The Quality of Life and the Education of the Musical Amateur

October 1, 1976

The Quality of Life and the Education of the Musical Amateur

Unprecedented numbers of young people are studying music as a major subject or performance medium in U.S. colleges, universities and conservatories. Although the college enrollment is declining, the number of music students is growing. Between the fall of 1968 and the fall of 1972 the number of music students enrolled in the 178 schools reporting to the National Association of Schools of Music rose by 26% from 23,972 to 30,354. This represents only a fraction of the institutions in the U.S. that offer a major in music. In a recent year in the state of California alone there were 7,500 music students in 42 colleges. If all these students in California completed their musical training in four years and each had a professional musical life of 40 years in that state, by the year 2012 it would have one musician or music teacher for every 160 people.2

One can only speculate why there has been such growth. During the sixties young people became disillusioned with science and technology and in the seventies with the social sciences; many have turned to the arts. The enormous growth of elementary and secondary school music in the fifties and sixties bred a generation of highly skilled young performers, many of whom have discovered that they have strong affinity for music. Limited in their outlook, often because the schools have failed to stimulate them in other areas, they arrive in college convinced they have special talents and excited by the prospect of studying more music. Rarely have they given realistic thought to their vocational prospects, though often their parents have.

Because of the free choice granted to American college students to choose a major subject, qualitative tests are rarely put in their way. Indeed music faculties welcome them, because the larger the enrollment in their subject the better standing they earn in the total university picturefatter budgets, greater variety of courses and activities, more specialized faculty, distinguished professors, graduate programs, new facilities. Some incompetent musicians are weeded out, to be sure, through either their own frustrations or failure to meet the standards of individual teachers. But the process is hardly affected by the supply of and demand for musically trained professionals. A college major, after all, is not necessarily a professional program. Yet it often reduces options as drastically as if it were.

Soon, however, the boom is likely to bust. The failure of graduates to find outlets in the music professions will create an inverse pressure on those entering music programs. The difficulty of admission to the best graduate schools has already given pause to some students who were confidently looking forward to careers in university and college music teaching.3

I am speaking of a situation that exists in the United States. There are signs that in smaller proportions it is observable elsewhere too, certainly in Canada and Germany. Our response in America to these developments may well have repercussions elsewhere.

Let me assure you that although I have been speaking of the statistics of the growth of professional music study as somewhat alarming, I believe it is an entirely healthy indication; and I am not about to propose that our system of music education, which has produced this happy result, be dismantled. The spectacle of so many young people so captivated by music that they are ready to forego more profitable vocational paths to continue their musical studies, rather gives us the signal to revise our thinking about the nature and purposes of advanced music study.

We should encourage young musicians to think realistically about their future in the profession. Only the exceptionally gifted and accomplished should be encouraged to study with a view toward a musical vocation. The others should be given every opportunity to intensify their music studies, both in performance and other areas, and to reach a height of attainment commensurate with their potential, even if this seems to border on the professional and threatens in a sense the monopoly of the professional in public music-making. In other words, the fully and intensively trained amateur should be the primary goal of many of the programs now training professional musicians and a secondary goal of many other such programs.

High-level music-making is too much fun to be left to professionals. In a world where the personally crafted product has almost disappeared, the proposition that professionals should have a monopoly over artistic activity threatens the quality of life of everyone else.

The training of the gifted amateur should become a high priority of our conservatories, colleges and universities. This may seem like a radical idea, particularly for countries where the conservatory is a professional training ground. Yet those of us who have taught in conservatories know that for every professional we have trained, we have launched in effect numerous amateurs, men and women who drifted into other occupations because of economic pressure. These are often disgruntled musicians, who, having had to abandon their high hopes of stardom, let their proficiency slide into neglect. How much better it would be if they had been trained without the expectation of gainful employment in music but with the anticipation of a fulfilling life of amateur music-making. Then their achievements would have been rewarded by the joy of participation and the friendly appreciation of their communities.

