will teach in coming years. If we can press for adequate funding, be creative in finding new sources of support for our work, and continue to grow in the directions we are currently taking – embracing new forms and avoiding getting bogged down by becoming overly attached to tradition for tradition’s sake – the future looks bright indeed.

1 Jazz is a term that begs definition. I am not about to offer one here as the term is the subject of much disagreement among those who perform it, write it, write about it and anyone else who considers music on a serious level.

2 Pianist, Martial Solal is one of France’s most famous and important jazz musicians.

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