A Response to Kivy: Music and "Music Appreciation" in the Undergraduate Liberal Arts Curriculum

October 1, 1999


Allegro Spiritoso

There is absolutely no justification at all . . . for insisting that well educated humanities students learn music in the way that music faculties today are required to teach them.

Peter Kivy, "Music and the Liberal Education"

I want to focus on the source of the above quotation—the opening chapter in Kivy's The Fine Art of Repetition: Essays in the Philosophy of Music1 —and only secondarily consider its relationship to the author's larger philosophical projects.2 Kivy's brief chapter, entitled "Music and the Liberal Education," is unusual for its juxtaposition of the author's characteristic views on music with more down-to-earth observations on its place in the undergraduate liberal arts curriculum. The present journal, then, seems an appropriate place in which to contemplate Kivy's musings on music instruction generally and on courses at the undergraduate level in "music appreciation" in particular.3 (I will henceforth suppress the scare quotes.) Kivy's chapter, which began in 1989 as a public lecture at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, intensifies many of his most characteristic views.

Kivy's central contention is that music appreciation as it is presently taught in this country at the undergraduate level is deeply flawed. He reaches this conclusion in part on the basis of his own experiences: "I am a very serious music lover," he writes, "and a serious performer . . ." (p. 23). From this background, Kivy concludes that music cannot be understood or taught in any meaningful way unless students already have practical musical skills. I quote him at some length:

I fully believe . . . that the way we teach music to humanities students is much like trying to teach the nineteenth-century novel to people who cannot read. To be able to sing or to play is a necessary part of musical literacy. It is, as I have argued, a necessary part of the full listening experience. Literacy is best acquired, whether it is musical literacy or linguistic competence, before a student comes to college. But few students anymore will come to college able to sing, or to play a musical instrument, or to read musical notation. And so what I am saying is that we cannot teach music effectively in the liberal arts curriculum without teaching playing or singing, as well as basic musicianship, subjects traditionally given only in the conservatory. (p. 30)4

Kivy arrives at these provocative conclusions by presenting a series of rhetorical puzzles that he proceeds to disentangle. He begins by noting that most educated people will be able to identify Hamlet's famous soliloquy, while almost none of these same people will recognize the opening measures of Beethoven's Eroica. (The Eroica serves as Kivy's synecdoche for great music in the European tradition.) This state of affairs would appear to reveal a "distressing failure of our educational system that should be corrected" (p. 14). Kivy's initial response to this failure is to offer a spirited defense of the Eroica's place in the liberal arts curriculum: "Any musician," he writes, ". . . will assert . . . that in the world of Western classical music Beethoven's Third Symphony occupies a place of honor and importance equal to that of Hamlet in the world of literature" (p. 12). It turns out, however, that Kivy is temporizing here; it is really his intention to show that music's sorry place in the present-day liberal arts curriculum (and the resulting ignorance of works like the Eroica) is not the product of neglect or indifference but arises rather from the special (and for him, problematic) place that music occupies in the humanities.

Music, Kivy asserts unequivocally, "has no content to reveal, no message to decode" (p. 29). Even such a work as the Eroica is "merely . . . a magnificent, abstract structure of sound; one big beautiful noise, signifying nothing" (p. 19). As a result, it has no place among the masterworks of Western thought taught to undergraduates, because "the works on the `required' list . . . [deal] with those questions of deep and abiding concern that have troubled mankind throughout its history: God, the problem of evil, human freedom, determinism, law, justice, love, knowledge . . . life and death" (p. 18). Music is evidently out of its depth here. From Kivy's vantage point, its absence from the liberal arts curriculum is not only understandable but inevitable, even necessary.

Kivy goes on to assert that this concept of music void of content is what most present-day professors of music teach: " . . . few instructors, trained in the modern analytic and musicological traditions . . . will be tempted to attribute any meaning to it [the Eroica], or any of the other works discussed" (p. 29). He offers no evidence for this assertion, which squares neither with my own experience nor with those of my colleagues. On the basis of this putative pedagogical orientation, Kivy contends that students will be told about "the first theme and the second theme of sonata form, what a minuet and trio are, and a theme with variations . . . But the sad fact is that [they] will not, thereby, have tapped into the deep resources of musical culture . . ." (pp. 29-30). Why is this? Music, Kivy continues, has "ritualistic, communal and participatory aspects" (p. 30), and these cannot be understood unless one is a participant, a sort of citizen-musician. To do justice to music in the undergraduate liberal arts curriculum, the student must be(come) a musician, a music maker.

It is ironic that Kivy fails to acknowledge some of the implications of his view of music's "ritualistic, communal and participatory aspects." By situating its unique qualities in these aspects, he begs an obvious question: do they not bestow upon music some of the meanings that he has been at pains to deny? Are not music's various meanings socially, culturally, and historically constituted? Kivy's refusal to confront these matters is apparent in the vague language he adopts at this juncture. Turning repeatedly to the word "tribe" to find a social context for music, he writes: "there may well be a viable defense for music listening not merely as a part of liberal arts education, but as an essential part. That defense lies . . . in the deep reverberations of tribal ritual that music . . . sets up" (p. 27). Moments later Kivy asserts that "music has always had, throughout the history of the human tribe, this enormous power of cohesion" (p. 28). What "tribe" is this? Kivy's language has dissolved into specious impressionism, its phrases evoking (if only unintentionally) the hoary cliché of music's "universality." With this rhetoric he avoids having to confront the philosophical position to which he is evidently so opposed: that music does have "meanings," if not some single transcendent "meaning." Indeed, I would argue that such meanings are as good as infinite, and arise from historical, geographical, cultural, and biographical contingencies that are neither fixed nor immanent in "music itself." Furthermore, music's meanings are, among other things, the product of constantly shifting relationships between a given work or performance and its audience.5 It is in this spirit that we ought even to resist the notion of "music" as a unitary phenomenon that covers all possible manifestations. (The plural "musics," though awkward, has the virtue of requiring us to acknowledge the varieties of musical expression that men and women have produced throughout history, and to construe that variety as arising in part from a wealth of competing conceptions of what music is, what purposes it serves, and so forth.)