There will always be a place for well-trained professional musicians. First of all, they should serve as models of what superior music-making and creation ought to be. The large city orchestras, television, radio, the recording and entertainment industries, the educational institutions—these and other enterprises will always require a large cadre of professionals. But in most countries it has been recognized that if musicians are to be paid adequate wages, population units smaller than a certain size cannot support symphony orchestras, ballet and opera companies, chamber orchestras, radio studio orchestras, jazz ensembles, musical comedy troupes, and similar organizations. In the United States, a city or city-complex of less than a million people has extreme difficulty in supporting a full-time professional symphony orchestra. A center with a population of five million can barely support a single resident opera company. These limitations are not only economic; they are partly the result of the saturation of these populations with electronically delivered entertainment. The number of people will always be limited who are eager enough to see and hear live performances to purchase an expensive ticket, travel for more than an hour to and from the auditorium, often make elaborate arrangements to have their children or elderly parents cared for, and plan all this in advance. Another condition that tends to concentrate professional performances in large centers is that our electronic communications lead audiences to expect perfection in performance and production, and this cannot be achieved without expending large sums. It also tends to intensify the application of the star-system, because large audiences will make the sacrifices to attend an event only if familiar personalities are connected with it. For public music-making still implies an interpersonal relationship, and if the participants are anonymous, one of the main attractions that brings audience and performer together is missing.

These same conditions encourage public amateur music-making within a community. We do not expect our neighbor to play like Isaac Stern or sing like Beverly Sills. Yet we take great pleasure in hearing someone we know play or sing well, even if he or she is not a virtuoso. The social and personal relationship between listener and performer needs not be that of fan to star. It can grow out of sharing experiences in a community. Although a certain level of professional activity can be supported even in relatively small communities, particularly if the musician's main source of income is derived from an educational institution, there is no reason why a musical amateur cannot also claim the attention of a community audience, even one that pays to hear him.

The Yale University campus has willy-nilly been the scene of a musico-sociological experiment in recent years. Through no particular design, it has become an arena in which amateurism challenges professionalism; For we have both a graduate professional school of music and an undergraduate department of music dedicated to a liberal musical education. There is a very full concert calendar, and often simultaneous events compete for an audience. In recent years amateur performances have often outdrawn the professional. For example, while barely two hundred will turn out for a faculty recital and perhaps sixty for a master's degree recital, two or three hundred will pack a dining hall to hear an undergraduate chamber-music ensemble. What explains this behavior of student audiences? Partly it is a flight from the formality of the concert hall. But an important factor is community identification. Students will go to hear other students they know but not as eagerly to hear professional students they do not know, even though their performances are more polished and carefully prepared. After all, if you want to hear a slick performance by somebody you don't personally know, it is easier to turn on a record in your room.

The most dramatic example has been the local success of the undergraduate Yale Symphony Orchestra, 80% of which consists of non-music majors. It plays six concerts a year to packed houses of 3,000, while the orchestra of the professional school, known as the Yale Philharmonia Orchestra, is fortunate to get an audience of a thousand. Again, the difference rests in part on the degree of identification with the musicians. But there are other factors; the undergraduate orchestra, not being a training ground for professionals, has no responsibility toward acquainting its players with a standard repertory, and indulges in bold programming of rarely heard music. It also plays with the élan of amateurs putting everything they have into a performance. Whereas the professional students complain. if the director calls an unscheduled extra rehearsal, the undergraduate orchestra several years ago demanded that the weekly rehearsal schedule be doubled. For many of these musicians symphony rehearsals are the high points of the weeks. This enthusiasm is communicated to the audience. Some of the best players in the orchestra are premedical students, mathematicians, physicists, and others for whom this is a precious artistic outlet.4

I should like to hope that these able musicians, wherever they settle, will find a medium for this kind of performance. If we take seriously the objective of teaching amateurs rigorously, they may. There can be no doubt that it will enrich their lives and those of their neighbors.

While I am speaking of my own university, may I add one more note concerning our music program that may point a way for others? The Yale School of Music offers the degrees of Master of Music, Master of Musical Arts, and Doctor of Musical Arts in performance and composition; and these are intended for highly motivated students, carefully selected, and destined for professional work. The Graduate School, through the Department of Music, offers the degree of Ph.D. in history of music and theory of music; and the candidates for these degrees too are carefully screened. Only one of ten who apply is accepted into the program. Finally Yale College offers the degree of Bachelor of Arts with a major in music, through the Department of Music. For undergraduates in this program, music occupies about one third of their studies. No assumption of a music career is made in the choice of this major. It could lead to professional study or graduate study in musicology. Some fine composers, performers, and conductors have emerged from the program. But many have gone to medical school, law school, business, and graduate school in other subjects after the bachelor's degree. Like the majors in English, history, psychology, government, or sociology which have prepared generations of educated people for a variety of careers, the music major offers a concentration within a liberal education that leaves many options open, among them professional music; but even if that path is not chosen, it will lead often to the pursuit of music for a lifetime of participation and enjoyment. Many American liberal arts colleges offer a similar program within the Bachelor of Arts degree.

