Music in General Studies - Perspectives and Prospects

August 31, 2004

Perspectives inform or remind readers about the beginnings of the MGS emphasis within CMS (1977-1985), including curricular issues that were emphasized in workshops, convention presentations, and published articles during the 1980s. Much of the information was taken from the Wingspread Report (1981), curricula of four summer Institutes for Music in General Studies held in Boulder (1982-1985), and the Report of the Task Force on Music in General Studies, prepared in 1985. Prospects deal with the present as we prepare for the future, particularly as we look to an MGS emphasis at the CMS Annual Meeting in San Francisco in November. Important issues emerge from the various topics to be discussed more fully by seven MGS faculty members in November.

I believe it would be fair to say that the traditional music appreciation course prior to the 1980s (and likely in many courses since) was geared toward helping students love Western European classical music. Today, many appreciation texts emphasize a broader repertoirewithin the Western culture and beyond.

Texts and repertoire became issues but so did the quality of teaching. In 1977, the CMS Board created a new academic category representation on its Board: Music in General Education. Prior to this, only Theory, Musicology, Composition, Music Education, Ethnomusicology, and Performance were represented. In 1980, the Board changed the name of the position to Music in General Studies.

Robert Trotter, the first Board Member for Music in General Education, made the case for music in general education as a concern for (1) the education of the general student (the nonmusic major) and (2) the general education of music majors. Since then, however, the CMS-MGS program has focused primarily on improving the music teaching and learning of students not majoring in music.

Having established the MGS Board position, the next step was an MGS conference. It was held in June 1981 at the Wingspread conference center in Racine, Wisconsin. The entire report of this conference can be read on the CMS Web site.

Like most conferences, the purpose of the Wingspread Conference was to provide background, define issues, and formulate solutions to problems. It also explored the relationship between music in general studies and the survival of music in higher education and the culture of our society.

The first major outgrowth of Wingspread was a series of four summer MGS workshops; all were held in Boulder, Colorado. MGS-I focused on the philosophy, content, and structure of courses for the non-music major; the curriculum for MGS-II (1983) was organized around the theme: Building an Expanded Repertoire; the MGS-III curriculum (1984) considered the problems of teaching the materials of music to the non-music major; and MGS-IV (1985) adopted the theme: The Musical Experience in the Classroom. MGS-III and MGS-IV each utilized consultants who shared their knowledge of computer resources and applications appropriate for MGS classes. Further, CMS developed three more MGS summer workshops (1986, 1987, and 1988), each of which concentrated on specific world musics and ways of incorporating them in MGS classes.

The Wingspread Conference also recommended that a conference be held in conjunction with the National Association of Schools of Music. This conference took place in Dearborn, Michigan, in 1983. An NASM publication resulted from this conference: Music in General Studies: a Survey of National Practice in Higher Education (refer online at and click Brochures and Advisory Papers/Music in General Studies....). Access the conference papers on the CMS Web site.

Anyone with recent CMS annual conferences programs could cite MGS topics presented during the past several years. But to explore, with more than a title, the anticipated presentations at the 2004 meeting in San Francisco by seven MGS teachers, I believe, will more than adequately provide some sense of where MGS is headed.

Gerard Aloisio, of Minnesota State University, makes the case for a music appreciation specialist. These courses typically are assigned to beginning faculty (paying their dues), tossed from person to person (spreading the pain equally), or to faculty approaching retirement (as incentive to retire early!). He argues that satisfactory experiences in these classes can result in life-long interest in a broad spectrum of music, even art music. These students can become community supporters of music and the arts.

Aloisio believes that they deserve the very best teachers, the ones with the greatest passion for teaching music appreciation (by whatever title), who want to make a careera LIFEof it. It is time that we embrace non-majors as the indispensable people they are, and provide the specialists they deserve in their classrooms . . . .

Paula Conlon, of the University of Oklahoma, explores the advantages and disadvantages of teaching World Music classes primarily as service courses for upper-level nonmusic majors. Her perspective is derived from teaching Native-American music (she has taught thirty-eight of these course to date) and from coordinating all World Music classes, which have an annual enrollment of over 2000 students.

Phil Ford, of Stanford University, comments on the perspective of not high brow, not low brow, but middle brow. He discusses how the old name and concept for MGSmusic appreciation - is actually not such a bad thing. He feels that music appreciation may carry the taint of the middlebrow and will discuss what that means and how anxieties over middlebrow culture (and brows in general) are anxieties over cultural status - class anxieties.

Peggy Holloway, of Wayne State College, will discuss ramifications of a single required course, Introduction to Music, required of all students at her institution in order to graduate. Furthermore, she will summarize her institutions current processand the associated debate involvedin revising the General Education requirements.

Additionally, Holloway raises the question of the validity of using certain courses designed for elementary education majors, such as her course titled Music and the Creative Process in Education, in which she uses Orff-Schulwerk methods to provide more hands-on involvement in the process of learning basic music concepts, such as rhythm, pitch, scales, tempo, and dynamicsas well as how to listen to music.

Valerie Meidinger, of Marian College (Wisconsin), explores (1) how music method courses can be truly relevant to the future lives of pre-service classroom teachers, and (2) whether current method courses actually increase the level of understanding and appreciation of the musical arts?

Donald C. Meyer, of Lake Forest College (Illinois), has taken steps to help students improve their ability to discuss a piece of music, especially one they hadnt heard before. He concluded that the problem was not the students lack of ability but in the nature of the teaching material the text book. Meyer decided he would do what professors sometimes do; he wrote his own textbook.

While covering much of the same material as a standard music appreciation textbook, Meyers book presents greater depth of coverage of popular music styles and replaces the common, rather passive listening guides with listening activities that encourage hands-on work for students to do while listening to recordings.

Linda Pohly, of Ball State University, discusses aspects of the Doctor of Arts (DA) degree offered at Ball State, a degree designed in part to emphasize preparation for college teaching. Therefore, all DA students are required to take either a Music Appreciation or a Music Theory pedagogy class. Pohly, who teaches the Music Appreciation pedagogy class, will comment on:

  • What she teachespractically and philosophicallyin that class;
  • The projects, assignments, and experiences involved; for example, students teach at least once in the semester in one of the music appreciation sections;
  • What she has learned in the process of trying to teach doctoral students about teaching music appreciation;
  • Follow-up or results as determined by her continuing contact with the students.

To conclude this discussion of MGS, what are the prospects for Music in General Studies for the next ten or twenty years? Is MGS important enough that CMS should continue to provide national leadership?

What are the prospects for MGS as an area of academic specialization? Are there schools and departments that feel that these courses are more than mere credit-hour producers? In what ways do MGS courses contribute to our regional and national musical culture? Why not staff your service courses with your best teachers, giving them support, status, and rewards?

And finally, consider sharing your experiences with innovative and successful MGS efforts through continued dialog, perhaps through the CMS Newsletter!

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