How has Kivy arrived at so radical a view of the undergraduate music curriculum? For an answer, we must turn to his growing preoccupation with the category of "absolute music." (He favors the terms "pure music" and "music alone.") This branch of music evidently now stands at the summit of his musical landscape and epitomizes for him what is most characteristic about "music" tout court. Indeed, Kivy's conception of absolute music appears to have colored his view of music altogether, as the following statement, also drawn from the article considered here, reveals: ". . . What is missing from our teaching of music as a humanistic subject is not a subject matter, which it never had in the first place, but a ritualistic dimension that has been forgotten" (p.30). Kivy has moved swiftly from denying content in the category of absolute music to denying content in all music, presumably at all times and under all conditions. Considered in this light, his unwillingness to countenance instruction in music appreciation of the established kind is a logical consequence of his polemical position. Since "content" and "meaning" are absent in "music," there is nothing to teach but "music itself"—which can only mean the technical requirements of the performer, composer, and theorist.

It is my impression that the positions Kivy expounds in this article exaggerate ones he has pursued elsewhere with greater care. Indeed, the views set forth in the article tend very nearly to contradict some of his earlier writings, which explore his ideas not just in greater detail but in more careful language.6 As a philosopher-musician, Kivy has repeatedly addressed the issue of "meaning" and "content" in music, and how and under what conditions music can be described as "expressive." Indeed, selections from his writings on these subjects would make a fine starting point for a stimulating essay assignment in an appreciation class.

Kivy is not alone in his gloomy view of the music appreciation enterprise. A similarly pessimistic picture emerges in Peter van den Toorn's recent book, Music, Politics, and the Academy.7 Though van den Toorn has little of substance to say about undergraduate instruction in music (for majors or non-majors), his convictions seep out in the following passage, an intriguing farrago of idealism, cynicism, veiled autobiography, and evident self-parody (p. 58):

. . . To the music appreciator may go the humanist's laurels . . . Yet the appreciator [by which van den Toorn means the instructor] is compromised as well, and if not by the marketing of a spiritual message, then by the giant socioeconomic testing device at whose service that message is placed. In the interests of sensibility and the human soul, of culture and the contending 'good life,' scholars teach, profess, promote, test and evaluate "appreciation."

Indeed, viewed idealistically, the teacher-appreciator can recall the lover or religious believer who would persuade an audience (in the case of the appreciator, a socioeconomically captive one, of course) of the merits of his or her case, the merits of inwardness and spirituality. The greater the inwardness and hence truth of that individual love or religious belief, the more anxious the dilemma: to teach what cannot be taught, only praised, to guide where guidance slips into misguidance. That which defies direct expression, that which is only to be sensed and felt, must be made narrowly purposeful. And in the futility of this arrangement it is the appreciator who is put to the test, who becomes an object of scrutiny. Attention shifts from the musical objects themselves and the relationship of those objects to each and every sensing individual; it becomes fastened on the persuasive powers of this official music appreciator. Mired in contradiction, the implications are farcical. And it cannot be otherwise, because speaker and audience are locked in the same embrace, in the same shadow undertaking. They teach and profess what is in essence a secret, what can be no more than an assumption.

Mehr Luft! In this stifling evocation of classroom life, students have become captive, passive vessels into which the instructor is called upon to pour musical wisdom distilled over years of study. Tragicomically, van den Toorn's "teacher-appreciator" has become the hapless focus of the educational enterprise, now that all value and meaning in the classroom are vested in the sanctity of his relationship with and mastery of music. (Van den Toorn's condescension turns inward as well, as his contemptuous epithet for the academy—a "giant socioeconomic testing device"—reveals.) The mysterious "secret" to which he refers at the end of this passage is evidently this: that music's essence resides in its "purely musical" details—and is unteachable (van den Toorn's "defies direct expression"). We of the profession have come to understand these secrets only through years of intimate communion with "music itself" and its complex inner workings. (Van den Toorn's argument here is part of a defense of music theory coupled with an attack on the "New Musicology.") We know and love all these things as a man knows and loves a woman or a priest his breviary (Kivy: "the teacher-appreciator can recall the lover or religious believer"). Along the way we have become disciples of "inwardness and spirituality." To bare this love and understanding in the presence of callow undergraduates is to court embarrassment and disaster all around, hence van den Toorn's characterization of the situation as farcical and futile. For both Kivy and van den Toorn, then, music as an academic enterprise engenders a painful dilemma: in the end, we cannot teach what we know and love, for what we hold dearest is Unnameable. Our students must find their own way.



Music Literacy and The Competent Listener

The basic activity that leads to the love of music and to its understanding—to what is sometimes called "music appreciation"—is listening to particular pieces of music again and again.

Joseph Kerman, Listen: Brief Edition8

The notion of competence has attracted some attention from literary theorists in recent years, and offers another angle from which to consider Kivy's rejection of music appreciation. To judge from the position articulated in his article, Kivy construes the competent listener in a narrowly technical sense. When we ask, for example, what it might mean to teach the Eroica to non-majors in a way that takes Kivy's critique of college-level music instruction into account, we are in effect asking what level of competence a student must reach before he or she will experience what Kivy calls the "boon" of having "Beethoven's Third Symphony in one's blood" (p. 31). For Kivy, any student wishing to learn something about Western music—or any other kind of music, presumably—must first master the rudiments of notation and music theory and have some acquaintance with the performance skills that such mastery implies. Without this knowledge and experience, student-listeners are effectively incompetent; this is how I read Kivy.

There are other ways of construing competence and of imagining the competent listener.9 If, as I have argued, music's meanings are constituted historically, socially and culturally, it is equally true that competence is itself bound up with those meanings: a work of art can "mean" only what we are competent enough to find in it. The circularity here is part of the aesthetic and phenomenological picture, not a philosophical stumbling block. Indeed, a radical work like the Eroica calls into existence at least some of the conditions necessary for its reception; this reception in turn brings about new kinds of competence, which might then be said to create (or recreate) the work. This circularity also helps explain why a work's meanings are not fixed. This more fluid vision of competence is a corollary of other insights in contemporary literary theory, among them the idea that works of art lack clear boundaries. The Eroica means what it does in part because of the two Beethoven symphonies that precede it, and we hear those symphonies even as we contemplate the Eroica. In this more elastic view, a competent hearing of the Eroica might also assume a competent hearing of those symphonies as well, and there is no logical endpoint in this forest of signs: the Eroica leads us to back to Mozart and Haydn—as well as forward to Schubert, Schumann, and beyond. Competence is among other things a matter of continually expanding frames of reference. The music student who correctly labels the individual harmonies in a Bach chorale displays competence of one kind; if the same student has no German—and is thus unable to consider even the most rudimentary word-tone relationships in Bach's setting—another level of competence is out of reach.

