July 2017 Discussion of the Month

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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 Professor Emeritus Doreen Rao and is the 16th 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.

Singing: Implications for Music Education in the 21st Century

Doreen Rao, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto

Understanding the nature and value of singing for music education requires a language suitable for the social and cultural conditions of the world today. Historically, singing and vocal performance in music education have been linked with values of uniformity rather than diversity, exclusivity rather than inclusion, and perfection over reflection—contrasting values of human experience shaped by history and culture.

This short essay examines singing and vocal performance as the education of personal intelligence, ethical discernment, and moral responsibility. In contrast with the values of uniformity, exclusivity and perfection, I look at singing in music education as a human practice inspired by diversity, as a healing practice rooted in ancient history, and as a mindfulness practice in time for a troubled 21st century.

I suggest that singing as a form of personal intelligence, ethical discernment, and moral responsibility inspires understanding, a mindfulness value central to the mission of music education and imperative for sustainability in the world today. I propose that the nature and value of singing and vocal performance in music education today extends beyond the traditional goals of artistry and education to include the social and political imperatives of healing and peacemaking in the 21st century.

I hope that these not-so-scholarly musings offer readers an opportunity to ponder the imperatives of vocal performance in relation to peace education; to contemplate the broader meanings of singing as a form of awareness; and to consider the psycho-spiritual possibilities of singing and voice education in music education today.

Cross-Cultural Musings

In his writings on Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Merton tells us that neither the ancient wisdoms nor the modern sciences are complete in themselves. They do not stand alone: They call for one another. From modern singing practices inherited from 19th century euro classical traditions, I call on the ancient wisdoms of Canada’s indigenous People of the Pacific Northwest. Found on a rattle fragment, this vision song was sung to a woman when she was sick. She then used it to heal others.

In your throat is a living song
A living spirit song
Her name is Long-Life Maker

Yes I’m here to heal
With the healing ways
Of the Magic-of-the-Ground
The Magic-of-the-Earth

So go on poor friend
And sing with the healing spirit
With the Magic-of-the-Gound
The Magic-of-the-Earth

And you will spring to life
Through the power of the words
Through the Magic-of-the-Ground
The Magic-of-the-Earth

Amongst indigenous cultures I have known, including the Sami of Scandinavia, the Aborigines of Australia, and the First Nations of the Americas, singing is used therapeutically as a form of medicine and healing to remedy emotional and physical illness. Holy men and women, sound healers and indigenous leaders throughout the world practice singing to affect human consciousness and improve health. For indigenous healers or shamans, the concept of tonal aesthetics does not exist. Sustaining life is what counts.

Cross-cultural descriptions of singing from a variety of different traditions provide us with a rich palette of contrasting perspectives. From these diverse human traditions and practices we can examine singing and vocal performance for music education as these relate to the experiences of everyday life and good health.

What is the value of vocal performance in the world today? Is the value of singing aesthetic experience, social identity, physical health, psychological well being, or spiritual enlightenment? Is singing a demonstration of artistry or musicianship, the formation of consciousness, or a manifestation of the soul? As performers, teachers, and health care professionals continue to investigate the power of singing in relation to the wholeness of the body, mind, and spirit, these questions can guide us toward a future of alternative theories and practices associated with singing and voice education in the 21st century.

Narrative

My interest in the psycho-spiritual dimensions of singing started at Northwestern University. As part of my doctoral research I examined the nature and value of musical performance crafting a language that I could attach to years of intuitive practice. This work found its way into my choral textbook We Will Sing! (1993) and continues to distinguish the Choral Music Experience performance approach to music teaching and learning from the concept-based, elements-of-music methods traditionally used in general music education.

As a professional singer, conductor and music teacher, I believed that the value of musical experience was embodied in what the Greeks called techne, or musical “making and doing with skill and understanding.” I also believed that singing in choirs should be more broadly understood in mainstream music education as a musically and educationally dynamic, inclusive and intelligent form of musical knowing and doing.

My 1988 research demonstrated how the physical, spiritual, creative, and cognitive aspects of singing serve as a multidimensional, non-verbal form of procedural knowledge, or “thinking-in-action.” In 1996, I began to search for a new way of understanding singing and voice education, a way that reflected my social and spiritual values beyond thinking. I left mainstream music education in order to explore indigenous culture, feminist theories, and the contemplative arts.

During a six year period of research and writing, I studied and practiced my “beginner’s mind.” In the desert of the Southwestern United States, in the footsteps of the Buddha and on the Ganges River in India, and finally to the Himalayas of Bhutan, I observed the “big picture” and studied the many ways singing is used cross-culturally as medicine, as meditation, as relationship, as community, as war, as ecology, and as art.

This enriching work culminated in my textbook Circle of Sound Voice Education: Circle of Sound, which introduces a contemplative approach to singing through a blending of Eastern breathing meditation and martial art movement forms with Western bel canto vocalization. The Circle of Sound contemplative approach to singing suggests what Wayne Bowman called “bold alternatives to traditional pedagogical practices, alternatives that treat music as a natural human fact, an essential way of being human, and a point of access to a dimension of human experience that is both unique and profoundly important to our individual and collective lives.”

There is no better description of singing as human experience than the one remembered in 1921 by Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen who transcribed the words of Orpingalik, a leader of the Netsilik, the People of the Seal. As Rasmussen explains, “He was always singing when he had nothing else to do, and he called his songs ‘comrades in solitude,’ or he would say that his songs were his breath, so necessary were they to him, to such an extent were they part and parcel of himself.” As Rasmussen accounts, from the well of his being Orpingalik could draw up a song to meet every need, to lighten every burden. The great Inuit leader said, “How many songs I have I cannot tell you. I keep no count of such things. There are so many occasions in one’s life when a joy or a sorrow is felt in such a way that the desire comes to sing; and so I only know that I have many songs. All my being is a song, and I sing as I draw breath.”

Contemporary Portraits of Singing

Contemporary voice research proposes that singing is first an art and secondarily a science. Unfortunately, the portrait that emerges from the last twenty-five years of research is one of an unconnected body of work favoring the biological and acoustical functions of the vocal mechanism over the psycho-spiritual dimensions of singing. Few studies in physiology, in acoustics, in function, or even in psychology consider the voice holistically, as a multidimensional phenomenon embodying its biological, emotional and spiritual nature.

While early definitions of voice suggest both an “inner voice” (the voice of God or spirit) and an “outer voice” (the voice of reason), vocal performance all too frequently focuses on the manipulation of the vocal apparatus in the production, control and coordination of tone without much consideration for the psycho-spiritual, therapeutic, and social benefits found in cross-cultural perspectives uncovered in music/medicine, psychology, or anthropology.

Historically, the separation of the biological dimensions of singing from the psycho-spiritual dimensions of singing from the time of Decartes (who obviously never sang in a choir!) contrasts significantly with Aristotle’s classical view of singing in which the soul and the body constitute a single substance. Aristotle’s thinking intuitively connects the organic, biological dimension of voice to its psycho-spiritual dimensions.

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest the healing powers of singing and vocal performance. Briefly, musician-neuroscientist Manfred Clynes, a leader in the field of emotional responses to music, suggests that singing is a key to the promotion of health and well-being. The Mind and Life Institute in Boulder, Colorado is working with His Holiness the Dalai Lama to investigate the impact of meditation and chant on the thoughts and emotions of artists and educators. University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson has measured these effects on a wide range of subjects.

Scholarship in the sciences, the contemplative, and the performing arts suggests that breathing and singing reduce anxiety, improves immune systems, and increases activity in the area of the brain associated with positive emotions like joy, enthusiasm, and good will. Today’s medical and musical research in cross-cultural sound healing offers fresh perspectives that logically and holistically embrace the mind-body-spirit nature of singing experience.

Singing as Knowing, Doing, and Being (Theoria, Praxis, Phronesis)

How do singers and vocal performance teachers get from the theoretical constructs of knowing about the voice (the physiological, acoustical and functional aspects of singing) to contemporary praxial accounts of vocal performance as musical making and doing (as alternative ways ofknowing or “thinking-in-action”), and further still, to emerging revelations of phronesis—in my words, singing as social conscience, moral responsibility, and ethical discernment?

