On Principles of Teaching

September 1, 1992

As you see, your President has changed names, jobs, and addresses but my commitment to The College Music Society and the work we are doing remains the same. In fact, in my new role as Dean of a fine school of music, I am more convinced than ever of the centrality of our dual missions in CMS of improving dialogue among the various disciplines and of addressing teaching with the respect and attention it deserves.

The two institutes sponsored by CMS this summer provide good instances of these missions in action. The week-long Institute for Music Theory Pedagogy Studies, held in Missoula 14-19 June, and led by Michael Rogers with faculty members Gary Karpinski and John Buccheri, addressed the fundamentals of sight-singing, ear-training, and musicality. Presentations and discussions ranged from dealing with the smallest details of music reading and dictation to larger issues of intelligent listening and the nuances of performance. There was an effort throughout to balance the philosophical and the practical issues of music—the same sort of balance that CMS tries to achieve in its meetings and publications.

The six-week CMS-sponsored institute "Rethinking American Music: New Research and Issues of Cultural Diversity," supported by a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and directed by myself and T. Frank Kennedy at Boston College, was a new sort of venture for CMS. The challenge of six weeks spent exploring controversial issues in American music with twenty-five teachers of diverse backgrounds and institutions (including two brave souls from English and humanities departments rather than from music) provided an intense experience for all of us—the directors, the distinguished visiting faculty, and participants alike.

I thought as part of my message this month I would share some of the principles we elaborated in our six areas of study: Native American/Colonial interactions, early Psalmody, Black and White interaction in nineteenth-century folk and popular musics, new research on nineteenth-century Boston, the Caribbean and Latin-American influence in music of New Orleans, and New Perspectives on 20th Century Music (feminism, multiculturalism). The broad principles outlined in the Institute were mainly about teaching, and in many cases apply equally to subjects other than American music. They are also representative of some of the values that CMS has espoused. They include:

(a) the "ethnomusicological" principle—this does not mean "exotic musics" but a method of investigation, which entails looking at the here and now, using present-day context to illuminate the past and accenting the context and function of music, as opposed to product alone.

(b) the principles of "handson" learning—our workshops and field trips were intended to illustrate this. Lectures provided information rather directly, but not experientially; workshops and field trips gave us all ideas for how students can piece things together themselves and experience them.

(c) the "use your own backyard" principle—our backyard was Boston, a particularly rich one, but everyone has a locale with archives to mine, local musical personalities to investigate, an active musical life to explore with students.

(d) the "music matters" principle—music illuminates the culture that creates it; it can bring up the most fundamental intellectual and human questions. Our liveliest discussions were around basic human values as illuminated by music.

(e) the "student as teacher" principle—this was of course true of everyone in the Institute literally—but it is also true of our students in American music—they all have experience in American music, and it is always interesting to find out the nature of that experience; in doing so we enlarge our own.

(f) music is about community—something we experienced at many levels, including dancing a Seneca "fish dance" together, singing at a Sacred Harp gathering, and putting together our own concert.

(g) education is about helping students actively and experientially build bridges between where they are and where we show them they can go—a principle amply illustrated both within the Institute itself, as participants changed and grew, and from our own stories about ways we have found to accomplish this goal in the classroom.

Institutes being planned for the summer of 1992 include one on Studying and Teaching "Women and Music" and one on Music and Cognition. Further details will be found in this Newsletter. In conjunction with the national meeting in San Diego there will be a very special symposium on electroacoustic music in commemoration of the 1952 Museum of Modem Art electronic music concert.

You will soon be deluged with a flurry of publications as CMS catches up with College Music Symposium and Proceedings from the last two years.

As I conclude my second and final year of the CMS presidency, I feel that we are offering a great deal to our members—food for thought, fuel for better teaching, the possibility of dialogue with people who can understand. I hope you will take as many occasions as possible to partake of these offerings—come to regional and national meetings, read and contribute to the publications, and, above all, communicate with your colleagues in music about the ideas that you have.


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