In this context, competence becomes an almost elusive goal, not a precondition for understanding. It grows over time from a welter of listening experiences, all of these tempered by social and cultural forces. Now it might appear that my definition of competence is much less forgiving than Kivy's, and that it places the understanding of music further out of the reach of undergraduate non-majors, whose encounters with works of art and the competence they seemingly require I have made so open-ended. This is not the case. Students in music appreciation classes are not incompetent listeners; they merely tend to lack experience. The most important kind of experience they lack is not performative (and therefore a function of music literacy); it is the experience of listening to the works we typically teach.

A definition of musical competence tied to notational literacy is unsound for other equally serious reasons. The phenomenology of the listening experience is riddled with unanswerable questions. I know what a piece of music sounds like to me; what does it sound like to you? The implications of this question are profound, even decisive in this context. For example, I do not see how it could be disproven that some experienced non-musicians hear music in much the same way that trained musicians do, and lack only the technical vocabulary to describe their experiences. (More of this in a moment.) Viewed from an entirely different angle, it is hard to imagine that composers would lavish much attention on their music if they thought it could only be "understood" by musicians—always a negligible percentage of the population. Furthermore, if musical understanding were a function of musical literacy, there would be no way to account for the history of musical connoisseurship in Western Europe, which has witnessed the expansion of patronage of all kinds, and the development of larger and larger audiences, the majority of whom are not now and have never been musically literate.

I want, however, to support further my contention that musical illiteracy is not an impediment to an understanding even of music's more "technical" features. Tonality provides a useful example, because the tonal events in an average piece might seem more difficult to follow than, say, its themes. From the conceptual point of view, tonality is remarkably simple, even trivial, and students have little difficulty in grasping its place and function in music. Yet even though tonality's much more elaborate working out in Western music remains conceptually straightforward (with its chromatic space organized hierarchically by fifths), a music-theoretical mastery of this system is beyond the scope of the average music appreciation class. (Kerman's Listen, for example, makes no attempt to distinguish between the harmonic events in major-mode and minor-mode sonata movements.10) And yet an understanding of the structural and metaphorical effects that result from the manipulation of tonality is well within the student's reach. This is so because composers have typically explored the tonal universe of Western music in conjunction with other more obvious formal, harmonic, thematic and textural events.

Turning to the first movement of the Eroica let us assume a student already acquainted with sonata forms through a handful of well-chosen examples, among them works by Mozart and Haydn. (Even a rudimentary acquaintance with Mozart and Haydn prepares the student for the singularity of Beethoven's methods and achievements. Let us also assume a student who has learned something of the background of this work, and who has read some of Maynard Solomon's insightful comments on Beethoven's "Heroic Decade."11) One of the most arresting moments in the development section begins at m. 248. Fueled by enormous metric and harmonic tensions, the music lurches to a high point marked out by two dissonances (mm. 276-283) whose singularity of gesture is apparent to the least attentive listener. E minor arrives, and the tension rapidly abates as a seemingly new theme emerges, in a hushed and reflective vein (m. 284 ff.). Undeniably, some of the power of this passage resides in Beethoven's specific choice of keys. And yet the observation that the key of E minor is "remote from the tonic key of E-flat major" is one whose technical ramifications are available only to the fully literate musician (and not, say, to the talented senior who plays Mozart like an angel but knows nothing of theory). Nevertheless, the perceptive student will readily grasp—and hear, and feel—the effect of this remoteness of key because it is identified with other more obvious thematic, dynamic, harmonic, and metric events. In short, Beethoven's tonal manipulations, seemingly a closed book to the uninitiated, are part of a continuous semiotic web whose meanings are readily apprehended. I cannot imagine that the aesthetic experience of this moment is qualitatively different in the case of one listener who tells me that this passage owes some of its power to its exploration of a "remote" key (without being entirely clear what that means technically), and another who is further able to inform me that Beethoven here briefly establishes the key of the minor Neapolitan. Though only a tiny fraction of even the musically literate population is privileged by perfect pitch to follow at the absolute level the tonal discourse in a movement like this, the generality of listenersmusicians and non-musicians alike—have access, through the listening experience alone, to the formal and expressive effects of Beethoven's tonal schemes. Furthermore, as students encounter a growing number of representative works, they become more alive to the affective purposes of such moments, and arrange them in increasingly sophisticated taxonomies—all this without notation, and all contributing to their formation as competent, if musically nonliterate, listeners.

Now it might be argued that the points I have made about the intelligibility of the Eroica for both musician and non-musician succeed neither in conferring "meaning" on this symphony nor in assuring its place on a list of works that deal "with those questions of deep and abiding concern that have troubled mankind throughout its history." To begin with, I would assert that any work that can be described by the same author as "one of the greatest art works of the West" and "one big beautiful noise, signifying nothing"12 belongs on such a list if only to afford students the opportunity to confront the paradoxical implications of such remarks. Secondly, I oppose Kivy's rhetorical use of a single instrumental work—and the epistemological and philosophical issues it raises for him—to epitomize all music. Does the Eroica deal with questions of deep and abiding concern? I am inclined to think that it does, that it is not a "pure, contentless" work, in Kivy's formulation. I acknowledge that it is more difficult to speak about meaning in the Eroica than in such texted works as the St. Matthew Passion or Wozzeck. Yet I would insist that all three of these works do satisfy—in varying degrees of scrutability—Kivy's requirements, and for that reason are the kinds of works that are central to the liberal arts curriculum. An examination of some of the enduring philosophical questions that such music raises lies well within the scope of an intellectually challenging music appreciation course.

It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the cardinal principles of music appreciation is that music's various meanings can be apprehended, discussed and debated without the necessity of notation. Most appreciation textbooks offer glimpses into the mysteries of notation, and yet tacitly assume that musical literacy strictly defined is not a prerequisite of appreciation.13 Though this is not the place for a history of music appreciation, it is worth noting that the notion of a musical connoisseurship independent of notation is hardly new. In 1914, Edward Dickinson, professor of music at Oberlin College, offered the following view of the non-musician's intellectual needs, in a book entitled The Education of a Music Lover: A Book for those who Study or Teach the Art of Listening:14

The amateur, too long neglected, is beginning to understand his needs and make them known . . . He has no wish to become a brilliant player or vocalist, or if he has, there is no place in his life for the long preparatory drudgery. Neither would he be reconciled to courses in harmony and counterpoint. But he does wish to cultivate his ear and his powers of judgment, to know what to listen for, to hear what musicians hear in a musical performance, to learn in what consist the factors that make good music, . . . to bring Beethoven and Wagner and Chopin into the circle of his familiars along with Raphael and Rembrandt, Shakespeare and Milton, Thackeray and Tennyson,—in a word, he wishes to make music also, along with books and pictures and all beautiful things, a means of enriching his inward life.

