Music in the Elementary and Secondary School: Report of the Committee

October 1, 1963



The Committee on Music in the Elementary and Secondary Schools is as old as the Society itself. It came into existence at the very first meeting as the result of inquiries from the Music Committee of the Secondary Education Board. The Committee has prepared reports for each annual meeting of the Society, touching on various aspects of the large and interrelated problems of college music and music in the elementary and secondary schools. The burden of Professor Kvam's report in 1961 was the need for closer cooperation between CMS and the other organizations concerned with music in the schools. We have been fortunate in the presence on our Committee this year of Allen Britton, president of MENC during part of the year, and Edward Gilday, head of the Music Department of Lowell State Teachers College in Massachusetts. The other members of the Committee have been Arnold Kvam of Douglass College, Allen Sapp of the University of Buffalo, and G.W. Woodworth of Harvard. Messrs. Britton and Woodworth are also members of the AMS Committee on Music in Elementary and Secondary Education, and have held a number of meetings during the course of the year with the AMS Committee and also with officers of the American Council of Learned Societies, who are concerned in the same field. G.W. Woodworth attended the MENC Convention in Chicago in March, 1962, of which Allen Britton was president. G.W. Woodworth and Arthur Mendel (Princeton), chairman of the AMS Committee, attended the two-day conference of the Bennington Institute for High School Teachers on August 1 and 2, 1962.

The CMS Committee met during the morning and afternoon of December 28 at Columbus and were joined by members of the AMS Committee between 11 and 1. Claude Palisca (Yale), chairman of the AMS Committee during Arthur Mendel's absence in Europe, discussed the report which he gave that afternoon to the AMS business meeting.

On the general scene, there are many and varied evidences of an "ecumenical" movement among the various organizations involved in music teaching in the schools, stretching all the way through ACLS, AMS, CMS, MENC, NASM.

Summer Institute for High School Teachers of Music

The current stage of this project is definitely preparatory in the field of music. The background is a long-standing concern of college teachers in other fields for the preparation of teachers for high school work and for cooperation in the planning of programs. The American Council of Learned Societies has a long history of activity in this field. There have been Summer Institutes in the sciences, in English (sponsored by the College Entrance Examination Board), and more recently in the humanities. There are a number of signs that the Federal Government may make funds available for such Summer Institutes through some one of the Government agencies, as the National Science Foundation has supported Summer Institutes for high school teachers in the sciences. ACLS has taken the lead in inviting its only constituent society in music, the American Musicological Society, to take steps to organize a number of Summer Institutes. It has secured foundation support for two such Institutes, both at Bennington College, in 1960 and 1962. There are no specific funds available at this time for the support of any Institutes in 1963, but it is urged that planning for such Institutes be continued and that the CMS Committee address itself specifically to this project during the year 1963.

Institutes, whether supported by the ACLS, one of the foundations, or the Government, would be initiated by the Music Department of a specific college or university. The Committee urges members of CMS to consider formulating such a program at their own college or university. As discussed in the Committee, the aim of such institutes is not so much the study of "new materials" and "new areas of study," which is characteristic of Summer Institutes in mathematics and the sciences; but rather the musical and intellectual stimulation and the better preparation of music teachers now in service, and the raising of standards in music literature studied and played in the high schools.

The preliminary thinking of the Committee on the content of the curriculum for Summer Institutes is summarized in the following three points:

  1. The main course of the Institute might well be devoted to relatively few works from the literature of music, widely scattered, and chosen for their relevance to high school work. This is not a ready-made, model course to be followed in detail. The works would be different at each institute and for any single institute in successive summers. The choice of works would differ with the instructors. The aim would be to give the teachers both musical and intellectual stimulation, and also specific ideas applicable to their own teaching problems.
  2. A second course devoted to theory, with the same basic aim as the history-literature course.
  3. Choral and/or instrumental workshops. Mssrs. Mendel and Woodworth found the practical music-making at Bennington highly appropriate to the aims of the Institute, by way of stimulation of the teachers and direct reference to the high school program to which the members of the Institute would be returning.

After discussion the College Music Society at its annual meeting passed the following resolution:

On recommendation of the Committee on Music in Elementary and Secondary Schools, it was voted that the College Music Society declare its support of the project of establishing Summer Institutes for High School music teachers, such Institutes to be organized by college and university faculties in music.

Standards in Music

There was a general discussion of standards in music performed by choruses, orchestras, and bands, and in class singing in the lower grades. It is clear that there are strong forces at all levels of the elementary and secondary school program, and in all areas of our country, working diligently and persistently to improve music education in our schools. Cooperation with these forces, whether isolated individuals or organized groups, is the order of the day. It is equally clear that in a vast country like ours, the members of CMS should never, never give up the fight for standards of excellence in music sung, played and studied in the school curriculum, and for standards of musicianship, general education and taste in the training of teachers.