The impersonality of the phonograph and radio has created a need for personal identification with live makers of music. One aspect of this phenomenon is the popularity of certain rock groups and the desire of adolescents to see them in action, live. Another side is the preference among young people for informal concerts in ordinary settings, rather than concert halls, where they mingle freely with the musicians and establish with them direct communication, both musical and non-musical.

Perhaps we are witnessing the decline of the formal public concert. It is, after all, an ephemeral and dated solution to the delivery of music to listener, a relatively recent arrival on the panorama of history. From a small beginning in England and France in the eighteenth century, the public concert to which a paying audience came by subscription or other payment, developed essentially in the nineteenth-century. Some of the early concerts in England, such as the Bach-Abel or the Salomon enterprises, or the Concerts spirituels in Paris, were showcases for foreign artists and music. The public concert has always capitalized on the traveling virtuoso, for whom composers created a specialized repertory. Few composers in recent times have catered to this breed of players, with the result that today's traveling virtuoso and his audience are living in the past. We may be witnessing a return to less grand, more human dimensions in the style of performers and in their rapport with the public.

The vast majority of the music of the past was not written for the public concert but for participatory recreation, in which for the most part skilled amateurs took turns in performing. The vogues of the chanson, the madrigal, the viol consort, and later the trio sonata, the accompanied violin sonata, the string quartet, the Lied, the piano trio all rode the waves of amateur taste. The great popularity of the lute, recorder, guitar, harpsichord, piano, all testify to the rich vein of repertory for amateur music-making that remains to be tapped. Much of it is neglected because it is addressed much more to players than to listeners. Also it takes a degree of technical proficiency, rapidity of sight-reading, and stylistic adaptability that amateurs rarely succeed these days in cultivating.


I have been speaking mainly of the role of the amateur in the community. Let me now turn to the part music plays in the life of the amateur.

Much of the work of the world has been reduced to joyless repetition of routine tasks; even the musician and music teacher have not been exempt. Recently in the automobile manufacturing plants around Detroit workers rebelled against the assembly-line system, and the manufacturers responded by giving the individual worker a larger share in the construction of a finished product. There is a limit, however, to how far this can go and still maintain efficiency. As computers take over the guidance of machines, human intervention will be increasingly limited to monitoring procedures. The satisfaction in producing some well made artifact or in performing well a complex task will be known to ever fewer people as automation, both of manufacturing and administrative processes, intensifies.

The length of the work-week—of everyone but university professors—has been steadily declining. Increased leisure and longer vacations and retirements in the developed countries are reflected in the enormous growth in tourist travel, boating, sports, camping, gardening, home remodeling, and do-it-yourself projects of every kind. Participation in the arts has increased, too, but not at the same rate because it takes long periods of training that mature people are rarely willing to undertake.

Our systems of public music education should consider it equally worthwhile to develop the capacities of talented potential amateurs as of professionals.

Assuming that we should take seriously the training of the amateur, should that training be different from that of the professional? It need not be fundamentally different from what ought to be a good professional education, but certainly different from what today passes for a professional education. One of the titles announced on the program of the ISME conference speaks of "learning to learn how to learn." This, it seems to me, is where the emphasis should be: on developing the student's resources for learning. So much of our music education seems to be geared to making students dependent on teachers.

The master-disciple method still dominates conservatory practices. The master, who is assumed to have the key to technical development and to be a storehouse of proper interpretations handed down from his master, seeks to mold the pupil in his own image; and this may take four to six years. Meanwhile the pupil practices the same old etudes and tests his technique and endurance against the overworked warhorses. But the passed-down traditions usually turn out to be cumulative accretions of misunderstanding of composer's intentions, and the master's special secrets once exposed are seen to be limited and must be exchanged for a higher master's at the next opportunity.

The technique of an instrument or voice does have to be mastered but the key to this technique ought to be handed over more quickly, because the amateur will have a lifetime to develop technique; he is not in a hurry to conquer the world's platforms.

