Celebrating 60 Years of the Symposium (1961-2021): Learning from our Past

May 1, 2021

The 2021 College Music Symposium is a true milestone as it marks the 60th year of the society’s journal, which was first published in 1961. Perusing through these decades of issues, thousands of articles, essays, and reviews, is both fascinating and humbling. The greatest leaders in our fields have used Symposium’s pages to flesh out the most important strategies for paths forward in music or higher education. But also, the journal has certified and vetted a plethora of advanced scholarship encompassing the many specialties of our readership. What is so remarkable is not just the scope or significance of the topics covered, but the quality of the work itself.

In historical context, many problems we face today were confronted by our distinguished predecessors—from issues of job availability and student preparedness, consequences of globalization (mass media), the need for inclusivity, the power of commercial music to supplant both indigenous and “art” musics, and on and on. In its quest to encourage dialogue, the Symposium never shied from controversial or innovative ideas. For instance, the inaugural year issues of 1961 introduced Ethnomusicology, “the youngest of the branches of musicology” (Mason 1961), and celebrated the creation of Mantle Hood’s UCLA Ethnomusicology Institute through which he ushered in a new educational approach that would impact generations (Revitt 1961). Subsequently, Symposium published close to 1000 articles involving the once new areas of Ethnomusicology or World Music.

Clearly, many of the writings of the 1970s featured impassioned pleas to refashion music in higher education and scholarship with attention to germaneness. For instance, in 1971 Hood notes that his students seek an education that is focused on “change, innovation, and relevance”—topics still addressed today (Hood 1971). That same year, Charles Hamm lamented that music in academe was too disconnected from the interests of students:

…our lack of concern for and involvement with [popular] music is creating a situation whereby many younger people are… taking the attitude that there are two categories of music, “their” music and “our” music….and often the most intelligent and talented ones are “turned off” by our courses and programs and degrees (Hamm 1971).

The support for inclusivity appears throughout the journal’s offerings. Eileen Southern, the first African-American woman to gain tenure among Harvard’s Arts and Sciences faculty, in 1973 penned “Needs for Research in Black-American Music” in which she reminds us that American Music is just as valid as that of Europe. She implies that Black Music is actually a unifier, since like other American musics, it is tied to national pride and identity: “Slowly American scholarship is discarding its long-held feelings of inferiority about the merit of American music, and Afro-American music cannot help but benefit from this change in attitude” (Southern 1973).

In 1998 Edith Borroff discussed “Preparing for the Future of Music,” as she reviewed historic cycles and speculated that a new unknown type of music would be established by ca 2050.

It seems clear to me. We must work toward an openness of mind that will enable our students to understand the coming of a new style and that will enable them to recognize it when it comes. Nobody can know what that new style will consist of, so we must not reject anything; we must welcome it all: secular and religious music; popular and concert music; American and foreign music-music from all over the world (Borroff 1998).

On the other hand, others have been concerned with the erosion of musical heritage and preservation. Bruno Nettl in the 1999 Symposium noted, it is “not only the European classical tradition that needs to be preserved, but also all musical traditions everywhere” (Nettl 1999). His comments were issued almost 40 years after Wilton Mason recounted a conversation with a Ceylon [Sri Lankan] delegate about American popular music replacing folk arts in foreign lands: 

…he advised me to hurry if I had any plans for recording this [Ceylon folk] material, since the radio station of Colombo was currently broadcasting some eight hours daily of rock-and-roll, and it was quite common to look about and see a mahout seated on his elephant with a transistor radio tuned in to Elvis Presley!

These citations show the startling effects of some of our [American] exports in the field of folk and popular music. The singular fact is that this influence is infinitely stronger and more immediately productive of response than our more sophisticated [classical] artistic efforts…Americans have been slow to realize this fact, in spite of the phenomenal effect of our popular music abroad (Mason 1961).

Gunther Schuller’s 1983 oral address, published by Symposium, posed existential questions: “what are we actually doing, and why? Or worse yet: should we be doing what we are doing?” He notes, “the stranglehold that commercial music has on the fine musics—be they classical, jazz, folk, or ethnic—is truly frightening….We [in academe] are overproducing the wrong kind of product: more musicians instead of audiences” (Schuller 1983).

Of course, the topics covered in Symposium are also quite academically pointed, as so many prodigious minds shared their scholarly perspectives on our pages. Unquestionably, theorists and composers have been among the most productive and prestigious authors of Symposium articles. The great composer Milton Babbit, a leading proponent of serialism and early electronic music, in 1965 scrutinized the complex matter of structure and function of music theory (Babbit 1965). In 2001, Miguel Roig-Francoli, the lauded theorist-composer, astutely discussed “Pitch-Class-Set Extension in Atonal Music” (Roig-Francoli 2001). Allen Forte, the master of music analysis, in 1977 mused on “Music Theory in Re-Transition” (Forte 1977); Thomas DeLio, the experimental composer and theorist, wrote several articles for Sympsoium, for instance, the 2016 work, “A Web of Words: Elliott Carter’s End of a Chapter” (DeLio 2016); V. Kofi Agawu, the musical semiotic expert from Ghana, in 1987 analyzed “The First Movement of Beethoven's Opus 132” (Agawu 1987); and Jan LaRue, the great scholar who compiled 17,000 symphonic themes, in 1981 investigated “Quadrant Framework for Style Analysis in Music” (LaRue 1981). 

Over the decades so many distinguished writers in so many music fields have shared their thoughts in the journal, more than can be recounted here. But we might mention  esteemed scholars like: J. Peter Burkholder, Susan McClary, Robert M. Trotter, Anthony Seeger, Douglass Seaton, Kay Kaufman Shelemay, Barry S. Brook, H. Wiley Hitchcock, Ruth Stone, Stephen Blum, David Schulenberg, Vincent Duckles, Susan C. Cook, Clifford Madsen, Claude V. Palisca, William Ennis Thomson, Timothy Rice, Neal Zaslaw, James R. Briscoe, John Daverio…and the list of luminaries goes on and on.

The quality of our authors and the many stellar articles issued in the past sixty years attest to the fact that if you publish with the Symposium, you are in good company. In that spirit, we welcome our future contributors and look forward to the next decades of provocative discourse.


Agawu, V. Kofi. 1987. “The First Movement of Beethoven's Opus 132 and the Classical Style.” College Music Symposium. 27 (Oct): 30-45.

Babbitt, Milton. 1965. “The Structure and Function of Music Theory: 1.” College Music Symposium. 5 (Oct.): 49-60.

Borroff, Edith. 1998. “Preparing for the Future of Music.” College Music Symposium. 38 (Jan).

DeLio, Thomas. 2016. “A Web of Words Elliott Carter’s End of a Chapter.” College Music Symposium. 56 (June).

Forte, Allen. 1977. “Music Theory in Re-Transition: Centripetal Signs.” College Music Symposium. 17 (1/Oct): 156-162.

Hamm, Charles. 1971. “Music and Higher Education in the 1970's: A Needed Change in Attitude.” College Music Symposium. 11 (Oct.).

Hood, Mantle. 1971. “Musical Literacy in the 1970's.” College Music Symposium. 11 (Oct): 96.

LaRue, Jan. 1981. “The Quadrant Framework for Style Analysis in Music.” College Music Symposium. 21 (Oct/1): 40-47.

1162 Last modified on January 24, 2022