Recommended lists of material for use in elementary and high schools emanating from high sources in education are still generally of low standard. Much of the music for contests, both vocal and instrumental, is of low standard. The Committee did not recommend any sort of ex cathedra pronouncement or resolution, but felt that improvement must come school by school, community by community, and state by state, here a little and there a little. The Committee urged the individual members of CMS, wherever they may work, to take every opportunity to assist the forces working for better music. This takes tact and ingenuity and breadth of understanding. With highly varied local conditions, this is the only sure road to excellence.

It should always be emphasized that the basic aim of the performing organizations is educational. There is still far too much "entertainment" and "public relations" in the life of the performing organizations, especially the bands. However, there is a question of balance involved in this delicate area. To sing and play for school festivals, national holidays and the like is perfectly natural and justified. The basic aim of the performing organizations, as well as classroom teaching, is and must remain basically educational.


The Committee recognized the need for good textbooks for high school teaching of music literature and music theory. There was some discussion of the need to evaluate existing textbooks in the high school field, but the testimony of Allen Britton in the Committee itself indicated that the need for improvement is great. In other fields there is a record of cooperation between college teachers and high school teachers in the preparation of texts for high school work. The Committee commended to members of CMS the idea that they consider the textbook problem, and if invited they respond. It was recognized that a good textbook cannot be written in anybody's spare time. Some relief from teaching is needed and the support for such undertaking must come from one of the foundations or from the Government. It was pointed out by Allen Britton that the raising of standards and general improvement in school music is normally symbolized for school administrators by the introduction of new texts. It behooves us to recognize the realities of this situation.

Humanities Courses in High School

There was some discussion of omnibus courses called "humanities" or "related arts," embracing music, painting, sculpture, architecture, theater, drama, and so forth. The Committee is against such courses. Very few teachers are available to handle the complexities of such integrated courses. At best the courses are bound to be superficial in each individual field, with music getting one-third, or one-quarter, or one-fifth of the time of a year's course, possibly six weeks out of the total course. The Committee felt it far better to allow students to elect courses in one or another of the fields of the arts, thereby "reaching" fewer students, but doing a far better job with those who do elect a full-time course in music. The Committee recommends a series of electives in the fields of the arts—music, painting, drama, etc., so that there can be some penetration into whichever field the student chooses. The present strong tendency toward omnibus humanities courses should, it was felt, be resisted by all those concerned for education in music.

College Entrance and Guidance Counselors

These are related subjects. As admission to college becomes more and more competitive the new profession of guidance counseling in high schools has grown by leaps and bounds. There are repeated reports that such counselors warn students away from activities and courses in music on the ground that a high record in math and science is more important in the competition for college admission.

The Committee reported its strong impression that college admissions officers do, as a matter of fact, welcome a record of musical activity, participation, and talent in candidates for college admission. "Credit" is a local problem. Most colleges will give entrance "credit" for courses which are given "credit" by a school of good standing. On the other hand participation and even evidence of musical gift and talent, quite without any sort of mathematical credit, is welcomed by an increasing number of enlightened colleges.

Guidance counselors need to be made aware of this fact, so that they do not warn students off the territories of music and art. It was felt that the guidance counselors needed education both in music and in the real attitude of many college admissions offices relative to the arts. Eternal vigilance on the part of college teachers in music and high school teachers in music is the order of the day, in this area as in the area of standards. Here again, the battle must be fought school by school, community by community, and state by state. The responsibility for the cause of music must be dispersed through the entire membership represented in CMS and in the other societies concerned with the improvement of standards in music education. This is a vast subject which inevitably belongs to us as part of our responsibility for college music. The role of the college music department in the training of elementary and secondary teachers was summarized in the report of the AB Committee of NASM dated July 15, 1956, the document familiarly known as the Cincinnati Report. Messrs. Boyden, Clarke, Kvam, and Mitchell of our Society constituted four of the six members of this Committee. The main subject of the report of the CMS Committee in 1960 dealt with the preparation of high school teachers of music. The Committee of 1962 devoted little time to this subject except for a discussion of the need for five-year programs for teacher training. Some of these take the form of the AMT, four years of undergraduate training for the Bachelor's Degree, plus one year of graduate work for the Master of Arts in Teaching in the field of music. There is an increasing tendency to stretch the AB or Mus.B program for teachers to five years rather than four. Mr. Gilday of the Lowell State Teachers College in Massachusetts reports a movement to increase the music program in colleges of education from four years to five years.

Such programs should include general education, music, courses in teaching, and interning or practice teaching in the schools under competent supervision.


The following statements, one by G.W. Woodworth and the other by Allen D. Sapp, were appended to this Committee report as a basis for further discussion.—Ed.


Appendix I


The understanding of music consists in responding to music in its own terms. This calls for listening as well as performing, and listening which is active and disciplined, not passive. From kindergarten to Grade 12, the ear and the mind need musical training as well as the voice, the fingers, and the embouchure. The goal is what Whitehead has called "receptiveness to beauty."

At all levels, some specific time should be devoted to listening, as a regular part of the music program, and under the guidance of a music teacher with proper equipment. Rigorous training of the ear and the mind should aim to counteract the vast amount of background "audio" which has engulfed our society since the invention of recordings, radio and television. Music should be brought into the foreground, as an end in itself, and an intellectual discipline, not as a background to eating, conversation or homework.

