Enhancing Music Appreciation with Scholarship

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The present article arose, in part, as a personal response to the Society's recent focus upon teaching music to the general student at the undergraduate level. The viewpoints expressed on "Music Appreciation" in Volume VIII of SYMPOSIUM, as well as at the session devoted to the subject at the Twelfth Annual Meeting in Berea, disclosed a variety of opinions and raised numerous points for discussion. The stimulating floor response during the regrettably brief question-and-answer period at the meeting attests to the topic's continuing "relevance" for many Society members.

My own experience, based upon teaching "Music Appreciation" at three distinctly different institutions (Stanford University, Humboldt State College in California, and Hamline University) tends to reinforce a common approach which sets two main goals for the course: (1) the familiarization of the student with the elements of music (e.g., basic theory) and (2) the utilization of these, at first, "abstract" criteria in comparing and contrasting works drawn from each of the recognized historical periods of music (e.g., history and stylistic analysis). Nevertheless, an optimal achievement of such objectives in colleges today seems, to me, to necessitate extending course content and methodology beyond the bounds of a mere "listening course" whenever possible; only when an individual teacher's energy and imagination transports student interest and comprehension past the printed word and the recorded sound is the instructor's inherent responsibility to present music as a vital, pervasive, truly "liberal" art satisfactorily discharged.

As a respectful addition to the many articulate and well-considered opinions already expressed by Society members, I herewith offer two further criteria which, I feel, deserve primary consideration when structuring and implementing a "Music Appreciation" course:

1. Can the course effectively utilize a variety of approaches, techniques, and procedures to show the student as realistically as possible the world of the professional musician, be he composer, performer, or scholar?

2. Does the course fully exploit the particular personal and material attributes of a department, institution, and area, thereby constituting a "unique" study, tailor-made to the school's strengths?

In illustration of the first consideration, I submit the following as examples of approaches other than listening and reading which have, at one time or another in my experience, provided a student with valuable insights into the field of music:

1a. When art and literature provide parallels or analogies to musical concepts, these relationships should be immediately and clearly expressed. When studying musical Impressionism and Expressionism, for instance, slides of paintings and readings of poems provide vivid parallels. Even when discussing eras of less obvious interdisciplinary influence, certain relationships may still be suggested; studying such items as photographs of Gothic cathedrals, their floor plans, even the layout of a Medieval garden (!) will help articulate certain fundamental artistic and philosophic principles evidenced in the music of the time. Of particular interest to an introductory music class is the analogy of a musical structure (movement, section, period, phrase, motive, chord, note) to that of the written word (chapter, paragraph, sentence, clause, phrase, word, letter). When a direct relationship to such a familiar area as language is recognized, the student's acceptance of music's role as a proper expresser of ideas is facilitated.

1b. When a composition is studied in which music's role is not an exclusive one, the teacher must attempt to acquaint the students with the pertinent "non-musical" aspects of the work. In Lieder or choral music, one should consider the text, its translation, and, if necessary, its analysis; in opera, a synopsis of the plot may suffice. Any work written for the stage (e.g., ballet and opera) poses an additional visual problem; in such a case, slides of a reputable production replete with costumed performers provide important images in consideration of which the musical element will assume realistic proportions. A discussion of selected nontraditional stagings (e.g., those of Wieland Wagner) may even produce a new and, perhaps, more meaningful evaluation of the work itself.

1c. Since professional musicians conventionally communicate through musical notation, students should, at some time in the course, work with a score. The lack of previous musical training common to many introductory students, of course, warrants against studying anything more complicated than a piano score (original or orchestral reduction) or a slow-moving four-part vocal score. Although many students initially panic at the prospects of reading what, to them, seems a new "foreign language," most, with proper encouragement and carefully directed score-marking, find themselves following the metrical regularity and the melodic contours of the, by now, "surprisingly" logical graphism with comparative ease. By having students familiar with musical notation disperse themselves among the class and follow the score with a pencil, almost all students will "make it through" the piece with few problems. Once accomplished, this achievement of "reading a score" becomes a distinct point of pride for most members of the class.

1d. When studying the divergent compositional trends of the 20th Century, numerous opportunities arise for students to compose original compositional fragments in class; the selection and manipulation of a 12-tone row, the preparation of a musique concrète collage, and the composition of an aleatoric work all create considerable enthusiasm among non-majors. In comparing these, understandably, hastily formulated fragments with excerpts written by professional composers, certain desirable "qualitative" evaluations are inevitable; these comparisons serve to allay an initial miscomprehension common among musical novices, that of underestimating the challenges and esthetic considerations inherent in certain apparently "easy-to-compose" contemporary styles.