The concept of phronesis or ethical discernment suggests a moral course of action that is ‘right’ and ‘just’ in a given situation. It is a matter of doing the right thing, at the right time, with the right intent. It is a matter of character and as Aristotle observed, this approach is “not for every person, nor is it easy.”

Music education in the 21st century must necessarily consider the kind of personal attention, emotional support, and care-giving that motivates our students’ ethical discernment—their ability to embrace moral courses of action. It is more important than ever that vocal performance teachers consider singing as a matter of character and service in close relationship with skill and understanding. As David Best argues, education in the arts has an utterly inescapable moral dimension.

Personal Intelligence, Ethical Discernment and Moral Responsibility

What have the development of personal intelligence, ethical discernment, and moral responsibility to do with singing and vocal performance in music education? In my view, just about everything. Understood as a form of awareness, singing is a life-skill closely related to personal intelligence. As a singer follows the breath in and out, an awareness of herself and others continually deepens.

Understood as a form of mindfulness, singing encourages the skillful means of being fully present in the here and the now. Mindfulness and ethical discernment are interdependent skills. In the context of vocal performance, students learn to “bear witness” to themselves and to others.

Singing encourages the skills of deep listening as a form of moral responsibility. The ability to listen to others, to the ensemble, to hear their own parts in relation to others and to make adjustments in pitch, tone quality, or dynamic levels requires deep listening ability. The ability to listen is closely related to being free of fear and anxiety, being at ease, and being in calm and concentration. Learning to listen to the self is the first step in learning to listen to others.

Singing is the practice of well-being. In a world where violence and injustice surrounds us, it is not enough for our students to simply produce beautiful singing for its own sake. Too often our work takes place in the exclusive confines of our rehearsal rooms and concert halls that leave out most of the world. Singing beautiful tones for their own sake is not enough to educate our students’ social consciousness or sense of moral responsibility in the world today. Well-being comes from the quality of our connection with others – from the sense of shared humanness that comes from singing for the benefit of all beings.

In Conclusion

Vocal performance in music education understood as the inclusive education of personal intelligence, ethical discernment, and moral responsibility should be encouraged through the systematic development of awareness, mindfulness, and deep listening in studios, classrooms and rehearsals. A young singer who recognizes herself as an important part of the choir, who respects the multiple differences and the rights of her fellow students, and who demonstrates her service through the joy and pleasure of performance counts in every way as an artist and peacemaker.

In a world of borders and boundaries, terrorism and injustice, music education could consider the social and psycho-spiritual potential of singing and vocal performance as a cross-cultural, transforming, and inclusive musical practice—a human practice inspired by diversity, a healing practicerooted in ancient history and a mindfulness practice for living in the 21st century.

We can re-dream this world and make the dream real. All roads lead to death, but some roads lead to things, which can never be finished. Wonderful things.
—Ben Okri, The Famished Road

June 2017 Discussion of the Month

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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 Professor Norma Coates and is the 15th 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.

Observations From a Liminal Space

Norma Coates, University of Western Ontario

It feels strange for me to write about the future of university music studies in Canada. I am American by birth and have been in Canada for exactly one year. Although my home department is the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario, I’m a joint appointment with the Faculty of Information and Media Studies. My PhD, in fact, is in Media and Cultural Studies. I am neither a musician nor a musicologist. Further (and I hope that this does not add insult to injury), my precise area of research and expertise is popular music.

At the risk of sounding egotistical (which is certainly not my intent) and following the editor’s injunction to address this issue provocatively, I want to suggest that my position as described above, represents one of the possible futures for university music departments in Canada and elsewhere. Even given my newness to the country and to a music faculty, I sense that this is a very exciting yet very challenging and a bit fraught time for music studies in Canadian universities. As a popular music scholar, I perceive that my discipline has roiled traditional music departments and conservatories. A related trend is the increased embrace of, or at least lip service to, interdisciplinarity by university administrators.

Part of the reason I am here is because this Fall our music faculty is admitting its first class of students to a new BA program in Popular Music. As I understand it, this is the culmination of a several-year process that was at the same time resisted by some in the department and supported by others. This is consistent with what I have heard about attempts to integrate popular music courses into other music departments in Canada. Resistance is understandable, especially by faculties and conservatories that have made and stake their reputations on art music. There are fears that the inclusion of popular music in the curricula will lead to the exclusion of art music, or that a turn toward popular music represents a triumph of instrumentality over “aesthetics”. At the same time, it is becoming clear that our students’ overall knowledge of how music, any music, signifies and works affectively in everyday life and history is enhanced by the study of the cultural contexts in which music of all types is produced, used, and received. At Western, our BA in Popular Music will include courses on the cultural impact and history of popular music alongside those on musical style and genre. Insights gleaned from the cultural and historical study of popular music can be applied by enterprising students to music across centuries, hierarchies, and genres. Our future music educators, especially at the primary and secondary levels, will be teaching students who encounter popular music across an unprecedented range of media from their earliest childhood. They need to be prepared accordingly.

We are also building expertise in popular music studies across two faculties, the Faculty of Music and the Faculty of Information and Media Studies. Between these two faculties we will have six faculty members whose research and teaching is solely or partially in popular music. Our collective expertise spans style, performance, history, gender studies, technology, political economy, recording, and jazz (and I’m sure that I’m leaving out something major). This range of popular music expertise provides stimulating possibilities for graduate student research and development during a time when the administration is making that a priority.

The interdisciplinarity of Western’s popular music faculty and offerings, and of popular music studies in general, leads to an important question: what is the role of the music department in the disciplinary advancement of popular music studies in Canada? Popular music scholarship takes place in several departments, including musicology, ethnomusicology, media studies, communication, English, and sociology (among others) and employs diverse methodologies. Although several disciplines contribute to popular music studies, the field runs the risk of turning into “two solitudes” (a phrase I’ve learned since my arrival in Canada), comprised roughly of the “musicological” and the “cultural.” That is, the field shows signs of becoming multidisciplinary, rather than interdisciplinary. If panel composition and/or attendance or presence at conferences can be read as indicative of trends in the field (and I submit that they can), then it appears that this divide may be taking hold in the discipline as it establishes itself. That’s not to say that there are not scholars who combine musicological analysis and cultural theory with wonderful results. In fact, Canadian scholars are setting the pace here; the work of Susan Fast and Christina Baade at McMaster, along with that of Kip Pegley at Queen’s, is exemplary in this respect. Music departments can have an enormous impact in shaping the future of popular music studies, but cannot do so where debates about musical taste and value are bracketed.

It is also important that departments and administrators conceive of courses in popular music history and culture as more than giant survey courses, providing electives for other majors and departments. With the right instructor, such courses can be and are quite rigorous. In other circumstances, these surveys run the risk of being viewed as “bird courses”. Popular music needs to be acknowledged as a field worthy of smaller classes and in-depth analysis as it develops in rigor and methodology.

Another fear is that popular music will drain resources from art music. That fear is valid yet addressable. Integration of popular music into the music curriculum will require more resources, especially where popular music is recognized as inclusive of musics beyond white, Anglo-American forms. This is crucial as the industry, popular music, and the world our students will enter upon graduation becomes more interconnected and interdependent. A solution to the resource issue is to forge links with other departments: that is, to capitalize upon the fact that research in popular music is performed in several disciplines. Such connections can be formalized, via cross-appointments or the creation of interdisciplinary centres and courses open to students interested in popular music within attached disciplines. Music departments can and should lead the way in these endeavors.

Interdisciplinary connections can also be made within music faculties. As previously mentioned, some knowledge of the history and culture of popular music, and its affective power and role in the lives and media consumption of primary and secondary school youth is increasingly important for future music educators at that level. Fruitful connections can be made between popular music and every other division within music departments.

Ultimately, I believe that this all comes down to what is best for our students: to what they will require in order to venture out into the world beyond the conservatory or department. I would wager that our students don’t care too much about maintaining strict divisions between art and popular music, theory versus musicology, and the many other perceived or real divisions within music faculties. (Discussion of those issues could make a great course or seminar.) Through the study of the history and cultural resonance of popular music, students can learn about culture, history, and how and why contemporary societies operate as they do. The addition of popular music courses beyond the token survey will provide students with breadth and depth across the range of musical cultures, styles, and “aesthetics”. This knowledge will help make them thinkers as well as musical practitioners, educators, and aficionados.