The content of listening periods needs thoughtful attention and a fresh approach. It has been a mistake to follow too much the philosophy of "first steps for little feet." Listening, even in kindergarten and grades 1-4, need not be limited to pictorial and "story" music. The young child responds, when skillfully guided, to quite "abstract" music from the 18th century to modern dissonant writing.

Similarly, at the high school level, the subject matter of "listening" courses should aim at a vital intellectual and emotional experience. At that age, the mind and heart are far more responsive to the Eroica Symphony than to a minuet or gavotte. Beethoven and Shakespeare belong equally to the experience of the high school boy or girl, the Seventh Symphony or the Archduke Trio or the Emperor Concerto, as well as Hamlet and As You Like It. It is not the simple song forms and dances, but rather the great symphonic structures which embrace elements of drama and challenge, and which directly engage the mind and the emotions of the teen-ager. At age 14-18 every avenue to the heart should be kept open, and music, both in performance and in listening, can be a powerful force in the release of emotion, and in the maturing of the mind.

Those high schools which have available a music teacher with solid training in the history of style and analysis, should offer an elective course in the Symphony, or a comparable body of literature,—not an overall survey from Gregorian to twelve-tone music. No satisfactory textbook is now available for such a course, but even when such textbooks do become available, the main assignment of work should be listening to records, with laboratory sessions, as in physics and chemistry, for detailed analysis.

The basic aim is not scraps of information, an aggregation of facts, nor any attempt as a balanced and comprehensive grasp of music history. The aim is, rather, to provide training in active and analytical listening. The main "topics" for study should be drawn naturally out of the music itself, and would include such items as the sonorous qualities of the several orchestral instruments and choirs, the texture of chamber music, individual peculiarities of style in composers represented in the assignments, and, most important of all, the manipulation and development of musical ideas. Even the last, so often regarded as complex and forbidding, is one of the easiest aspects of musical practice to observe, simply because, in its context within the dramatic grand plan of the symphony, it challenges the mind and engages the emotions.

Such training of ear and mind pursued steadily from kindergarten to Grade 12, through listening to great music, is not only a good general preparation for college music study, but it is also an end in itself of the highest order, in the educational program of the Elementary and Secondary schools.


Appendix II


The place of twentieth century music in secondary music education is threefold. First, it brings the experience of a new classical repertory to young people before they have been warned against it. Second, the performing experiences involve extensions of skills in reading and comprehension. Third, serious twentieth century music introduces listeners and performers alike to concrete awareness of the function of art without the historical or traditional biases associated with the proper or the canonical. In other words there is not yet the stamp of official approval, textbook indorsement, or accumulated authority to interfere with the student's shock in finding out why music can be the stethoscope to life.

It is clear enough that twentieth century music has already begun to have a repertory. In bringing that repertory through listening and performance to individuals and classes the same basic function of exposing the worthwhile and the vivid holds here as it would in similar exposure of Mozart or Schubert. In fact instead of distinguishing new music—by pointing out its difficulties, its morose or hyper-exuberant qualities—it is obviously better to intermix this repertory trusting to taste and literacy to insure that the better music is selected. Some active help in the formulation of lists of useful music could be a service of this Society (either in the preparation of more elaborate textbooks or in the determination of recommended choices).

Chorus, orchestra, and band as well as all other smaller offshoots of these larger groups gain in precision, in transparency, and in cohesiveness as they perform twentieth century music. Particularly in a widening sense of metric and of harmonic discrimination but eventually in the whole range of technical motor skills, the young performer sharpens and refines as he attacks asymmetric meters and dispersed textures. Many of the real problems in the acquisition of these new insights lie rather with inadequacies of the instructors. It is clear that frequent rejuvenation, occasional retooling, and not rare total re-education are necessary for teachers of music whose own training was in an era alien to new music or emphatically conservative. When an instructor brings musical understanding and appropriate technique to bear on new music the problem of communication tends to disappear; the converse is no less true. It falls clearly to composers to meet the obvious needs of secondary school organizations. Extensions and amplifications of projects such as the Ford Foundation Composers-in-residence at High Schools are valuable; but it is no less urgent that composers of more mature cast should undertake these assignments. The concert band repertory in particular is dismal and yet it is a medium which is acoustically fascinating for most composers.

As to point three—exposure to music should involve not only awakenings of sensitivities and abrading of dulled responses but also some indistinct and by no means formulated awarenesses of what music (and art in general) have for us and do for us. Young persons will react to twentieth century music in hundreds of different ways but they will not usually reject it out of hand as merely "old stuff." The merely unfamiliar but fresh will provoke in some (not many) the stirrings of fundamental questions which the college experience can attack in the more favorable environment of question and analysis.

The use of new music involves serious responsibilities on the Society for helping to plan lists, on individual instructors for renewed technique, and on the student for greater effort. These are all capable of solution and effective implementation.

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