1e. Since composers from the Renaissance to the present-day have often based works upon the rhythmic patterns of period dances, the student's participation in the reconstruction and execution of certain historic dance steps brings him into a close kinesthetic contact with the "movement and arrival" cycles at the root of a composer's rhythmic plan. Although most early period dances are, admittedly, obsolete, their basic steps are adequately described by such authors as Mabel Dolmetsch,1 for the imaginative teacher. An additional insight may be gained from such a primary source as Arbeau's Orchésographie, recently reprinted in translation by both Dover and Dance Horizons. Any of the above suggestions, when used to supplement the conventional textual-listening approach, will enhance the student's recognition of music as a diverse, many-sided, solid academic discipline. In specific instances, such approaches have opened new and exciting areas for investigation to the student and directed him, ultimately, towards a career in music.

In illustrating my second basic consideration, that of creating a music appreciation course "unique" to an institution, the following examples are offered:

2a. The teacher should, whenever possible, utilize the particular physical resources of the school and community. If the institution owns instruments (particularly those from earlier eras), performance-demonstrations should be planned in the course syllabus. If a good church organ is located nearby, the church should be visited, perhaps concurrently with the course's survey of Baroque music; if a collection of old instruments is housed in the vicinity, the possibility of a field trip to the museum should be explored.

2b. As the study-repertoire for the course is planned, a teacher should consider the announced programming of local concerts and recitals scheduled concurrently with the course. If students study and analyze works which they realize exist in the "main stream" of the performed musical repertoire, at least one "why" aspect of their course participation is, in large measure, answered. For some, the satisfaction of attending a concert and hearing "live" a work they feel they "understand" through class study is of paramount importance.

2c. Last, but far from least, the teacher must not minimize, through fear of immodesty, impropriety, or whatnot, his personal talents, interests, and accomplishments. If the instructor has established a reputation as a pianist, he should perform frequently, whenever such activity may appropriately further the course understanding. Although an individual's research in a specialized area may, initially, seem peripheral to the goals of music appreciation, the very explanation of "how" a musicologist attacks and solves a research problem may have far-reaching, even interdisciplinary, implications for the general music class. As long as the teacher avoids using the classroom merely as a stage upon which to resurrect and magnify his own past triumphs, students will invariably appreciate even a brief glimpse into the instructor's particular area of expertise.

To be sure, the foregoing ideas and suggestions may only summarize procedures which, in one institution or another, have been effectively exploited for years. Nevertheless, I submit that such techniques have, more often than not, been most frequently utilized in advanced music courses, courses seldom enjoyed by the non-major. Unfortunately, I feel that the music appreciation instructor, music's most effective missionary in the institution-at-large, tends both to misread the general student's basic interest in the subject and to underestimate his ability to comprehend a thoroughly professional approach to the topic. If we remember the basic obligation of any introductory course, that of "showing the subject like it is," an implementation of approaches similar to those outlined in this article will articulate a relevance for music appreciation which few will be able to ignore.


1Mabel Dolmetsch, Dances of England and France from 1450 to 1600 (London, 1949) and Dances of Spain and Italy from 1400 to 1600 (London, 1954).

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Last modified on Tuesday, 13/11/2018

Arthur R. Tollefson

Arthur Tollefson has performed as a recitalist, concerto soloist, and chamber player throughout the USA and Europe for over a half century. In addition to several solo performances with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, notable appearances with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra included Tollefson's debut at age 12 and his West Coast premiere of Kabalevsky's Piano Concerto #3 . Holder of the first doctorate in piano awarded by Stanford University, he was invited back to his alma mater to perform in commemoration of the music department's 50th anniversary. After early studies with Adolph Baller, Rosina Lhevinne, Egon Petri, and Paul Badura-Skoda, Mr. Tollefson in 1975 began a seven-year term as Chair of Northwestern University's School of Music’s Piano Department. A former winner of the Kimber Award, he has recorded Virgil Thomson's piano music, gave the New York City premiere of David Maslanka's Piano Concerto, and has given master classes at the Ravinia Festival. He is a Steinway Artist and a National Arts Associate of Sigma Alpha Iota. Mr. Tollefson has served as President of the College Music Society, Chair of the International Society for Music Education's Commission on the Education of the Professional Musician, Chair of the National Piano Foundation's Education Advisory Board, and Chair of the Music Teachers National Association's College Faculty Forum. Upon his retirement after 17 years as Dean of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro's School of Music, he was named Dean Emeritus of the School.

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