Liberal Education and Music, by Willis J. Wager and Earl J. McGrath

October 1, 1963

Liberal Education and Music,by Willis J. Wager and Earl J. McGrath. Published for the Institute of Higher Education, Columbia University. New York: Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1962. [vii, 209 p., 8vo; $3.00]

Momentous changes are taking place in the relations between liberal education and music. Professor Wager's book is one of many symptoms. The College Music Society, and Symposium, are others. Wager's book and our society, to be sure, aim to be more than symptoms of some obscure change. But neither can claim to have surveyed all the relations, and neither can claim power to guide the change. The scope and complexity of the changing relations are too vast.

Wager's title may arouse vast expectations in the minds of more than one CMS member; if so, these will be disappointed by the book, whose real subject, well defined and systematically covered, is only a part of the vast complex of relations. To forestall false hopes the book would have to be called something like "The place of the liberal arts in the education of musicians and music teachers in the United States: history, survey of current practices, and some recommendations."

Whereas CMS was formed to study ". . . music as part of liberal education," Wager's concern is with liberal studies as part of higher education in music.

Are these concerns irrelevant, or even opposite to each other? Or rather, are they not complementary ways of penetrating the vast complex of changing relations? In the light of Symposium, volume II, where a brief article on "Music and [i.e., as part of] liberal education" was surrounded by discussions of related topics spread over a wide range, it seems to me that CMS, in its effort to do justice to its own purpose, shares and must share much of Wager's concern. I have gained, from reading Wager's book, a coherent picture of American music education such as the 1961 discussions of CMS made me wish for. I am chagrined that I had so much to learn. I am convinced that CMS cannot afford to have many members so ignorant as I was, if it is going to take part in shaping changes on a national scale. Therefore I recommend the reading of Wager to my colleagues.

Dr. Wager is Professor of Humanities and Chairman of the Department of General Studies in the School of Fine and Applied Arts at Boston University. Thus his book grows out of his continuing concern. He knows many music students. He knows the place of liberal studies in their education, and he knows both how desirable and how difficult it is to enlarge that place.

The book was commissioned by the Institute of Higher Education at Columbia, as one of a series on liberal education and the various professions, supported by funds from the Carnegie Corporation. The editor of the series and Executive Officer of the Institute, Earl J. McGrath, has contributed a foreword and an introductory chapter to Wager's book, summarizing ideas that he presented more amply in his own book, Liberal Education in the Professions (1959). Another book of the series is drawn upon by Wager: The Liberal Arts as Viewed by Faculty Members in Professional Schools (1959) by Paul L. Dressel, Lewis B. Mayhew, and McGrath. Dressel and his collaborators devised a questionnaire to which the answers of 351 teachers in 26 schools of music were shocking: these music teachers were statistically less favorable toward the liberal arts than were engineers or home economists or any other group in the survey, far less favorable than nurses or journalists.

Wager's own research was not done by questionnaire, but by "extensive interviews at six schools of music throughout the country," about thirty hour-long interviews at each school, ten with administrators, ten with teachers, and ten with students. Although the schools are not named, many readers will recognize them quickly. Among the teachers interviewed I believe I recognized several members of CMS. In reporting the attitudes of individuals, Wager shows noteworthy sympathy for various points of view. He does not shirk criticism, but he lets the various views come to expression with clarity and force. His criticisms are wise and by no means doctrinaire. His thirty-six pages on these interviews have the virtues of the best discussions at CMS meetings.

Under the chapter-heading, "Critical issues and recent developments," Wager surveys more formal discussions available in the publications of the MTNA, the NASM, the MENC, and elsewhere, again with sympathy for contrasting views and with tactful criticism.

The final chapter presents five "Recommendations." (1) Each school should study its history. (2) Every teacher and student should think about the "over-all purpose of professional and liberal education." (3) Administrators should listen to teachers of performance, and appreciate the peculiar ways whereby the study of music can proceed from daily practice of special technical detail to broad and deep understanding. (4) Everyone concerned should try to help develop a generally acceptable philosophy of education adequate to the changing situation of the musical profession in the world. (5) National societies—especially the NASM—should enforce standards, in spirit as well as by the letter.

These recommendations, I imagine, seem tame to Mr. McGrath, and also to some leaders of CMS whose published views Wager had taken into account. But to me they seem worthy of a strong endorsement, and I have not learned enough yet to think that I could improve on them. I doubt that anyone can improve on them without knowing the history and the recent developments that Wager has surveyed, along with many other things outside the scope of his subject.

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