Teaching Music in the Context of General Studies

April 30, 2006

In the fall of 2004, I was privileged to organize and chair two sessions relating to Music in General Studies at the CMS national conference in San Francisco. Diverse in their content and intriguing in the ideologies and perspectives that they conveyed, these sessions were well attended and led to stimulating discussions, both at the San Francisco meeting and also at the 2005 national conference in Quebec City. In fact, several of the key topics addressed during these sessions remained central to the discussion at the open MGS Forum held in Quebec City: the status of general education music classes in music departments, schools of music, and colleges and universities in general; the place of world and popular musics in Music Appreciation and related courses; the training of instructors to teach general music classes; and the special pedagogical challenges of teaching music to the non-specialist and helping them to find ways, as Barbara Bowker herself has put it, to better "articulate their musical experience."

I am pleased to see three of the contributions to the San Francisco MGS special sessions in print in this issue of the Newsletter. We hope, of course, that publishing these perspectives will keep alive the dialogue on such topics among our colleagues. We also hope, however, that perhaps some of these dialogues will move in the direction of real action. For the past several years, The College Music Society has hosted sessions, plenary and otherwise, that involved the membership in discussions about how we might transform the multi-faceted realm of music education to better serve our music students, our future audiences, and ourselves in the academy. Now, more than ever, we as music educators are struggling with issues related to our own survival - our real and lasting relevance in the world around us.

Paula Conlon's piece on how world music classes function in the context of general education at the University of Oklahoma points out that the "awareness" that innovative and well-thought-out curricula can engender is one crucial aspect of this survival. At the same time, Gerard Aloisio, of Mankato State University in Minnesota, reminds us that it is "our passion for music that keeps alive the flames within us and that most effectively kindles flames in the hearts and minds of our future audiences." Aloisio's case, too, serves as an example of how the spark of an idea can turn into a real administrative action: his university created a dedicated position for him as a specialist in music in general studies. Of course, it takes more than passion to convince others that what we do serves lasting and real purposes.

Linda Pohly of Ball State University feels strongly teachers need to be trained in getting across this information (and this passion!) to students. The Music Appreciation Pedagogy course that Professor Pohly teaches is another example of an idea put into concrete practice.

One of the most significant buzz words on my home campus is "Civic Engagement." Perhaps one way of thinking about where we have been and where we are going in terms of Music in General Studies is to consider ways in which our concerns about curriculum, pedagogy, funding, and relevance might be extended into broader discussions of music's many roles in society. And I would encourage colleagues to think about such issues as broadly as possible.

During my three-year term as CMS Board Member for Music in General Studies, for instance, I often encountered the assumption that those interested in music for the "non-major" were also those who specialized in popular or non-Western music. Of course, my own status as a scholar who writes about popular music may have contributed to this assumption, and I have met, through the CMS, many colleagues who share these connections. However, I am also an active pianist and maintain, in my teaching and writing, a deep love and respect for the tradition of Western art music. I believe strongly in the continued relevance of this music in our contemporary world, and while I equally believe that it is essential for music educators to begin to move in directions like those identified in the following essays, such as making world music a required course for music majors or integrating popular music into the curriculum on its own terms. I refuse to think that these are the only ways in which we can argue for music's relevance in our world. Regardless of ideological differences and of the obvious issues of tastes and preferences, we are all in this together; indeed, the institutional recognition of such differences is what makes the CMS a unique and important organization.

I believe that CMS has the power not only to construct such arguments in the insulated context of an annual conference but to deliver them effectively to the community at large. It is my hope and indeed my expectation that CMS will play a leading role in formulating and delivering these arguments in the crucial years ahead.

I have been honored to be a member of the Board for the past three years, and I expect, in my continuing relationship with CMS, to play a part in this process. Perhaps, when we take stock of the status of music in higher education some ten or twenty years in the future, we will see initiatives like those presented in the following essays either firmly established or at least taking root at institutions across the country. We need to believe deeply that music as a universal means of communication profoundly serves to define the human experience.

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