May 2017 Discussion of the Month

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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 Professor Susan Fast and is the 14th 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.

The Future of Graduate Study in Music at Canadian Universities

Susan Fast, McMaster University

At the time of this writing (July 2006), the future of graduate study in music at my institution, McMaster, is in flux, which is one reason I wanted to write about this subject. McMaster University’s M.A. Program in Music Criticism, in which I have taught for thirteen years, has been closed; the last three students will graduate in May 2007. The decision to close the program is the result of a key faculty member leaving for another institution and the University’s choice not to replace him, which is in large part because of a new interest in music cognition, an initiative housed in the Psychology Department. No current music faculty members have expertise in this area, although they have been asked to tie their fortunes to it. It is not surprising that at a University such as McMaster, where sciences, medicine and engineering are given priority, administrators would choose to support an initiative that studies music in what is perceived to be empirical, rather than socio-cultural terms, or, more importantly these days, where external funding for science based studies is considerably larger than that for the Humanities. Still, it is alarming to think that this is the likely future of music at McMaster, that its place within the Humanities will be diminished if not eventually eliminated (this is true at the undergraduate as well as the graduate level; discussions are currently underway for the development of an undergraduate program in music cognition).

Or is this really cause for alarm? It is probable that Humanities-based graduate studies in music at McMaster will develop, given the expertise of current faculty, within the context of Cultural Studies. This is a likely scenario at Queen’s as well, where plans for a graduate program in Cultural Studies are well underway, with no plans in the foreseeable future for a graduate program in music. Graduate study in music at Brock has not developed within the Music Department either; rather, within an interdisciplinary M.A. program in popular culture administered jointly by Social Sciences and Humanities. To be clear, in all these cases it is the study of popular music(s) that is finding a home within cultural studies or other interdisciplinary programs; whether the study of art music could find a place within such programs is another matter. But given these developments, we might well ask, is graduate study in music at institutions that do not already have established programs likely to occur outside of music programs, within the context of interdisciplinary studies, and is it likely to favor the study of popular musics (including the study of non-western popular musics under the rubrics of globalization or postcolonial studies)?

I want to emphasize that I ask these questions in relation to where musicologists are going to be housed and where musicology is going to be practiced, since those trained in sociology, communication studies, media studies and various other disciplines (or inter-disciplines) have long studied music, and especially popular music, outside of music programs and departments. I’m of two minds about musicology becoming part of a cultural studies, or other interdisciplinary program. On one hand, it makes sense. Music is a key means through which culture is produced and consumed throughout the world, so it seems logical for the musicological study of it to hold a prominent position—a more prominent position than it sometimes has—within these interdisciplinary programs. It is important that musicology take its rightful place in interdisciplinary studies, rather than remaining isolated within music programs, chained to technical expertise that none but a few initiates have “mastered.” Nonetheless, a cultural studies program is not a music program, and so the students we teach will likely not often have musical training when they come into the program, nor will they very often want to pursue music as their specialty. What we can teach these students will be restricted by their limited technical knowledge and by the fact that they don’t make music themselves. Or perhaps I am just setting up a straw person here: If musicologists with publication records that will attract students are teaching in cultural studies programs, why wouldn’t trained musicians come and study with them? Even more promising is a scenario in which these programs attract musicians who have not gone through an undergraduate music program, but who play in bands and have first hand experience with and understanding of contemporary popular music scenes and who are (in my experience) less burdened by ideas of composerly genius, canon, and music as transcendent of socio-cultural influences and influence. Graduate programs in music still have little room for this kind of musician unless they have also earned a B. Mus. degree along the way.

On the flip side, teaching non specialists can be viewed as a positive development: Students who do go through these cultural studies programs are likely to take a course from a musicologist who will underline the importance of musical sound as a site for the creation of socio-cultural meaning. Students will, hopefully, walk away from these programs with a better understanding of how music shapes culture, rather than thinking of it as mere entertainment or commodity. And perhaps in a generation or so, more and more students with training in music will opt to enter a graduate program in Cultural Studies rather than one in Music, especially if the progressive and interesting scholarly work is coming from faculty within the former.

Norma Coates, Kip Pegley and I were recently invited to participate in a round table at IASPM (International Association for the Study of Popular Music) Canada about women teaching popular music in Canadian Universities and a few interesting issues around graduate study in music were raised there. Because we focused on the study of popular music in particular, it became apparent in our discussion that many prominent Canadian universities that currently offer graduate programs in music (among them the University of Toronto, UBC, the University of Victoria, and the University of Alberta) do not have tenure-track or tenured researchers on their faculty who are scholars of Western popular music. Universities that do have popular music scholars generally have only one (Carleton and McGill are the exceptions, and again, at least for the moment, Carleton’s musicologists teach in an interdisciplinary graduate program, not a Music program). In fact, popular music scholarship in music departments West of Ontario is almost non-existent (many institutions do not offer undergraduate courses either). This seemed fascinating to us: given that popular music studies is currently a “hot” area of graduate study, why the dearth of opportunities to study it in Western Canada? And given that enrolments in undergraduate survey courses in popular music are through the roof, it is interesting that many Western Canadian universities do not offer these. Is the demand not there? Or is there resistance to curricular change, especially to the introduction of popular music (I think many of us who work on popular music have experienced such resistance at various levels)?

A further issue is that there is a high number of productive popular music scholars in Canada who are women, most of whom do not teach in institutions that have graduate programs in music. Why does this make a difference? Because many of these women are producing groundbreaking work in the field, and are internationally known, yet do not currently have direct influence over the next generation of popular music scholars. The subject matter they choose to study and their methodological approaches are often quite different from those of their male counterparts, and their voices in graduate programs would perhaps open up new areas of study and new approaches. They could also mentor graduate students, especially women graduate students, and encourage more of them to enter the field. In our experience, students who want to pursue popular music in their graduate studies are often frustrated by the lack of faculty expertise at their institutions, or by the fact that they are unable to study with a prominent scholar of popular music because s/he is not attached to a graduate program.

Perhaps we don’t need a slew of new graduate programs. Canadian universities are generally financially strapped and it’s not clear that there is demand for new programs. Those universities that have the infrastructure for M.A. and Ph.D. programs in Music probably need to be rethinking their priorities (Western seems to be leading the way in this respect, at least with respect to popular music studies—see Norma Coates’ contribution to this discussion). Productive scholars who are working in new fields of inquiry could be attached to these programs, and perhaps we need to become more creative about how this happens. I am currently adjunct graduate faculty at York and have sat on several PhD. Committees, work that is not recognized by my home institution, but perhaps should be. Instead of working in isolation from one another and/or in competition, we could begin to view the (after all, small) group of Canadian music scholars as a single pool (I realize that this might sound quite naïve and idealistic, but I’m willing to put it out there anyway). There could be more sharing of faculty resources among institutions. Although institutional bureaucracy often puts obstacles in the way of such inter-institutional cooperation, we could try to develop it. We could consider such ideas as residencies for scholars at institutions where graduate programs exist; guest or team teaching between institutions; greater flexibility around the supervision of students; and drawing on each other’s expertise in ways now done infrequently.

Our professional societies might be one vehicle through which discussions about this could take place. Or perhaps we need to create a separate organization that advocates for such inter-institutional cooperation specifically within Canada and specifically around graduate education in music. At the very least, we might be thinking about gathering current data on the study of music at graduate levels in Canadian universities. In what programs or departments (music or otherwise) is interesting work being undertaken? What are the growth areas in terms of theses and dissertations? And do faculty hires or curricular offerings correspond to these areas? Are productive scholars teaching within graduate programs? If not, how can this be encouraged? It is time we begin to rethink graduate level music studies in Canada along such lines.

April 2017 Discussion of the Month

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in eColumns

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 R. Murray Shafer and is the 13th 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.