The cadences of Dickinson's language may seem rather antique, but ought not distract us from the clarity of his belief that non-musicians can—without the necessity of "long, preparatory drudgery"—learn to "hear what musicians hear in a musical performance."

It is worth remembering too that such prominent figures as Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions, Virgil Thomson, Elliot Carter, and Leonard Bernstein saw a worthy undertaking in the task of writing intelligently for the non-musician.15 And yet the history of music appreciation since 1914 has not always been edifying. In the late 1930s, all the worst tendencies among purveyors of music appreciation came under the withering gaze of none other than Theodor Adorno, who spent what must have been many miserable months chronicling in excruciating detail the shortcomings of one of the period's purveyors of classical music to the masses, the "NBC Music Appreciation Hour" (a program aimed at younger listeners, it should be noted). Under Adorno's rigorous eye and ear, nearly everything emanating from this program was found to be dismally flawed: the "star system" that underscored it (in the glorification of Walter Damrosch and figures like Arturo Toscanini); the priggishness of its programs; the technical incompetence of its commentaries; the fatuity of its attempts to popularize classical music by putting words to the melodies of great symphonies; and much more. Though the article resulting from Adorno's study remained unpublished until recently (and thereby beats a dead horse, since the Music Appreciation Hour ceased to exist decades ago), it now offers wicked pleasure to those who enjoy watching the crass operations of middlebrow culture come under such scrutiny.16

It would be hard to pinpoint the moment at which the term "music appreciation" fell into such bad odor that it was abandoned altogether. (Programs like the "Music Appreciation Hour" can only have hastened the process.) In 1953, George Sherman Dickinson, a founding member of the American Musicological Society and for many years Professor of Music at Vassar College, wrote a brief account of the study of music at the undergraduate level, suggestively titled The Study of Music As a Liberal Art. Unlike Edward Dickinson forty years earlier, George Sherman (apparently no relation of Edward) acknowledges the shortcomings of music appreciation, before going on to defend its goals and purposes:

The founding of the earlier college curricula in music upon theory (a specialized and technical approach), and upon factual history (an unvital approach to most students), tended to leave out of account the interests of the intelligent amateur. Theory and history do not seem to begin at the bottom for them. If for no better reason than that there were more of this than of any other kind of student, a type of course whose motto was "appreciation" [note the scare quotes] was presently devised. Courses with this same purpose still persist in one form or another. They usually offer the fundamentals of music in moderated form, coupled with guided listening and a repertory of good music, sometimes introduced in a historical frame.

Courses of this sort have been subject to adverse criticism and even to contempt, for their superficiality—often with justice. There is, nevertheless, an essential task to be accomplished. If some of these courses fall below the level of higher education, the remedy is an obvious one: an infusion of the study with the fundamental concepts of the art, expressed for this purpose in rather general terms, a motivation of the study of the literature by a specifically historical viewpoint, a deepening of the observation by aesthetic reflections, and the application of an elementary style-critical procedure. . . This treatment is . . . entirely feasible with attentive students, and when skilfully carried out is deeply rewarding. Such a course is firmly attached by its very roots to the body of humanistic studies. It imparts security and meaning to the amateur's musical experience and may serve as a searching orientation in music even for the student of more substantial musical inclinations.17

The course of this kind that Dickinson taught for many years at Vassar was a staple of the college's informal core of humanities offerings, and typical of courses offered throughout the country at that time.18 More than forty years later, appreciation courses of all kinds—now no longer designated as such—continue to stimulate the minds of non-majors throughout the country. The term's disappearance doubtless coincided with the growing efforts of post-war college teachers, many of them recently minted Ph. D's in historical musicology, to infuse new rigor into such courses. Over the past fifty years, many of the country's leading scholars have devoted considerable energy to teaching these courses, evidence of the value they placed on the enterprise and their faith in its results. Some have gone so far as to write appreciation textbooks; Joseph Kerman's Listen, first published in 1972, now appears to be the most widely adopted text in the field. The point of all of this ought to be patently obvious: music appreciation, notwithstanding its checkered history and avowed shortcomings, is an established discipline. It has matured over the course of this century, sloughed off many if not all of its former weaknesses, and is now more than ever prepared to offer musically nonliterate students the tools for confronting music—particularly classical music—intelligently.19

In spite of this progress, however, there remains an even more pressing need in secondary schools for programs in what might be called "music as a liberal art." Here is yet another source of disagreement with Kivy, who implies that music education at the secondary level is best restricted to practical instruction in performance. Musical literacy is good, and we need more of it, but we also need to insist on a broader humanistic context for the study of music at all levels. Because instruction of the kind that I envision is now almost entirely lacking at the primary and secondary school level, the responsibilities that fall to us at the college level have become even greater. Our educational system's neglect of music as an art whose semiotic meanings are available for discussion (and contestation) adds further to the mystification and uneasiness that many adults experience as they attempt—either at college or later in life—to understand more about the characteristic processes in classical music.


Largo desolato

As a candid student once said to me, "I'm just not sure how far I want to get into this life of the mind stuff."

Gerald Graff, Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education20

Now it can be said. Kivy is right to lament the fact that more and more students arrive at college without much in the way of musical literacy. Though its extent varies in different parts of the country, this is a problem of considerable proportions, and one that ought to be addressed vigorously at local, state, and national levels through initiatives designed to protect and expand music education—and arts education more generally—in the schools. Given the present political climate, the outlook for a renewal of arts education is not good. (As I write, Congress has once again been toying with the idea of abolishing the National Endowment for the Arts, a beleaguered symbol of state support for the arts. Given its persistence, Congress may yet achieve such a goal.)

