Elderhostel: Music Education in a New Setting
Written by Margaret W. McCarthy
Symposium Volume 19

As new educational patterns evolve, we teachers of music often find ourselves addressing a different kind of student than we anticipated when we first entered the teaching profession.

While those of us in the undergraduate college teaching profession traditionally have found ourselves meeting students in the 17 to 21 year old age bracket, in recent years, with the expansion on college campuses of adult education programs and the national trend towards ongoing education we have found our classes populated in increasing numbers by students from the middle and later years.

Within the past few years, older Americans have been swelling student ranks on college and university campuses. Through the introduction at institutions of higher learning of such programs as Elderhostel, many of our retired citizens have had an opportunity to come to college for one or several weeks in the summer and to be exposed to modern mini-courses designed either to stimulate new interests or to expand familiar areas of learning.

As a veteran music instructor in Elderhostel fresh from my third summer in the program, I am compelled to share my experiences as a teacher of older persons with my colleagues in the teaching profession.

Involvement with Elderhostel in the summers of 1976 and 1977 had convinced me that the students who registered in such programs were, for the most part, musically sophisticated. Therefore I decided in the summer of 1978 to present, during the five-day time frame allotted to the program, a course entitled "Perspectives on Music." Such a course would, I hoped, build upon the rich and varied experiences that the students would have had during a lifetime of involvement with music and at the same time would whet the participants' appetites to go beyond the information given after the classes had terminated. Accordingly, the course was designed to focus on selected topics relating to the musical life of America. Each day there was to be an exploration of one particular topic through lecture, discussion, and listening.

On Day 1 the situation of the listener in the world of music was examined. The stages involved in becoming an active rather than a passive listener were discussed, and many of Roger Sessions' thoughts on the subject as put forth in his book The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, and Listener (Princeton University Press, 1950) provided points of departure for further discussion. The allegretto movement of the Beethoven Seventh Symphony served as a listening experience in conjunction with this lesson, since this excerpt provided clear-cut examples of the applications of the principles of contrast and repetition at the structural level.

On Day 2 the position of the performer was investigated, again within the framework of thoughts presented by Sessions in his aforementioned book. Mr. Sessions' view of the performer as one who must discover the musical gesture inherent in a composer's score and then must project the composer's intention according to his or her (the performer's) own convictions stimulated much fruitful dialogue on the part of the class. Recordings of specific works performed by different artists were presented as demonstrations of the individuality that each performer brings to his or her work. The performance by John Browning of the Chopin Etude in C, Opus 10, No. 1 was compared to Andre Watts' recorded rendition of the same, and a performance by Glenn Gould of the Bach Fugue in C minor from the Well Tempered Clavier Book I was contrasted to Sviatoslav Richter's playing of the same piece. The comments that ensued revealed much about the students' understanding of the performance dimension of music and led them to reflect further, it appeared, on the unique position of the performer in the musical enterprise.

On Day 3 the position of the composer was the topic for class exploration. The way in which a musical train of thought may unfold was discussed in conjunction with the first movement of Haydn's Symphony No. 104 in D major. The concept of the growth of a musical thought from its incipient form as a motif to an extended musical line was introduced to the class and the realization of this concept in the Haydn work was subsequently demonstrated. The creative process of John Cage was contrasted to that of Haydn, and the dilemma of today's composer as he or she competes for audiences with masterpieces of the past was mentioned.

On Day 4 the position of the critic in the world of music was the class topic. The critic's role as judge, educator, and reporter was examined, as was the part that critics have played in shaping the nation's musical life: its concert institutions, its manner of programming, its educational systems, and its notions about the essence and function of music. As a basis of discussion, G. Wallace Woodworth's ideas on music criticism as presented in his book The World of Music (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1964) were drawn upon.

On Day 5, the contributions of women and blacks were touched upon. The accomplishments of such women composers as Elizabeth de La Guerre, Marie Szymanowska, and Lili Boulanger were surveyed, and the inestimable contributions of black Americans to the musical life of this country were examined. In conjunction with the discussion of the music of black Americans, Langston Hughes' poems "Ma Rainey" and "You've Taken My Blues and Gone" provided the basis for class discussion.

It will be seen from the above description that the course was concentrated and topical. While each class only seemed to touch the tip of a musical iceberg, it also seemed to renew the retired but not retiring students in their dedication to the art of music. One sensed that as a result of the topics that emerged in the course of a week, participants would go forth from the program with an enlarged view of the world of music and with a curiosity to continue to grow in their understanding and appreciation of the richness that music has been and will continue to be in their lives.

1943 Last modified on November 9, 2018