Humility, Creativity, and the Music of the Future

R. Murray Schafer, Composer, Educator

I have no idea how the world should be educated. Each culture has its own targets for citizenship and develops a curriculum to meet those objectives. Those who disagree with the objectives will have a rough time in school. I spent years in school trying to get out. It seemed to me that too much time was devoted to answering questions that no one had asked while the real questions slid by unanswered. Plato taught that there was an answer to every question. Socrates taught that there was a question to every answer, but that was something my teachers didn’t seem to want to deal with. For that reason I never completed my education but set out to travel the world and educate myself. Unfortunately, as Ivan Illich pointed out, the effect of universal education is to make the autodidact unemployable.

It was only after many years of traveling, first as a sailor, then a journalist, a broadcaster and a composer that I began to question seriously why my life at school had been so futile. The failure of the music program concerned me in particular because I had musical talent (I played piano and sang in a choir) and had eventually adopted music as my vocation.

When the Canadian Music Centre initiated its John Adaskin Music Program, in which composers were invited to visit schools to work with children and young people, I was one of the first to apply. After visiting several schools, I could see clearly what was missing: creativity. In art classes original paintings were produced and in literature classes original stories and poems were written, but the music scene was dominated by the concert band or the jazz band playing classical arrangements of music that wasn’t even written in Canada let alone in the school.

There was during this period (the 1960s) a wave of activity internationally that was encouraging creativity in music education in music education. The Manhattanville Music Curriculum Project was active in the United States and in England composers like John Paynter, George Self and Peter Maxwell Davies had penetrated classrooms and were writing music for and with young musicians. I shared their ideas and wrote a series of little books about my own experiences. The books were descriptive, not prescriptive. You can’t tell people how to become creative but you can reveal the excitement of creative activity and hope that it may encourage them to try something on their own. Allowing people to become creative does not require genius; it requires humility.

Above my desk I wrote some maxims to keep myself in line:

The first practical step in any educational reform is to take it.
In education, failures are more important than successes. There is nothing so dismal as a success story.
Teach on the verge of peril.
There are no more teachers. There is just a community of learners.
Do not design a philosophy of education for others. Design one for yourself. A few others may wish to share it with you.
For the 5-year-old, art is life and life is art. For the 6-year-old, life is life and art is art. The first year in school is a watershed in the child’s history: a trauma.
The old approach: Teacher has information; student has empty head. Teacher’s objective: to push information into student’s empty head. Observation: at outset teacher is a fathead; at conclusion student is a fathead.
On the contrary a class should be an hour of a thousand discoveries. For this to happen, the teacher and the student should first discover one another.
Why is it that the only people who never matriculate from their own courses are teachers?
Always teach provisionally: only God knows for sure.
At the time of these thoughts and activities (1970s), it seemed that a revolution was just around the corner, but it didn’t happen. Instead music education programs in Canada and the USA pioneered backwards. My own work in music education moved into other countries and cultures: South America and Japan. In South America there was no money for music so teachers had to use their imaginations. “Tomorrow I want each of you to bring an interesting sound to class,” I would say, and the next day a whole flood of sound and noise-makers would fill the room. This became our orchestra and we could produce free improvisations or create rondos and fugues with what we had just as with violins and clarinets – better probably, because we were unconcerned about the safety of expensive instruments.

In Japan the word for music is ongaku, and it means simply “beautiful sounds”. Not only music but the singing of birds, the splashing of water and the chirping of crickets can be ongaku, which opens the subject out to include the soundscape, giving our ears a completely new field to investigate.

Sometimes I think that music programs in Canada are crippled by affluence. How many times have I entered a classroom and the proud teacher points out all the instruments lined up against the wall, the loudspeakers, the amplifiers, the CD players… But the problem with flutes and trumpets and violins is that all you can do is to learn how to play them, and that takes years. A very expensive music education program has been erected in the form of a triangle in which the base line is all those enrolled in the program and the apex is the professional performer/teacher, or, in a very few cases, the genius who will make the school famous.

“Show Uncle Murray your flute,” my brother’s wife said to her daughter, just entering high school. She brought it out and took it out of the box. “Can you play it?” I asked. “Not yet.” And she left the music program a year later. Too many people have been fooled into believing that if it is expensive, the music program must be good. Those who don’t learn to master those expensive tools will slip down to the category of consumers to help the recording industries get richer. That, I think, is the problem music education faces in Canada today.

Can we learn to do more with less? I think so, and there are many people in various countries who are demonstrating how this might be accomplished through new approaches to music making, music teaching, and music learning.

In one of my little pieces for young players (Minimusic), I included this line: “MUSIC IS NOT TO BE LISTENED TO. MUSIC IS LISTENING TO US.” That is, the perfect world is listening to the imperfect world and is inviting us to go further, delve deeper and reach higher in creating the music of the future.

March Discussion of the Month

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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 Gary Kulesha and is the 12th 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.

 

High Art or Trend and Trade? Some Thoughts on Future Music Studies in Canada

Gary Kulesha, University of Toronto

It is impossible to speculate on the future of music education at Canadian Universities without offering observations on the future of music itself. A cursory glance at the history of music in Canadian schools (and at universities throughout the world) reveals a close relationship between the prevailing musical concerns of the time and the content of the offerings at the schools. In the early 20th century, the inherited aesthetics of the French and English strands of our heritage dominated composition training at schools in Quebec and English Canada, while by the 1950s, serialism and modernism were the dominant concerns at most schools. The creation of regional orchestras in Canada created a clear need for properly schooled performers. The recognition of education itself as a separate discipline, and the growing demand for well-trained teachers, led to the creation of Music Education divisions within virtually every Canadian university.

The second part of the 20th century, however, changed many of the inherited paradigms. In particular, the sudden rise of commercial music caused a complicated ripple which has not yet subsided. The trendiness of world music in the popular and film worlds moved musical anthropology from a purely academic concern into a practical study. Even the study of History and Literature grew to include the rather nebulous area of “culture,” and the traditional focus of study broadened dramatically.

The voracious demands of the commercial world led to the rise of the community colleges, where music programmes were designed openly to be “trade school” programmes. Universities, long the bastion of “pure” research, were pressured by newly-elected capitalist provincial governments, to demonstrate “real world viability” in their programmes, and the lines between community college and university music programmes blurred. The abrupt cessation of generous funding for ensembles, combined with a sudden spurt of growth in musical theatre, called traditional performance training into question. The unpredictable ebb and flow of educational funding rendered many students who had chosen to pursue music education as a path uncertain whether or not they would be able to find jobs. Even History/Literature/Culture divisions had trouble keeping up with the demands of an increasingly multi-cultural society in which political (and therefore financial) necessity dictated a shift in focus. And to add to the confusion, the new areas of music therapy and bioacoustics crossed lines not just within the discipline, but with other areas of study as well.

However the future of musical study evolves, there is one question that no school of music can ignore: have the fundamental elements of music-making changed? A second part of this question is: how far should schools of music, and in particular universities, go towards adapting to what seem to be changing demands in the “real world”?

Traditionally, since the beginnings of Western Art Music, music has been taught as a sequential mastering of technique. Every area of the study of Western Art Music has been shaped by a platform-based approach—each new level of mastery opens the door to the next. The dramatic impact of computer-based music has threatened this tradition. Computer software can now leap-frog many of the basic elements of fundamental training. Anyone with access to relatively powerful computers (that is, virtually everyone) can compose music, orchestrate it, perform it, record it, and even distribute it. There are many people on staff at many schools who believe that this renders traditional training obsolete. They argue that, given the success of musicians who cannot even read music in the pop and film worlds, it is unnecessary for students to master traditional methods first. In a very real sense, this attitude represents a fallout from the explosion of creativity in the 1960s, when, driven first by the philosophical teaching of John Cage, and then by the undeniably vibrant creativity of the then-new pop world, creativity was celebrated as an end in itself. Where such conditions prevail, knowledge of traditional methods and standard repertoire become irrelevant. Discovery and raw creativity become paramount, replacing traditional approaches to music making.