The negative consequences at the college level of the neglect of music at the secondary level are many. One of the more alarming consequences is the decline in student participation in performing ensembles that require literacy: orchestras, bands, vocal ensembles, and so forth. In college choirs throughout the country, many student singers are now forced by their lack of preparation to learn scores laboriously by rote. At the same time, there has been a marked rise in recent years in the popularity on college campuses of performing ensembles that do not require literacy: "doo-wop" groups, rock bands, and so forth. These typically student-run groups compete—potentially, if not always in actuality—with established ensembles. Furthermore, as more students arrive at college with little in the way of musical literacy, the pool of potential music majors dwindles. And when a musically nonliterate (or only marginally literate) student discovers the urge to major in music, there is so much catching up to do that much of the ostensibly college-level coursework is, in fact, remedial.21

Kivy is also right to imply that the average college student's lack of prior experience as performer and listener leaves the student ill prepared to enter the world of Western art music—still the principal subject of most appreciation courses. But this is a problem whether or not the student is musically literate, for reasons that Kivy ignores entirely. When most students arrive at college, their heads are already filled with music—typically, various kinds of contemporary popular American music, most notably rock and its multiple derivatives. Their music professors remain largely ignorant of these kinds of music, or at any rate seldom respond to them in the visceral and proprietary ways of their students. (Younger professors may be more at home with this music, and even equipped to offer a course on rock music. Whether or not this expertise pays off when they come to teach a Beethoven symphony is unclear.) The triumph of youth culture in post-war America has been nothing short of breathtaking; no less astonishing are its indivisible ties with the vast corporate engines of late-twentieth-century capitalism. Rock is big business.

More than ten years ago, Allan Bloom argued in The Closing of the American Mind that rock music has not only pulled college students away from the world of European concert music, but also poisoned their encounter with the traditions of Western thought altogether.22 His views on music are only a part of his larger critique of the academy, as the tendentious subtitle of his book reveals ("How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students"). Yet music plays an important part in his argument, and he devotes an entire chapter to it. His views are not easily summarized (though they have been easy enough to caricature or ignore). To begin with, Bloom asserts that classical music, "dead among the young," has been reduced to the status of "a special taste, like Greek language or pre-Columbian archeology, not a common culture of reciprocal communication and psychological shorthand."23 This was not always the case, he alleges: "Thirty years ago [1957], most middle-class families made some of the old European music a part of the home, partly because they liked it, partly because they thought it was good for the kids."24 According to Bloom, the effects of rock music's intrusion upon this cozy scene have been decisive: "Rock music is as unquestioned and unproblematic as the air the students [now] breathe, and very few have any acquaintance at all with classical music." For Bloom, the triumph of rock and the concomitant eclipse of classical music have had dire consequences, which he characterizes in the following language (pp. 79-80):

My concern here is not with the moral effects of this music—whether it leads to sex, violence or drugs. The issue here is its effect on education, and I believe it ruins the imagination of young people and makes it very difficult for them to have a passionate relationship to the art and thought that are the substance of liberal education. . . Rock music encourages passions and provides models that have no relation to any life the young people who go to universities can possibly lead, or the kinds of admiration encouraged by liberal studies. . . Rock music provides premature ecstasy and, in this respect, is like the drugs with which it is allied. It artificially induces the exaltation naturally attached to the completion of the greatest endeavors—victory in a just war, consummated love, artistic creation, religious devotion and discovery of the truth. . .

The average reader of the present article is unlikely to accept so blanket a condemnation either of rock music or of the deadening effects on college students (and young people in general) that Bloom ascribes to it. They are more likely to read these comments as part of an inter-generational struggle, a reflection of Bloom's nostalgia for an earlier time, or as just another flash point in the ill-tempered culture wars that his book helped ignite. In the end, it will not do to demonize rock music, for whatever else is to be said about it, it is a highly varied phenomenon, ranging from the benign to the repugnant, and, in aesthetic terms, from the worthy to the execrable. Nor am I prepared to follow Bloom in his view that rock's allegedly corrosive properties have utterly undermined the purposes and goals of a liberal education. "As long as they have the Walkman on," he concludes darkly, "they cannot hear what the great tradition has to say. And, after its prolonged use, when they take it off, they find they are deaf" (p. 81).25

It does seem, however, that large or exclusive doses of most brands of contemporary rock music may well hamper younger listeners in their attempts to engage intellectually and affectively with European art music. This is a point on which I will not insist, nor can I offer empirical evidence in support of it. I have been struck by the extent to which students (majors and non-majors alike) are so conditioned by the music they claim as their own as to be unable to enter readily into the spirit of classical musicand other seemingly more tepid kinds of popular music, for that matter. What no one seems to have challenged in Bloom's argument is that classical music is a dead letter for most college-age students, and that today's youth culture and its exaltation of a music specially crafted for the young (which is what much rock is about, after all) have played a decisive role in the decline of classical music's popularity among younger listeners—including college students. Whether the rosy picture that Bloom evokes of students in the 1950s and early 60s is correct or not is a question I will leave to cultural historians.

Other problems have arisen in the wake of rock's triumph. In my experience the generality of students in music appreciation classes resist—at least initially—the call to consider music in "intellectual" terms. Though they may not question their English professor's elaborate analysis of Jane Eyre (because they were exposed in high school or earlier to the rudimentary tools of literary analysis and close reading), they tend to resist similar attempts to listen critically to a Beethoven symphony. This reflects a propensity among students—fostered, I believe, by their close relationships with popular music—to want to save music of any kind from much in the way of intellection and so reserve it for its purely affective uses. This phenomenon is only part of a more powerful (and recurring) trend in American culture that devalues the mind and exalts emotion. Waves of anti-intellectualism regularly inundate the American cultural landscape, carrying off untold students and potential students. Music is only one of many victims in this melancholy flood. In the words of Gerald Graff's reluctant scholar: "I'm just not sure how far I want to get into this life of the mind stuff."

Of course, most students prior to arriving at college have already encountered classical music—variously disguised in film soundtracks, television commercials, cartoons, and so forth. In my view, the uses to which classical music is generally put in popular culture—however benignly one might construe them—make it more, not less, difficult for students to hear or care about the more elusive qualities that great works generate. Such uses certainly make it more difficult for students to cut through the various accretions that this or that work (or style) may have acquired in popular culture. The suggestions of Susan McClary and others to the effect that young people intuitively understand the discourse of classical music because of their prior encounters with it in popular culture strike me as naive, if not disingenuous. McClary, for example, writing about the "the gestures [of classical music] that stereotypically signify 'masculine' or 'feminine,' placidity or violence, the military or the domestic realm," asserts that "any five-year-old has sufficient experience from watching Saturday morning cartoons to verify most of [these] signs . . ."26 Hyperbole aside, McClary's statement effaces the historical and aesthetic gulfs that separate these realms. The music that accompanies Bugs Bunny is just as cartoonish as the scenes it enlivens, and the semiotic parallels between it and classical music, though undeniable, will not get anyone very far in an attempt to understand classical music of whatever period in its own terms, and this is broadly the case with most of popular culture's appropriations of classical music. Likewise, I find McClary's related assertion that young people's experience with the language of popular music offers them a fresh, even privileged vantage point from which to consider classical music to be wide of the mark. She writes, for example: "When I play the end of [Mahler's] Resurrection Symphony in high schools, the heavy metal fans respond most enthusiastically to what they recognize as the gestural vocabulary and narrative paradigms of their own chosen music. They do, however note this difference: Mahler is much more violent."27 Here McClary hides mischievously behind student voices in order to suggest invidious points of contact between one kind of contemporary popular music and the otherwise exalted tradition of Western music. The instance at hand, in which musical "violence" in heavy metal and Mahler are conflated and muddled, shows, in fact, just how little is to be gained by refusing to confront either music in terms of its own traditions and histories.

