Music and Higher Education in the 1970's: A Needed Change in Attitude

October 1, 1971

This paper was part of a panel presentation for The College Music Society at the University of Toronto on November 7, 1970 entitled
Music and Higher Education in the 1970's. Chairman of the panel was William J. Mitchell. The other panelists were Mantle Hood, James Haar, Claude V. Palisca, Robert J. Werner, and Neal Zaslaw. Abstracts of the papers they presentedas well as Mitchell's introductory remarkswere also included in Symposium Volume 11.

Though the majority of my publications have dealt with music of the Renaissance, I have been involved for a longer time, and more intimately, with the music of our own country. It is my opinion that the last five years have witnessed a period of intense and significant activity in American music almost without parallel in our history, a period of vitality and accomplishment in composition; performance, involvement of large and varied groups of people with this music, and above all of interaction between music—and musicians—and the exciting and troubling events that have made this period such a critical one in American history. I am not speaking only of "art" music, of course, but the entire range of musical activity, from John Cage to Jimi Hendrix, Terry Riley to Simon and Garfunkel, Cecil Taylor to Roger Reynolds, Gordon Mumma to The Band to Merle Haggard to "Hair".

And I confess that I find it disturbing that none of this activity has been reflected in the publications and other official activities of the American Musicological Society, and very little of it in the teaching and other involvements of individual members of the Society. This suggests that our discipline has been existing in a state of isolation from newly-created music, and I fear that our lack of concern for and involvement with this music is creating a situation whereby many younger people today, who understand only too well the artistic, historical, and sociological value of this music, are forced into the position of questioning the nature of our involvement with music in a general sense, and in some extreme cases taking the attitude that there are two categories of music, "their" music and "our" music. It has been my experience for the past two or three years that a disturbingly large number of students, unfortunately for us often the most intelligent and talented ones, are "turned off" by our courses and programs and degrees and are choosing to do their academic work outside of music, though still continuing their musical interests and activities in ways that do not intersect with musicology and our version of music history.

The past five years have also seen some remarkable changes in educational policies in our colleges and universities, many of them having roots in the same conditions that have contributed to the rich musical activity of this period. Many traditional and previously unchallenged assumptions of the role and functions of a university, faculty-student relationships and responsibilities, curricula, and teaching methods have been questioned, reassessed, and sometimes dramatically altered. Most change has come not from enlightened and liberal faculty guidance but from pressures of student activism. Here also I am not altogether proud of our record, of the fact that our conventions and publications have been completely free of any trace of student activism or junior faculty radicalism, our discussions of guidelines and directions oriented even more to the past and across the ocean, our curricula determinedly rigid even at those schools where innovative approaches to education are abundant in other disciplines.

My fear is that all this will make the study of musicology less and less attractive to many of the best students, that the vitality of our discipline will wane, our prestige in the academic community will diminish, and there will be a reversal of the steady increase in activity and accomplishment that has marked the last several decades of our history in America.

It should be unnecessary for me to say that I am not suggesting that musicology should abandon the directions and methods that have served it so well in the past, nor that scholars whose training and contributions have been in such areas as medieval or Baroque music should suddenly begin writing articles on rock and musical comedy. But quite aside from what I have said to this point, many musicologists have realized for some years that the discipline could not continue to expand indefinitely and mindlessly, that a levelling off in number of schools offering graduate degrees, in numbers of degrees granted, in the number of new scholars turned loose on material that in some cases is reaching the point of being overworked, is inevitable.

These various factors taken together suggest that the most sensible and profitable course for musicology in the coming decade would seem to be one that would hold fast to the methods and accomplishments that have made our discipline one of the fastest-growing and most respected in recent decades, but at the same time to enrich and re-vitalize the field by constant broadening of the types of music, stylistic and chronological, that our scholars and teachers and students are concerned with; to embrace whatever new methodology and aesthetic is necessary to deal most sensibly with this larger and more varied body of material; and to welcome into the various activities of our discipline established and potential scholars and students whose interests lie with types of music not previously considered proper material for serious investigation.

3502 Last modified on April 17, 2018