There may be some interesting lessons to be learned from the field of jazz. Jazz began in exactly this way at the beginning of the 20th century. Originally a discipline learned by rote and apprenticeship (much in the manner of many forms of world music), jazz emerged as a major commercial force in the 1930s and 1940s. By the time of its commercial viability, its nature as an indigenous art form had been expanded, and it had become a mainstream activity, largely as a result of a combination of its commercial exposure and of the interest many Western Art Music composers took in it. By the 1950s, it had become a discipline, demanding serious training for both performers and composers, as well as commanding respect as an area for research. Within 20 years, it had become a degree course of study in many of the major universities in North America.

Jazz, however, is still not universally accepted as an academic discipline, and encounters considerable resistance in many schools. The reasons are manifold and complex. Is jazz, as is argued by many of its academic critics, simply too narrow a field to be acceptable as a course of study at a university? Is jazz obsolete? Is the primary purpose of jazz study to create commercial performers? Is jazz more suitably taught as a “trade”? Should jazz be taught at all? Should it not revert to being learned in its performance environment?

Many of these same questions bedevil the future of all music. Is pop too narrow a field for serious study? Is classical music obsolete? Is the primary purpose of study at a university to create teachers to fill jobs? Is historical and cultural research more suitably taught as an academic pursuit within the departments of history, culture, and anthropology? Should world music be taught at all? Should it not revert to being learned in its performance (and social) environment?

Why do students come to study music at a university music school at all? Before changes are made to the academic structure based upon assumptions and prejudices, it is worthwhile reviewing the motivation of incoming students. It is also incumbent upon staff teachers to reflect upon their own reasons for becoming musicians, and, perhaps more to the point, the path they took to their own success (assuming that teaching at a university is in some measure an indication of success.)

Performers come to school to learn to play their instrument, and to learn its repertoire. This has not changed in several hundred years. A violinist, for example, comes to a school to work with a specific teacher, a time-honoured approach to apprenticeship. They are drawn to this activity and the university environment not by bluegrass fiddle music or Acadian fiddling, but by the repertoire that has shaped their instrument in the Western Art Music tradition. They may well have interests in other musics, but their primary focus is to learn the established canon for their instrument. Taking part in jazz or world music ensembles enriches their experience, but for most, it is an addendum to their main course of study. Any performer seriously interested in studying genuine world music would certainly not chose to do so at a Canadian university; he or she would go to the sources of these musics. Pop remains a largely rote-learned style, and can be learned only in a performance situation. Pop musicians often enroll in classical institutions, generally in the interest of expanding their abilities in their own field through the study of Western Art Music.

Perhaps most telling, students from all over the world, from a vast number of different cultural backgrounds, continue to compete for places in Canadian universities to study Western Art Music. These are often students who have already completed study in their own traditional practices who are nevertheless committed to acquiring the skills of Western Art Music. These students are not interested in pop music or world music: They come for a clear and strict background in traditional classical music. Students are often amused (although they rarely speak out) at the ignorance of the professors who are attempting to teach them pop or world music. There is something to be learned from a student from Tehran giving a piano recital which includes impeccably played Brahms, Mozart, and their own compositions, which sound far more like Shostakovich than Iranian music.

It is urgent that teachers, sometimes misled by excitement at new discoveries, or, more bleakly, by simple boredom, recognize that ignorance is not freedom. Their own path unquestionably included strict inculcation into the traditions of Western Art Music, and they were free to embrace or reject these traditions in later life. Denying students this same right is arrogant, shortsighted, and self-indulgent. Intimidating as it may seem, the manifold basic elements of music making remain the same, and the study of these basic skills is arduous and long. But all students want these skills. Students universally want to know what their teachers know. However they choose to use their skills, they are shaped first and foremost by a passion for music, and the basic elements of music remain constant. The expansion of music’s horizons will bring new layers of study, and will imply exciting new possibilities, but training in the fundamental historical skills must remain central to any university’s music programme. The future of music study at Canadian universities will encompass more and more new areas, but, if teachers continue to respect the needs of their students and remain inspired by their own activities, the threat of music study becoming simple trade–schooling can be abated.

February 2017 Discussion of the Month

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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 freelance composer/musician Tim Brady and is the 11th 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.

 

Ask more and better questions

Tim Brady, Freelance Composer/Performer/Producer in Montreal

Twenty-six years ago, when I finished my formal music education (a Master of Music in jazz and composition from New England Conservatory of Music, Boston) I said, “That’s it, no more music schools for me! I’m out of here!”

Twenty-six years later I am still a freelance composer/performer/producer with no teaching activities and no links to academia.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I had a great time in music school, both at the undergraduate level (Concordia University, Montreal) and later at graduate school. I was an absolutely insatiable student, always doing more work than necessary, asking teachers for extra information on different composers and different music, pushing myself to my musical and academic limits. I was, as they say, a “suck,” a best-marks-in-the-class kind of guy. But not too annoying, I hope. Music school was one the of the most influential experiences of my life, because I spent four years doing nothing but eating, thinking, sleeping, dreaming, playing, composing and listening to music.

So why would I make such a determined effort to leave the environment that had given me so much? I can see several reasons. The two most obvious to me at the time were:

  1. I wanted to be famous. University professors aren’t famous.
  2. I wanted to play and compose music all the time. University professors have to fit these activities around their teaching schedule.

A quarter of a century later, I would add the following reasons to my list:

  1. I have a fierce independent streak, which is probably poorly suited to the necessary requirements of “fitting in” to the university structure.
  2. I have a strong belief that music, especially creative concert music of all forms, must establish a direct connection to society. A university composer is, first and foremost a teacher, in terms of his/her social role (how people and the government classify him/her). A freelance concert music composer, though admittedly a very obscure social position, is nonetheless 100% a creative artist in terms of social function. This feels like a considerable difference to me.
  3. I have a strong organisational/entrepreneurial streak which the freelance milieu has allowed me (in fact, forced me) to develop. I love organising things – recording, tours, festivals, concerts, associations, whatever. But (relating to point three, above) they have to be MY things: it is all about bringing my vision of music (both in terms of notes on the page and larger social perspective) into being. Quite frankly, I’ve never been able to get excited about anything else than doing what I want to do.

So, unlike the other musicians writing for this issue of Ecclectica, my relationship to music studies is somewhat removed. I do, on occasion, give workshops in universities when I am on tour. And I also work with high school students every once in a while on creative music projects.

But I am always there in a capacity of creative artist, never teacher. So I do not know the intimate details of the day to day organising and running a music school, or even what it is like to teach a regular studio of students. From what I have seen, it can be very stimulating and exciting, and lots of hard work. It can also be annoying and boring and endlessly tedious. But the same can be said of the life of a freelancer: ah, the joys of doing twenty-five different grants applications a year!!

So my comments should be viewed from this perspective.

As I see it, music schools have two functions: technical training and creative training.

There is no hard and fast border between the two, but most of us can understand that learning your scales and species counterpoint is part of technical training, while trying to understand the formal and emotional complexities of a Beethoven symphony or a South Indian Raga are part of creative training.

Technical training issues are somewhat easier to grapple with (at least on the surface). If we want good violinists in the Western classical tradition, we need to focus on good violin technique in the Western classical tradition. As the joke goes:

Young violinist on the streets of New York asks policeman for directions:
“How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”
Policeman: “Practice, practice, practice!”

The question is: what technical training do universities want to give? Do we want more violinists in the Western classical tradition? Do weneed them? Do we want more orchestral composers? Do we need them? Do we need more film composers? More jazz piano players? More improvising viola players? More concert sitar and tabla players?

I believe that the university milieu should try to offer the absolute best technical training in as many areas as possible. Young artists need the tools to develop. But universities cannot, collectively, decide what tools artists need or don’t need. So there should be no question of limiting what is considered “necessary” or not. All serious, intensive, focused music study is of great value.

But not all universities can offer all studies. I think a key to creating a balanced and dynamic music education system in Canada is for universities to be in constant communication. Who offers what programme? What is our strength? What are our weaknesses?

Here in Montreal, we have four university-based music schools, plus the Conservatoire du Québec. They have each developed very different characters and specialties, which gives young musicians in Montreal an enviable choice. It also creates a healthy, balanced musical and educational ecosystem.

