Non-Western Music in the Undergraduate Program at the University of Illinois

October 1, 1971

The School of Music of the University of Illinois includes several courses for undergraduate music majors and non-music majors in its curriculum. The two-semester sequence for non-majors is a music appreciation course; in addition, another course, also for non-majors, concentrates on symphonic music. The music majors take a music literature course in their first year, a two-semester general music history course in their sophomore year, before enrolling in more advanced courses at the junior, senior, and graduate levels. Into all of these are introduced aspects of non-Western and/or folk and popular musical traditions. Varying degrees of emphasis on non-art music traditions depend on the specific instructional purposes that such traditions may serve in a given course, and on the instructor's competence in dealing with them. Individual instructors often rely on the available competencies found on or off campus in the treatment of a given subject relevant to their course.

The purpose of introducing these musical traditions into general music courses is not so much to cover in detail specific cultures of the world, but rather to expose students to a larger spectrum of musical experience in which listening is stressed. For example, in dealing with symphonic music on the music appreciation level, ensemble music from other cultural areas (such as the Javanese gamelan, mariachi ensemble from Mexico, or marimba orchestras from Guatemala, etc.) is introduced in order to illustrate the various organizational processes of these musics and the prevailingly dominant components of these ensembles, such as timbre and melodic structure.

In the more general music appreciation sequence, under the general study of song types, items such as twelve-bar blues, work songs, North American Indian songs, rock songs, and Japanese Buddhist ritual chant are used as illustrations of fixed forms, various types of strophic forms, etc. In some cases an item of non-Western music is selected because it exemplifies some specific formal principle. In other cases the focus is on the relationship between text and melody, or on a particular vocal quality, for example, the declamatory style of the "morning prayers" of a Japanese Buddhist ritual. It has been found that the response of students tends to be enhanced by the very nature of musics unfamiliar to their ears. Under the general study of choral music examples are drawn from various Western and non-Western repertories, such as Yugoslavian folk music and central African music (pygmies of the Ituri forest as an example of choral counterpoint).

The second semester of the sequence concentrates on the study of a limited number of major works from the 18th to the 20th centuries; in it, about two weeks (six one-hour lectures) are devoted to one type of music other than European art music, such as Indian classical music, to show different forms of musical organization and to explain one technique of improvisation.

A course on Afro-American music has been introduced recently. The course is designed for undergraduate majors and non-majors and covers the whole range of Afro-American cultures of the hemisphere, with emphasis on the United States. Some of the material taken from this course is also introduced into the general music literature course, especially in dealing with more traditional forms of North Afro-American music.

Although ethnomusicology cannot be elected as an undergraduate major, many students beginning in the sophomore year take advantage of the rather large commitment to the subject at the University of Illinois. One course entitled "Introduction to Music of the World's Cultures," attempts to introduce undergraduates to non-Western and folk music. The enrollment each semester has been around fifty, and consists almost exclusively of non-music majors. The course does not attempt to cover all cultures equally, but stresses those in which faculty competence is available. An understanding of musical style is emphasized, but substantial attention is also given to the role of music in culture. Whenever possible, visiting non-Western musicians are brought to the classroom for demonstrations.

The basic educational aim of the introduction of non-Western and folk music into the general music curriculum and into the general college education is, in addition to the widening of the student's musical experience, the avoidance of the fallacy that music can be studied outside any cultural context, and that most musical cultures can be approached from the traditional viewpoint of Western art music. "Masterworks" courses are thus avoided, for it is felt that they limit the student's horizon and work against the objectives of a good educational experience.

2196 Last modified on November 13, 2018