The McClary quote brings to mind another problem. The thrust of cultural studies in recent decades has been to unmask the past, to deconstruct it. (I use deconstruction in its more colloquial sense, and leave to braver souls the radical implications of its epistemological challenges to meaning, authority, and so forth.) Scholars now examine works of art from feminist, Marxist, and gay perspectives (to name only a few) to show how these works reflect previously unacknowledged or even entirely subconscious forces. What concerns me in the present context is the tendency in contemporary cultural studies to view works of art more in terms of their politics (in its broadest definition) than of their aesthetic content—by which I do not mean to suggest that these two dimensions are easily separable. Given the long, unquestioned reign of aestheticism, such a development has its salutary effects. And yet, as classroom apologists for classical music (which we are, to one extent or another), we are not in a strong position, given the present level of student ignorance and apathy on the subject. We want to spark an intellectual engagement in the music at hand, but what is more, we want our students to be taken with the transcendent beauties of the music we teach. It may be dangerous to condescend too deeply to the works we examine: however revelatory it might be to present Mahler's Second Symphony as exemplifying, say, certain sexist or bourgeois codes of fin-de-siècle Europe, such an approach is unlikely to encourage a full-blooded encounter with the work's aesthetic properties. Sadly, I suspect that to the extent that undergraduates are neither sympathetic to nor much interested in classical music, it is also because they have been conditioned (if only by a dim, confused echo of the Zeitgeist) to view the cultural products of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe in reflexively dismissive ways. In this environment they will not find much to respond to in the musical works of this period. Or, as we have seen, they will respond out of a lack of experience to Mahler by comparing it to heavy metal. McClary's throwaway line to the contrary, such comparisons are evidence of a poverty of experience.

The reader may have concluded that I view popular music as occupying some lower sphere of value or interest. This is not so, but it brings to mind the vexing issues of elitism that surround the cultivation of classical music (brings to mind, because a rejection of popular music could easily have been read as an index of the stereotypical snobbery of the classical music devotee). In view of the notoriously complex and conflicted attitudes in this country towards "high" culture, those of us who teach courses that emphasize classical music ought to be prepared to confront the history of elitism and snobbery associated with its cultivation. Students may not inappropriately assume that a covert purpose of the music appreciation course is to teach them to take their places in middle- and upper-middle-class society, by offering them a veneer of knowledge about an otherwise esoteric field. Here is Rose Rosengard Subotnik's account of her University of Chicago students' attitudes towards a classical piece and the typical space in which it is performed:

It [the March from Stravinsky's Histoire du Soldat] is a piece that these students could expect to listen to after they had donned a three-piece suit or basic black dress, pearls, and heels and squeezed themselves into the balcony of Orchestra Hall . . . This may sound like exaggeration, yet it is in just such terms that they describe their preconceptions in the concert reports they write for me. For most, the concert involved is the first classical concert they have ever attended.28

Such responses (from University of Chicago students!) suggest just how alienated college students generally are from classical music and its performance spaces; note the association of classical music with stereotypical images of moneyed stodginess and privilege (pearls, three-piece suits). Classical music and the instruments of its support and dissemination (opera houses, concert halls, public radio stations) now are most likely to strike students as elitist and irrelevant, in the cynical sense the word acquired in the 1960s. Subotnik's picture leaves several issues unexamined, however. What are our aspirations for these students, initially so nonplussed by classical music's trappings? One response might be to encourage them to construe Chicago's Orchestra Hall in dispassionate, anthropological terms, to teach them to subject its semiological jumble of Stravinsky, evening gowns, and old money to the gimlet eye of reason and sociological analysis. Another response might be to suggest that such a space is available to anyone with the price of admission.29 The first response invites the student to view classical music's present cultivation as one of countless phenomena in late twentieth-century America that generate the images and realities of class and social power; the second effectively encourages them to ignore those images—and so take part in their eventual transformation. The distinction is ultimately between the observer and the participant. If Kivy is correct—that music's distinctive qualities arise from its "ritualistic, communal and participatory aspects"—then students will need to become both observers and participants in the rituals of the classical music scene if they are to extract much meaning or value from them.



Some Observations on the Teaching of Music Appreciation

[Pearl Vambrace had] been a particularly apt pupil in Music Appreciation; she could appreciate anything, and satisfy Mr. Kelso that her appreciation was akin to, though naturally of a lesser intensity than, his own. Play her a Gregorian chant, and she would appreciate it; play her a Bartok quartet and she would appreciate that. And what brought a frosty and unwilling smile to Mr. Kelso's lips was that her appreciation, like his own, was untainted by sentimentalism; she did not rhapsodize foolishly about music, as so many of his students did; she really seemed to understand what music was, and to understand what he said about it in his singularly unmusical voice.

Robertson Davies, Leaven of Malice30

Pearl Vambrace, student assistant, dwells in the shadow of a greater mind, here the chilly Mr. Kelso, whom she serves as "bottle-washer," as Robertson Davies puts it. Let her stand as a symbol for generations of music appreciation students who have suffered the indignity of being told that their immediate, untutored responses to music are unworthy, and that one must not "rhapsodize foolishly about music." In order to inculcate a view of music "untainted by sentimentalism," we learn that Kelso has put together a collection of "Horrible Examples," works that he despises. "Now and then Mr. Kelso would play one of these [in class], in order to warn his students against some damnable musical heresy."31 Perhaps Kelso is also like the professor Kivy conjures up who (merely) teaches his students to "be able to listen to the first movement of a classical symphony and repeat the litany of first theme, second theme, closing theme" (p. 29)—while presumably shaming more immediate affective responses out of them. How much better it is to start with those responses, to begin with what our students bring to us! Though one of the purposes of an appreciation class must be to challenge students intellectually, musical tastes have a profoundly personal dimension, and it is both unwise and counterproductive to tread insensitively here.