Some schools are more traditional and academic, some are more open and experimental, but young artists can find the training they need. It is not uncommon for a young student to move from one school to another over the course of studies, before finding an appropriate match between her or his own artistic “voice” and the school that best supports it.

So I would strongly urge all Canadian music schools to work together, to understand that the country needs a scope of serious, artistic training to be available to young artists. Serious, concentrated, in-depth music study is what we need.

A related point: Ignore market forces as much as possible. Market forces are always “after the fact”: By the time we feel them, the shift is always on to the next trend. It’s a mug’s game. This week they say “film music is the future,” and “the orchestra is dead.” Next week it’s something else. Attempt to build serious music studies around market forces and you are dead (or soon will be). Art follows its own rhythm, generally slower and a bit ahead of society.

In fact, there are an increasing number of two-year technical programmes for music-industry related studies. This is a very positive development: exactly what we need. These institutions can focus on “market-force” driven, industrial-arts needs. Society needs this music and commercial art to be properly taught. But universities are not the place for it: they are too heavy, too ponderous, too reflective.

I think the university should be about the intense, serious study of art and art techniques. The commercially driven world will always take care of itself, just as it always has.

But if we are going to ignore the outside forces, what are we studying? This brings me to my second concern: creative training.

The point of a good university education should be to leave with more, and better, questions than you came in with; and, yes, some good technical training as well. But a good education means that you start asking serious questions about your art, your society and yourself. And, eventually, you start finding your own answers.

This is a long process, and far more difficult to quantify or control than technical studies. But I believe this approach to creative music making needs to be part of the overall vision of university music training.

Most great teachers have an instinct for this. They realise they are not there to grind out cookie-cutter copies of this violinist or this composer, but rather to nurture the unique strengths of each student.

In fact, as digital technology pushes our society to seemingly greater heights of duplication and conformity, it is this creative training which will become of even great value to students.

Digital machinery has already replaced hundreds of thousands of musicians, from a technical and commercial perspective. So why do we keep training musicians, when machines can do most of their work?

The answer lies in the creative nature of human music making. And I think we need to constantly reinforce that music making is a creative, not just a technical pursuit. Machines can now do it better, faster, cheaper. We have already lost that one.

But we have also won. Machines can do it better, faster, cheaper, but young artists are still drawn to live music making with humans. Why? Because making music with other humans has a history of over 50,000 years in our collective experience, and machines cannot replace this. Music creates a special bond of time and place among humans that can only be created by humans.

The creative nature of human interaction that is the act of music making is our strength. It is what we are good at. It is why it still matters. Technology has made its point: machines can now make music. But we still prefer humans, because it is not just about playing the notes, or about making the right noises at the right time. Machines can do that.

We need to understand and approach music studies as a truly human expression of our creative potential. This spirit of human creativity should be at the forefront of music education: not just for composers or improvisers but for all fields. Western classical repertoire, ethnomusicology, whatever. Ask questions. Ask some more. If we follow the basic principle that serious music studies are a doorway to human potential, then the other issues fall into place. Ask questions. Ask some more.

 

 

January 2017 Discussion of the Month

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Hello and welcome! 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 music educator Paul Woodford, and is the tenth 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.

Toward Revisioning Music Studies in Canada’s Universities

Paul Woodford, The University of Western Ontario

As Wayne Bowman observed in his invitation to participate in this special edition of Ecclectica on the future of university music studies in Canada, “In an era of rupture variously characterized as postmodern, poststructural, postcolonial, and postclassical, what often appears most striking about university music schools is their uninterrupted continuity with their pasts.” Some important strides have been made of late in diversifying undergraduate programs and curricula, but for the most part our university schools of music look much the same today as they did when I was an undergraduate in the 1970s. Bands, orchestras and choirs continue to be a mainstay of undergraduate performance and music education programs, endlessly replicating the same or similar repertoire, while traditional music theory and history courses based on the western musical canon and related practices (such as ear training and harmonic analysis) remain privileged in undergraduate programs. Jazz, popular, and world music courses are now more available to students than was the case in my youth (if they were available at all). However, those courses are sometimes restricted to history majors or relegated to the status of elective for other majors. For most students there probably isn’t time or opportunity to take more than a smattering of those courses, which means that they eventually graduate knowing relatively little about the remarkable breadth and diversity of musical culture.

And as for music teacher education, those programs continue to emphasize performance-based methods over all else. There is little room in the typical music teacher education program, or indeed in most undergraduate music programs, for the study of philosophy, sociology, politics, popular culture, history, world religions, or the other arts, all of which can help undergraduates become informed and thoughtful musicians and teachers who can relate what they learn about music and education to the wider world. But then, the goal of the typical honours Bachelor of Music program is the training of skilled professionals and not the preparation of broadly educated citizen-musicians who can cope with real world problems and situations involving uncertainty, uniqueness, and value conflict. The emphasis in undergraduate programs continues to be on passive acceptance and reproduction of expert knowledge and not intellectual engagement with the social world of music.

This continued narrowness of purpose and vision is apparent not just in our curricula but also in the self-imposed physical and social isolation of university schools of music from other faculties and disciplines and in our teaching styles. There usually isn’t much social intercourse at Canadian universities between music faculty and representatives from other disciplines. In consequence, music faculty and students are often ill-informed about (or perhaps just uninterested in) current issues and wider academic debates within the university (such as, for example, corporate funding of research and programs that many fear will undermine the very idea of public education). Further, and while academics in other disciplines sometimes engage in wider artistic debates within the public sphere, music academics tend to have little to say to the public, this despite music’s “commercial primacy…among the arts” (Adorno, 1949/2006, p. xiv; see also Barber, 1996). Nor are music faculty generally known for their involvement in university governance, a fact that leaves them vulnerable in times of government fiscal retrenchment and educational reform. Music faculty prefer to keep their heads down, avoiding politics.

In all too many respects university schools of music operate like medieval monasteries or convents in which peace and tranquility reigned but dissent was seldom tolerated. Undergraduate music students are seldom expected to express informed opinions in their classes, to respectfully question the authority of their teachers and of tradition, or to publicly participate in and evaluate arguments. It is thus no wonder that graduates of our programs are often ill-equipped and disinclined to participate in public and professional debates about, for example, social and educational policy affecting them (Woodford, 2005). Faculty are similarly discouraged from questioning administrative decisions (although individual faculty are by no means always paragons of virtue either). In this respect, though, schools of music are perhaps not so different from their counterparts in other disciplines and fields. Western universities are often thought to be places in which reason and democracy prevail; but in reality, at least at the administrative level, they can be positively feudal in nature.

Although one might think that music undergraduates would resent their social isolation and perceived lack of freedom to question and challenge authority, many probably prefer the status quo because it affords them escape from the messiness and unpleasantness of reality. High school music teachers should shoulder some of the blame for this escapist attitude because their grades are often unrealistically high compared to teachers of other school subjects, thus contributing to the belief that music is something that doesn’t require much study and hard work to achieve success, and because they encourage students to view music performance classes as a pleasant diversion from the drudgery of academic courses (Colwell, 2005). Ask first-year students why they chose music studies in university and you’re bound to get the responses “because it’s fun” or “job preparation” rather than the suggestion that it is something that really matters to society or is intellectually challenging. This is a troubling observation because, if correct, it suggests that many undergraduates fail to see university schools of music as places in which they should seek intellectual engagement (for more on this point see my chapter in The New Handbook of Research on Music Teaching and Learning, Colwell & Richardson, 2002). Fortunately, there are always undergraduates who do possess the right kind of attitude while others rise to the challenge as they mature and gain experience. And of course music undergraduates are not the only ones who view their university experience as mere vocational training. As Emberley (1996) observes, many university students only want “the practical information to acquire jobs” (p. 22). Intellectual passivity and conservatism are commonplace in universities.

If university schools of music are to realize their mandate to educate and not merely train students then they will have to confront these ideologies of fun and vocational training from the beginning, and especially in introductory history and theory courses wherein the teaching approach has traditionally been to stuff students’ heads with facts. From their first course, university students should be challenged to think of music as an evolving and open concept that is influenced by politics, religion, science, and the other humanities, and not as an isolated collection of facts, figures, practices, or methods to be passively accepted, memorized, and then regurgitated. Students should also be reminded constantly that methods and technique are only means to certain ends (there should be a reciprocal relation between them); that those ends are not necessarily always or only musical; and, further, that those ends should themselves be objects of considerable reflection, discussion, and debate, not just about their validity but also about our effectiveness in accomplishing them (Bowman, 2002).

