Music Curriculum Trends in Higher Education, by Thomas Clark Collins

December 31, 1961

Music Curriculum Trends in Higher Education, by Thomas Clark Collins. Atlanta: Southern Regional Education Board (130 Sixth St., N.W., Atlanta, Ga.), 1960. [vi, 131 p., 8vo; apply]

Mr. Collins' brief but timely look into the current picture of music instruction in higher education presents some interesting questions, restates certain age-old problems, offers a few rather questionable solutions, and illustrates vividly the healthy, vigorous, but rather chaotic situation in which music educators find themselves at the beginning of the sixth decade of this century. As long as the author concerns himself with the factual information and statistical data gathered from thirty-three American colleges and universities by means of interviews and questionnaires, his remarks are pertinent and interesting, although the writing itself is somewhat burdened by the heavy hand of the educator's style manual. Much of the data presented deals with such matters as the number of music degrees granted in America during the last twenty years, the growth and decline in the number of music majors in specific institutions, the administration and organization of music departments and schools, teacher-pupil ratios, and the degrees and training of the administrators and faculty members.

Mr. Collins finds the most pressing problems facing music administrators today to be three in number: "Whether [their institution should] exist as a service department to the entire college, as a teacher-training department, or as a professional conservatory to train performing musicians." Quite naturally these embody a seemingly endless stream of peripheral concerns: the appropriate academic degrees for college music students; the professional versus the broad liberal education; the seeming noncompatibility of the general education curriculum with the necessary early specialization of the music major; the type of faculty entrusted with the responsibility of training the music student; the type of service courses for the non-music major; job opportunities for the college-trained musician; and the matter of bringing uniformity into the highly divergent curricula and philosophies of music education as practiced by the hundreds of institutions throughout the United States offering degrees in music.

All of these problems have been studied again and again by the National Association of Schools of Music since its organization in 1924. However, certain solutions offered by that organization appear to Mr. Collins to be out-of-date or inadequate. For instance, is the regular Bachelor of Music degree, with its recommended minimum of eighteen hours and maximum of thirty-six hours in general education courses, a legitimate academic degree? Mr. Collins answers in the negative and recommends for the performing musician (and, one assumes, the theorist-composer), a return to the artist diploma to be granted by one of the few remaining autonomous conservatories of music, or by a conservatory division within a college music department or school.

Mr. Collins paints a bleak employment picture for the musician who trains himself solely as a performing artist. The picture is so bleak, in fact, that he all but writes off the performing career as completely hopeless. Unfortunately, he does not mention certain efforts currently being made to remedy this situation: community art councils, art fund drives, state and (eventually) federal subsidies of the arts, foundation grants and an increasing number of positions for artists in residence. He mentions only briefly the growing demands by churches for the well-trained organist conductor and makes no reference whatsoever to private teaching as a moderately lucrative profession of long standing, increasing in promise because of rising standards and more stringent certification requirements.

There is in this study an implication that a degree with a maximum of thirty-six semester hours of general education cannot possibly justify recognition as an academic degree. In support of this implication he supplies a quotation which declares how much better the world would be if performing musicians were as effective in citizenship as they are in musicianship. Mr. Collins, by quoting such nonsense, puts himself in league with many of today's educators who seem to think that the well-educated man is the result of the number and variety of courses he has taken in his college career. Forgotten is the fact that discipline gained from memorizing a single Bach fugue is worth that of a hundred so-called humanities courses which romp through Plato in three easy lessons, bestow a passing nod upon Aristotle, examine George Grosz's drawings in the Modern Library edition of the Divine Comedy and end three weeks and seven centuries later with the last sixty pages of Joyce's Ulysses.

Mr. Collins makes no pretense concerning his preference for the Bachelor of Music Education degree with its recommended forty-hour minimum in general education courses since, in his words, "it is a broader, much more general course than the ordinary Bachelor of Music degree" and is more practical from the standpoint of job opportunities. In arguing the first of these reasons as justification for the degree, he is on dangerous ground considering the slight differential between the maximum number of general education courses of one and the minimum of the other. The second fact is indeed a valid reason for recommending the B.M.E. degree to many music students. One wonders, however, what Mr. Collins means when he states that "the curriculum and the teaching facilities must be adjusted to assist in this swing toward the Bachelor of Music Education degree. . . ." Since this statement follows a paragraph dealing with the inadequacy of the conservatory-trained musician in matters of counselling students, the implications are strong that the adjustments are to be made at the expense of the basic disciplines gained by stressing the development of performing and theoretical skills.

Mr. Collins notes briefly the fact that the time-honored B.A. degree in music is regaining some of its lost popularity, an encouraging sign, if there is a strict adherence to the basic philosophy of the degree. However, the fact must be faced that many schools unfortunately abuse the liberal arts degree by permitting students in their last year to take courses to satisfy minimum state certification requirements and thus enter public school positions inadequately trained both as musicians and teachers.

As is obvious from the above, Mr. Collins manages to cover a great amount of ground in his 131 pages. In the opinion of this reviewer his solutions are too pat and his omissions far too frequent; but if this book can provoke and irritate its readers sufficiently, perhaps it may be one more step toward diminishing the self satisfaction and apathy that is too often apparent in higher education in America.

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