In spite of the fatalism of Kivy, van den Toorn, and others, it remains our charge to teach non-musicians about music in as compelling a fashion as we can. Given that reality, I offer the following observations.

I. We must reaffirm the art of listening, the process of attending actively to music. There is nothing radical in this suggestion, though attentive listening to substantial classical works makes special demands on the student, particularly in the context of much of today's popular music—with its ubiquitous low-level redundancy (by which I mean the lengthy ostinatos of much rock, new age, world beat and minimal music). To the student fresh from hip hop, new-age music, and most contemporary pop, the opening allegro of a Mozart symphony might sound unfathomably skittish in its variety of affect and pacing.

II. Even as we submit representative works to close scrutiny, we can attend to their historical, social, cultural, and biographical contexts. Given the constraints of time, such a project may seem quixotic, but it has been my experience that students thrive on the "thick" contexts that works inhabit. Moreover, rather than suggesting to students that the history of music is a serene space set aside for the contemplation of agreed-upon masterworks, we should "teach the conflicts," as Gerald Graff has expressed it in his book of the same title. This means teaching not only the "work itself" (a problematic concept, as I have already suggested), but aspects of its reception history. With a work like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, this might mean reading Wagner, Grove, Rolland, Tovey, as well as McClary. Such excursions not only give students a sense of the changing meanings that works acquire over time, they might also give them a healthy sense of the contingency of their own immediate responses.

III. Since students are initially more comfortable with vocal music (this is primarily what they listen to), it makes sense to begin with texted music, and to examine the words as carefully as the music. Because students have been exposed to the basic tools of literary analysis, and can be shown that there are comparable ways of engaging the music, such choices help overcome the privileging of music as a realm that resists intellection. From here it can be instructive to examine representative interconnections between vocal and instrumental genres and forms. The repertory is filled with suggestive works: a twelve-bar blues sung by Bessie Smith can be set beside a performance by the Ellington band; Mozart's "Fuor del mar" (Idomeneo) can suggestively precede an examination of the first movement of one of his concertos, and so forth. Such pairings not only clarify the vocality inherent in much instrumental music, they also offer another way of approaching the complex matter of meaning in "purely" instrumental works.

IV. Finally, "coverage," as purveyed in the standard appreciation text books (many of which masquerade as substantial surveys of music history) is not just a chimera, but an unworthy goal. In my view, there are too many important philosophical issues that surround the study of music for the instructor to be burdened with the task of exposing the student to a smattering of every conceivable style and period, and this problem has only been exacerbated in recent years by the growing perception that we ought to be addressing music from a global, less eurocentric perspective. Here, we might follow the example of our colleagues in departments of English and elsewhere who happily design courses that bring together a variety of materials, without worrying about "systematic" coverage. On a more practical level, it may be time to free ourselves from the established textbooks and their increasingly elaborate accessories (CD compilations, instructor's manuals, sample tests, etc.).

In this decentered yet still ambitious context, the idea of requiring students to reach some threshold of narrowly defined competence seems trivial. Here again, Kivy is partly correct: to the extent that appreciation courses dwell merely on "the litany of first theme, second theme, closing theme" they do their students a disservice.32 Kivy can't have it both ways, however. He can't dismiss the mildly analytical approaches that animate current textbooks, while banishing everything else as loose talk—which is how, for example, I read his inflammatory remark that some professors of music, "feeling how empty our teaching of music in the humanities really is, may well succumb to the temptation to fill the void by giving it [music] a content it does not have" (p. 30). I am confident that most people who teach appreciation courses continue to find ways to talk intelligently about meaning and content in a wide range of music, Western and non-Western, high and low. Some of us may even "rhapsodize foolishly about music" if it serves the larger goal of igniting student interest. In any case, a variety of approaches has all the advantages here: by examining music from multiple vantage points we also address the varied interests and backgrounds that students bring to the classroom.

In spite of its coming of age, college-level instruction in music appreciation continues to face many challenges, and these have more to do, I think, with our students' diminished contact with some of the repertoires that we teach and love (and their depressed currency among college-bound listeners generally) than with Kivy's epistemological concerns. The only worthy response to this state of affairs is a continuing commitment to the goals and methodologies of a classical liberal arts education—in which the study of music has a long-established and well-deserved place.

1Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. This chapter also appeared earlier in Estelle R. Jorgensen, ed., Philosopher, Teacher, Musician: Perspectives on Music Education (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1991), 79-93. Quotations in the present article are drawn from Kivy's book.

2Kivy's views on music are principally to be found in his books, which besides The Fine Art of Repetition, include: The Corded Shell: Reflections on Musical Expression (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980); Sound and Semblance: Reflections on Musical Representation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984); Osmin's Rage: Philosophical Reflections on Opera, Drama and Text (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988); Sound Sentiment: An Essay on the Musical Emotions (Including the Complete Text of The Corded Shell) (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989); Music Alone: Philosophical Reflections on the Purely Musical Experience (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990); and Authenticities: Philosophical Reflections on Musical Performance (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1995). One of the most thoughtful responses thus far to any aspect of Kivy's writings on music has come from Anthony Newcomb; see his "Sound and Feeling," Critical Inquiry 10 (1984): 614-43, to which Kivy responded in Chapter XIV ("Newcomb's Problems") of Sound Sentiment.

3The perennial relevance of these issues to the constituency of the present journal can be seen in its recent publication, The Eastman Colloquium on Teaching Music as a Liberal Art (Missoula: The College Music Society, 1996).

4Kivy's statement that instruction in performance and musicianship is "traditionally given only in the conservatory" is patently incorrect, as the course offerings for both majors and non-majors in most liberal arts colleges and universities attest.

5For a stimulating examination of the social and cultural "constructedness" of musical meaning, see the introduction ("Material Girl in Bluebeard's Castle") in Susan McClary's Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality (Minnesota and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), particularly p. 21.

6As I noted above, the present article is not the place for a sustained examination of Kivy's abundant writings on music. I will simply stress in passing that his views on such matters as "meaning" and "expression" are more carefully argued in his books than in the article under consideration.

7Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995.

8New York: Worth Publishers, 1987, p. 1.

9For a useful discussion of competence from the point of view of literary theory, see Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975), Chapter 6.

10None of the editions of Listen presently available to me explores these differences, though all offer substantial accounts of both major- and minor-mode sonata form movements.