Unfortunately, and for some of the reasons outlined above, this kind of reflection, discussion, and debate over means and ends rarely occurs in higher music education except perhaps at the level of narrow professional, technical, and sometimes musical goals. I thus welcome this special edition of Ecclectica as a stimulus to much needed reflection and debate about the purposes and roles of schools of music in contemporary society. Readers interested in learning more about my own contributions to this larger debate should consult my book Democracy and Music Education: Liberalism, Ethics and the Politics of Practice (Indiana University Press, 2005). As already suggested in this brief paper, one way of reinvigorating undergraduate music education is by reconceptualizing it as part of an inclusive, liberal music education in which moral, ethical, cultural, and political concerns come to the fore and in which students are challenged to realize their potential to contribute to the betterment of society. This involves introducing them to the diversity of music that exists while helping them to develop their own critical voices so that they can participate intelligently in the shaping of humane musical and other values. Viewed thusly, music academics and graduates of our programs are public servants and democratic leaders, not elite guardians of the classics.

Those guardians of righteousness among us who believe unequivocally in the superiority of the classics and who regard the inclusion of popular and so-called world music as a dumbing down of the curriculum won’t like my book. Perhaps the single greatest impediment to the broadening and deepening of university music curricula during the past decade was a lack of faculty renewal that left many universities populated by an aging and worn out professoriate that was often resistant to change. Long tenured and secure in their employment, too many older scholars were content to concentrate their resources on an elite few while ignoring the masses. In the current political context in which government is often swayed by public opinion, however, that is an increasingly dangerous strategy to pursue. Happily, Canadian universities are now hiring new and younger faculty who are invested in the future and who are already beginning to reinvigorate higher music education with their ideas, and particularly in the areas of popular music and media studies. I relish the prospect of working with them as we attempt to reshape university music programs while breaking down some of the barriers between school and society.

References

Adorno, T. W. (2006). Philosophy of new music (R. Hullot-Kentor, Trans. & Ed.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1949)

Barber, B. R. (1996). Jihad vs. mcworld: How globalism and tribalism are reshaping the world. New York: Ballantine Books.

Bowman, W. (2002). Educating musically. In Colwell, R., & Richardson, C. P. (Eds), The new handbook of research on music teaching and learning. New York: Oxford University Press.

Colwell, R. (2005). Can we be friends? Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 166, 75-91.

Emberley, P. C. (1996). Zero tolerance: Hot button politics in Canada’s universities. Toronto: Penguin Books.

Woodford, P. (2002). The social construction of music teacher identity in undergraduate music education majors. In Colwell, R., & Richardson, C. P. (Eds), The new handbook of research on music teaching and learning. New York: Oxford University Press.

———(2005). Democracy and music education: Liberalism, ethics, and the politics of practice. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
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December Discussion of the Month

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Hello and welcome! 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.

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Music Studies in Canada: The Rob Bowman variations

Rob Bowman, Associate Professor of Music, York University

To my way of thinking, the ultimate goal of university education is to open up new ways to think about, understand and consequently interact with phenomena in the world, both natural and man made. For music, that means providing students with the cognitive and auditory skills to enrich their experience of music, both as listeners and players. The future I am going to describe is the one I envision to be desirable, not necessarily the one that I am confident will come to pass.

In the future, the best university music education will treat all musics on an even playing field. While there may be survey courses that look at various traditions such as jazz, rhythm and blues, Western art music, Eastern Art music, etc. as separate streams, there will also be courses that specifically engage with the interaction between these musics and that will look at commonalities across time and space. So, when discussing additive meters, examples will be drawn from South Asian classical music, Bartok, and Metallica. Similarly, a discussion of the use of timbre in the construction of musical meaning would ideally look at examples as diverse as Janis Joplin, John Cage, and Peking Opera singers and analyses of counterpoint will discuss not only Western species counterpoint but will also investigate contrapuntal activity in Balinese and Javanese gamelan ensembles, the Jefferson Airplane, and the Jimmy Giuffre 3. Whenever possible, small scale connections will also be made. In a class that is looking at a Bach oratorio, when the organ part ends with a sustained open 5th, a discussion should naturally note the affect that such a sound would have had in Bach’s day. Before pneumatic drills and airplanes existed, that open 5th would have sounded astonishingly loud, evoking the hammer of the Gods in the same way that amplified open 5th power chords do in heavy metal today.

Further, in an ideal university music curriculum all musical gestures should be grounded in both historical and social contexts, which means, essentially, the study of all musics will be taught from an ethnomusicological perspective. Issues such as class, race, gender, political economy, identity, space, place, and the body will be given equal time with the discussion of the sonic phenomena of music. Wherever possible, sound will be connected to social meaning.

The net effect of this kind of teaching will be to demystify music making as much as possible.

Where does all this leave performance? It is hard to imagine a music department where students don’t actually play music. The questions become: (1) What music should be played? and (2) How should it be taught (and by whom)?

At the moment, most music departments have performance courses in various styles and periods of Western Art Music although repertoire tends to be rooted in the musics of the 18th and 19th centuries. Many universities also have performance courses in jazz with repertoire concentrated on the styles of jazz that originated between 1940 and the mid-1960s. A few departments also offer various “world” music courses, providing the opportunity for music majors and sometimes non-majors to develop rudimentary knowledge and performing skills in one or another non-Western music traditions.

As someone who has devoted his life to the study of “popular” music, I get frightened when I hear people suggesting that we should develop performance courses in this area. The way performance has tended to be taught at the university level tends to turn whatever music is being studied into a mummified tradition with codified rules that often drains the style of much of its life, vitality, and relevance. I would hope for a future where instead of performance courses devoted to one or another historic repertoire, we develop performance courses that approach aspects of music making such as rhythm, improvisation, timbre, counterpoint, etc. in general. The concepts “learned” in these courses could then be applied by a given student to the performance of any kind of music. These courses would be in addition to first, and perhaps, second year, “musicianship” classes, which would also not be tradition-specific but instead would work on developing the student’s ear, time, pitch, and vocal facilities in ways that could be applicable to the performance of any kind of music. I would also encourage the continuation of introductory “world music” performance courses which allow students to explore traditions that are essentially foreign to them, the idea being that few if any of these students will become masters of these traditions but that they could, if they desire, use various aspects of these musics in whatever tradition in which they do perform.

Outside of classes where one or another aspect of music making that is theoretically relevant to any musical tradition is being studied, or where students are introduced to “foreign” traditions and ways of making music, rehearsal and performance spaces should be available for students to use for student-generated performance ensembles. These ensembles should be actively encouraged as a vital and essential but ungraded part of the life of a student in a university music program.

Linkages need to be made with the wider community outside of the university and, where possible, the introductory courses to various “world” musics referred to above could be taught by community-based practitioners. Perhaps the student-generated ensembles referred to above could also be encouraged to link up in various ways with community-based musicians outside of the university.

It is hard to know what to do with the idea of “composition” as part of the university music curriculum. I would think that practical courses should exist which teach students the mechanics of composing music for film, television, and commercials, and I am not against student-based composition workshops that would treat the writing of a fugue, a piece for a jazz quartet, or a pop song as having equal value. Such courses would probably have to be “supervised” by various faculty members who have expertise in different traditions.

I think that the ideal music department of the future will also have courses that actually prepare people for lives as professionals working with music. Such a curriculum would include courses that offer a thorough grounding in the practices of the music business and teach students how “the business” works differently for musicians performing within different traditions. It would also include courses that address the needs and skills of studio session musicians and would include courses that address such pragmatic skills as grant writing, touring, and cobbling together a living from various kinds of music-related activities helping to develop alternative and parallel careers to music performance (via radio work, DJing, writing about music, working for record companies, teaching, music therapy, etc.). I also think all music departments should have a professional level recording studio and all students should at least be exposed to the recording arts with a variety of courses being offered to allow students to develop the skills necessary to become professional engineers and/or producers. Perhaps music programs should actively attempt to place students each summer in apprentice-like work situations that would allow them to gain experience and make connections that might prove useful upon graduation.