The student's interpretive powers, however, need to be developed as fully as possible. Some of this can be learned by example, demonstration, and dialogue in the studio. But mainly interpretive resources are acquired by deep analysis, serious historical studies, and much study of and listening to music of all kinds, written for every instrument and ensemble, not merely the repertory of the student's chosen medium. At the earliest moment the student must be thrown on his own resources for interpretation and not be saddled with the mistaken traditions of the past. Also, because the amateur will not be limited to the concert repertory of the past two hundred years, he needs to explore the music of the more distant past from the middle ages through the early classic periods. He ought to become familiar with earlier forms of modern instruments and period-instruments such as the lute and harpsichord. This will require a very different curriculum from one current in today's conservatories.

The amateur needs to become a rapid and fluent reader of music. Learning and reading through vast quantities of music, most of which is not brought up to recital-level, will serve him much better than long hours of rehearsing the virtuoso vehicles. Again we have to keep in mind that the amateur will have a lifetime to perfect the pieces he wants to know well.

Finally, let us keep in mind that the amateur will be a critical and hopefully understanding listener and supporter of professional music-making. Perceptive listening, as only someone deeply trained in music can do, will be the prime source of pleasure for the amateur. I recently spoke to a successful businessman who has a degree in piano from the Yale School of Music. He rarely plays these days, but he does not regret having completed his studies for that degree, because when he listens to some fine piece of music beautifully played he hears "all the fantastic things in it and feels he knows what it's all about." And this over the years has given him endless satisfaction. So let us train the amateur to be a good listener and connoisseur. This takes more than being able to trace a few themes in a sonata form. It takes both multidimensional analytical studies and an understanding of the historical and social context of music.

The large attendance at this conference, in a great, but for many of us, remote continent, testifies to the diffusion of music education throughout the world. In many countries it has not approached its ultimate expansion. That is certainly true in the United States, where many elementary school children never see a music teacher. As music reaches a wider number, it is inevitable that it will touch more of the people who are genuinely gifted. They must not be discouraged from pursuing music seriously simply because the vocational opportunities remain relatively stable while musical talents are discovered at an unprecedented rate. Rather, everyone who has the capacity and the ambition should be urged to develop his potential to the highest degree that he can afford to do without neglecting other responsibilities. But his encouragement must be accompanied by competent career guidance that will steer into the music profession those most suited to it and direct a much larger number into intensive preparation for a long and lively participation in music for pure enjoyment and fulfillment, that most human of conditions in which homo sapiens becomes homo ludens.

1This address was delivered at the first plenary session of the XIth International Conference of the International Society for Music Education in Perth, Western Australia on August 5, 1974. The ISME conference was attended by approximately 2,200 participants, and around 2,000 performers played and sang. Many were from areas rarely represented in international meetings, for example from the Philippines, South Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Ghana, and countries of Eastern Europe.

2According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Handbook, 1972-73 Edition (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office), there were about 210,000 musicians and music teachers employed in 1970, and almost every town and city had at least one private music teacher. In addition, thousands of qualified instrumentalists have other full-time jobs and only occasionally work as musicians (pp. 187-88). The College Music Society Directory of Music Faculties in Colleges and Universities, U.S. and Canada, 1970-72, listed 14,500 music faculty members in the U.S. and Canada.

3Francis D. Fisher, Director of the Office of Career Services, Harvard University, recently pointed out that ten million college graduates will enter the labor market during the 1970's, as many college graduates as were working in 1970. Only one of eight workers in 1970 was a college graduate, but one out of four entering the labor force after that date would have a degree. "That inevitably means that large numbers of people with college educations are going to be working at jobs that never required a college education before, and don't really need a college education," he has stated. "How are we going to challenge them and keep them interested?" he asks. "It's a problem that results from success, our success in giving higher education to so many people, but it's still a problem. It's a problem no other nation has ever faced." (Alan L. Otten, Fellow, Institute of Politics, Harvard University, writing in The Wall St. Journal, reprinted in Harvard Today, summer, 1974.)

4Brief excerpts from the following public performance by the Yale Symphony Orchestra under the direction of John Mauceri were played: Stravinsky, Sacre du printemps (1970); Mahler, Symphony No. 2 (1971); Scriabin, Prometheus (1971); and Ives, Three Places in New England, St. Gaudens Common (1974).

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