11Beethoven, 2d rev. ed. (New York: Schirmer Books, 1998). Chapter 16 (pp. 247-277) offers a particularly stimulating account of Beethoven's second period works—one that non-majors can read with profit.

12This last phrase embodies contradictory traces of E. M. Forster's liberal humanism (see Howards End, Chapter V, where Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is described as a "sublime noise") and Macbeth's fatal nihilism (see Act V, sc. iv: "It [life] is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"). The evocation of Howards End may or may not have been intended; Kivy has written elsewhere at some length about this novel (see Music Alone).

The continued willingness of musicologists, music aestheticians and other writers to claim (or reclaim) for music its power to "signify" in a multitude of ways is the unifying theme in the recently published Music and Meaning, ed. Jenefer Robinson (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1997).

13The music examples that pepper most appreciation texts are (for the most part) visual aids, tools for highlighting the thematic discourse of a given work. Though they may be of use to a handful of musically literate students, I suspect that for the most part they sit mutely on the page. A rare exception to the common practice of introducing the rudiments of notation in appreciation textbooks can be seen in Richard L. Crocker and Anne P. Basart's Listening to Music (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971), in which a graphic notation of their own invention avoids the issue of notation entirely. In spite of its novelty and the thoroughness of its application, their approach found few followers. (The book has long been out of print.)

14Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1914, pp. 37-38.

15See, for example: Aaron Copland, What to Listen for in Music (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1939); the several volumes of Virgil Thomson's criticism; Elliot Carter, "Music as Liberal Art," Modern Music 22 (November-December 1944): 12-16; Roger Sessions, The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950); Leonard Bernstein, The Joy of Music (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959). Bernstein's televised lectures (the "Omnibus" series of the late 1950s) set a new level of intelligent discourse for mass-oriented presentations on classical music.

16See Theodor Adorno, "Analytical Study of the NBC Music Appreciation Hour," The Musical Quarterly 78 (1994): 325-377. Adorno's wide-ranging condemnation of this program is summed up in his comment (p. 368) that it promoted "a musical pseudo-culture that actually consists of some vague and largely erroneous information about music and the recognition of stiffly conventional musical values, instead of . . . a living relationship with music." For a further examination of the cultural politics surrounding music appreciation in the 1930s and 40s, see Joseph Horowitz, Understanding Toscanini: How He Became a Culture-God and Helped Create a New Audience for Old Music (Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1987), 202-213.

17Poughkeepsie: Vassar College, 1953, pp. 17-18.

18Dickinson's aspirations are remarkably consonant with those expressed by Elliot Carter in his article of 1944, "Music as a Liberal Art" (see footnote 15). Having taught for several years in an innovative curriculum at St. John's College, Carter argues for a broadly humanistic approach to the study of music at the college level; otherwise, he suggests: "The thoughtful student who is no virtuoso [will find] little to his taste in a department that teaches skill without an appeal to reason, that attempts to demonstrate many styles but fails to take up the basic question of style itself, of philosophic and historic meaning. The purely practical approach is largely responsible for the low estate to which music, as a vital part of our intellectual equipment, has fallen." It appears that Carter's pedagogical approach while at St. John's College focused on the philosophical problems that attend the study of music: "One of the most recurrent topics was, naturally, the meaning of music. Did it, like language, refer to something other than itself and if so, what? Or was a work of music an ordered pattern of sounds that awakened feelings and thoughts in us as a by-product of our enjoyment of its beauties? . . . And so on through all those profound questions that naturally arise in students' minds but are so lightly, so carelessly, brushed by in most music courses. Here arguments developed, sides were taken, controversy was important. Music became a matter of interest . . . . In one way or another these questions must be considered for it is not enough to devote all our efforts to acquiring the technical skills essential to instrumentalists, composers and even listeners. There must be good thinking and good talking about music to preserve its noble rank as a fine art for all of us, and the college is one of the logical places for this more considered attitude to be cultivated."

19The extent to which typical music appreciation courses and the textbooks that serve them now go beyond the European canon varies, though works in the classic European tradition continue to dominate. In practice, the opening up of the canon—and the creation of other canons, as is happening with American jazz—is readily apparent in the spectrum of courses offered at the non-major level; these now typically include (in larger departments and colleges) courses in world music, jazz, and rock. In some institutions, such offerings "outside the canon" attract many more students than the classic appreciation course. Whether the intellectual needs of our students are best served by these curricular divisions (and the continuing domination of Western music in the music appreciation course) is another matter.

20New York: W. W. Norton, 1992, p. 92.

21The decline of music literacy has coincided in recent years with (and been exacerbated by) the rise of synthesized music. At Vassar, for example, majors and non-majors alike can take Electronic Music, a course described in the catalog as "a practical exploration of electronic music, composition and production techniques, including tape recording and manipulation, analog synthesis, MIDI sequencing, digital synthesis, sampling, digital recording and editing, signal processing and mixing." This course neither requires music literacy nor teaches it.

22New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.

23Ibid., p. 69.


25Bloom's strident tone on this and other subjects appears to have prompted many scholars in the academy to turn a deaf ear to his various claims. And yet the substance of some of those claims, at any rate, was tacitly acknowledged by many, as can be seen, for example, in Lewis Lockwood's revelatory comment in an article published in this journal: "As to minimal standards of musical literacy, I need hardly say that the recent diatribes of E. D. Hirsch and Allan Bloom on the state of literacy and philosophical literacy look like songs of praise compared to what we could write about the musical literacy of American students, in the large, regarding Western high classical repertoires" (see his "Communicating Musicology: A Personal View," College Music Symposium 28 (1988): 1-9). The situation has not improved in the years since Lockwood wrote those words. For a recent response to Bloom's dire philippic and a reevaluation of the culture wars, see Lawrence Levine, The Opening of the American Mind: Canons, Culture, and History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996).

26McClary, Feminine Endings, p. 68.

27Ibid., p. 199.

28Developing Variations: Style and Ideology in Western Music (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: 1991), p. 242.

29In E. M. Forster's words (Howards End, Chapter 5): "you are bound to admit that such a noise [here, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony] is cheap at two shillings."

30Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1980, pp. 92-93. This novel, the second in Robertson Davies's "Salterton Trilogy," was first published in Canada in 1954. The passage quoted offers a portion of Davies's delicious parody of the soulless music appreciation course.


32Textbooks now regularly exploit the technological advantages of the compact disc by reducing a Beethoven symphony to a time chart that tells the student down to the second where this or that event takes place. Such an approach has its uses but can easily degenerate into a mechanistic view of musical works.

5445 Last modified on October 17, 2018