Finally, in the future, music education courses will essentially provide the student with the skill sets necessary to develop and offer music programs for students in Grades K-12 that are modeled on the same values as the university curriculum outlined above.

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.

Discussion of the Month – November/16

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Hello and welcome! 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.

Trivializing Music Studies
james-deaville

James Deaville, Carlton University

Put bluntly, we need to trivialize music studies in Canada. By the word “trivialize,” I don’t mean adopting a belittling attitude towards those studies, but rather changing their content to embrace music that has traditionally been determined to be below consideration in serious music programs: aesthetically unworthy, trivial, bad. In the recent book Bad Music: The Music We Love to Hate, noted popular-music scholar Simon Frith identifies three critical arguments in defining “bad music”: it isn’t worthy of enjoyment; musicians involved in it are betraying their talent; and it corrupts music’s original integrity.1 While whole genres like country music have been dismissed historically as bad or trivial, such designations can cut cross styles as well, so that a subgenre like bubblegum pop or an artist like Dido might be deemed unworthy of inclusion in a “canonic” popular music course. Even more problematic within such a course would be entertainers like Lawrence Welk (http://www.welkmusicalfamily.com) or Kenny G (http://www.kennyg.com), who occupy terrain so foreign to elite canons that justifying their study at a job interview will almost certainly not get you hired (I didn’t get the job). Yet these are the very artists whose sounds form the “soundtrack” of our lives and the lives of our parents.

Consumers of “live” media are bombarded daily by music and its messages that fly below the radar of our “high art” colleagues, whether in television news (see http://www.southernmedia-nmsa.com/ for a complete listing of current and historical network news music) or video games (see http://www.vgmusic.com/ for a comprehensive sound archive), just to mention two examples. This is the music that surrounds us, envelopes us on a daily basis, even though we may not notice it. Often created by nameless composers working for music production companies, these powerful sounds in broadcast media remain all but unknown to us. In a recent article about music in time-based media in American Music, Claudia Gorbman argues that we need to develop an aesthetics of television music2 – how much more should we attempt to understand musical phenomena like Liberace (http://www.liberace.com/), soccer audience anthems (http://home.wanadoo.nl/maarten.geluk/), the music for film trailers (http://www.movie-list.com/), and yes, the music of ice cream trucks (http://www.thesession.org/discussions/display/7284). Indeed, Nicholas Cook made a significant splash in the scholarly community with his groundbreaking study of commercial music in 1994.3

My own career has focused on music that has been considered trivial at one time or another, whether the virtuosic creations of Franz Liszt, the cakewalks of itinerant African-American entertainers in turn-of-the-century Vienna, or television news music of today. One benefit of dealing with such repertories is that you can’t be accused of besmirching works of genius, as I was when I suggested that Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor has the air of the carnevalesque about it. In my case, sensitivity to such music arose in part from my middle-class background, which didn’t know better than to take seriously “bad” music – i.e., the music that surrounded a typical suburban family of the 1960s (and continues to do so in the first decade of the 21st century).

By advocating serious engagement with what has historically been called “trivial” or “bad” music, I am suggesting that we reconsider what is worthy of study and research. Let the genre’s popularity, “reach,” effectiveness, and impact determine its suitability for academic work, rather than the opinions of elitists. In terms of university and college music curricula, that might mean offering courses in television music (an undergraduate seminar I offered in the fall of 2003 was the first such course in Canada) and smooth jazz, just to mention two disparaged types of music. Another course might explore music in everyday life, past and present. Of course, such curricular offerings would go beyond introducing musical repertoires familiar to us from various contexts in our lives. They would probe deeply and broadly what and how the musics in question mean, and how they help construct personal and collective identity. For example, a general course on music in everyday life might explore Muzak (“bad music”) and how it achieves its purposes, drawing upon scientific studies and empirical data as well as ethnographic research.4 For courses like these, we would need to introduce elements of sociology, psychology, and communication theory, since it is through such disciplines that we can determine the factors behind the effectiveness and importance of the music under consideration. The study of music in such courses would be as rigorous as that encountered in traditional music pedagogy, only the emphasis would shift from uncovering abstract manifestations of genius to establishing specific markers of impact and success. I hope that this direction of inquiry would enable us to arrive at a new, function-based aesthetics of music, one that might ultimately replace traditional measures of value.

I propose we take the “trivializing” one step further by working these musics into theory, music appreciation and ear-training courses, as part of the core curriculum. The individual selections would be generation-specific, so that students would be working with music they recognize from their personal “soundtracks,” even as baby boomers would know the ballad from “Gilligan’s Island” (http://home.comcast.net/~millenniumbiz3/tv/Gilligans_Island.mp3), the theme from “Mission Impossible” (http://www.televisiontunes.com/m-theme-songs.html), or the Armour hot dog commercial (http://www.digitaltimes.com/kids/lyrics_for_kids/armourhotdog.html), for example.5 The more we engage with these repertoires, the better students can appreciate how they, like the classical canon, accomplish their goals. For example, in the case of Zamfir’s “covers” of favourite songs (http://www.gheorghe-zamfir.com/), students might work with notions of transcription and timbre as affective devices.

This rethinking of musical valuation would assist the instructor in breaking out of the elitist classism that is so prevalent in the North American music classroom. Not that I am advocating replacing one canon with another in the search for the “great” television news music or for the “masterpieces” of carousel music. No, I am suggesting that we look at the peripheries of music and try to determine why that music is or has been important. Instead of dismissing Mantovani (http://www.hallowquest.com/mantiindex.htm), Minnie Pearl (http://www.cmt.com/artists/az/pearl_minnie/bio.jhtml), or Neil Diamond (http://www.neildiamondhomepage.com/) as self-evidently trite or valueless, if we explore the past and present with open ears and minds, we will find music in a number of unexpected places, which will assist our efforts to understand a given culture and musical influences upon it. Take for example the music performed at sporting events, where millions of people participate in rituals that prominently feature musical anthems, chants, choruses, etc. Such music is clearly “trivial” according to the standards of musical canons (whether those of art or popular music); but it is a powerful force in shaping identity. By studying only “high” art, whether in classical or popular realms, we and our students fail to question what (and who) constitutes musical value, mistakenly concluding that the public’s tastes are misguided and malformed (à la Theodor Adorno) by the agents of capitalism. Under a new, non-elitist regime, we may discover that the musical experience is bigger and richer than ever suspected.

Social identity lies in difference, and difference is asserted against what is closest, which represents the greatest threat…
—Pierre Bourdieu6
1 Simon Frith, “What is Bad Music?,” in Bad Music: The Music We Love, ed. by Christopher J. Washburne and Maiken Derno (New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 31.

2 Claudia Gorbman, “Rhetoric and Aesthetics,” American Music, 22 (2004), 14-26. I should note that even though this special issue of American Music is entitled “Music and Moving Image,” virtually all of the articles primarily deal with film music – television music is again relegated to the periphery, just this side of “bad” music.

3 Nicholas Cook, “Music and Meaning in the Commercials,” Popular Music, 13 (1994), 27-40.

4 Muzak has already been the subject of several scholarly studies, including monographs by Stephen Barnes, Muzak, the Hidden Messages in Music: A Social Psychology of Culture (Lewiston: Mellen, 1988) and Joseph Lanza, Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003). For fans of the sound, the corporate website provides samples: http://www.muzak.com/

5In the 1993 film Demolition Man, residents of the future southern Californian megalopolis San Angeles hear and sing product jingles as the popular music of their day. Thus we see and hear Sandra Bullock and her police associate intoning the Armour hot dog jingle from the 1970s. While this humorous vision of a dystopian future might be an indictment of the corporatization of current musical life, at the same time it offers insights into our perceptions of musical value. If these musical products of corporate branding run the risk of becoming the popular music of tomorrow in the minds of film makers, what does that tell us about the role of “corporate” music like jingles and theme songs in today’s society?

6 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), p. 479.