Undergraduate Preparation for Graduate Education—University of North Carolina

  • PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40373268

In the belief that we can learn a great deal from our students, the Editor of SYMPOSIUM asked a number of graduate students in music to tell us what they feel was both good and bad about their undergraduate education in music. The Editor approached a number of directors of graduate study in music in universities, and asked each to recommend a graduate student who might be able to articulate his or her thoughts about how previous undergraduate work had or had not been adequate for current graduate study. The response was most heartening, and the students wrote with considerable enthusiasm. It is only to be regretted that space did not permit all who took the time to write to have their essays printed in this issue of SYMPOSIUM. To each graduate director who cooperated and to each student who wrote, the Editor would like to express his thanks and appreciation for contributing such an enlightening series of documents on the recent successes and failures of undergraduate education in music.

Everyone involved in the educational process at our universities—undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, and administration—must work together in order to improve the quality of that process. This means each of these groups should have part in the making of decisions. One of the most important areas in which decisions are made is that of quality and breadth of the curriculum. Because graduate students possess the ability to reflect on how well their undergraduate schools have prepared them for graduate study, I firmly believe that their ideas on undergraduate education deserve the same attention as those of the faculty and administration.

I am currently enrolled in the doctoral program in musicology at the University of North Carolina. My undergraduate training in a general liberal arts program prepared me for scholarly study by exposing me to a broad range of learning in the humanities and social sciences, but it did not sufficiently prepare me for graduate work in the musical aspects of musicology.

I received my undergraduate training at a large state university with a small but growing music program. The only available programs were a certificate in music education and a major emphasis in music, within the general humanities program. A substantial number of music courses were offered, however, enough to enable me to take nearly one hundred quarter hours in music.

The smallness of my undergraduate music department was probably its greatest asset, although a hidden one. This smallness enabled students and professors to know each other well. Professors were better able to determine the weaknesses of students and to correct them than they would have been able to do in a large school. I felt, on the other hand, that close relationships with teachers motivated me to study harder and to seek out learning on my own. This small size also lent itself to special individual study not available at larger schools. For example, as the only student in an advanced conducting class, I received invaluable practical experience in the everyday routine of preparing an orchestra for a performance, training I would not have received at a larger school.

The instruction in theory and harmony was excellent in that it was presented in a clear, step by step approach with an emphasis on music. Harmonic principles were learned by relating them to their use in the music of the common practice period. Students were also assigned to write original compositions illustrating aspects of harmony currently being studied. This prevented the study of harmony from becoming a purely academic discipline and helped to show one how a composer thinks.

Allied with the basic theory courses was a course in counterpoint (emphasis on the Baroque) and one in composition. No other theory-related courses were offered. A course in form and analysis was initiated during the year after my graduation, benefiting future students but not the many who had gone before. A course of this nature is essential in a well-balanced music curriculum. It is also my feeling that more music theory courses would have benefited students greatly, for a real sense of how harmony works does not come until after the student has learned and assimilated basic theoretical principles. Electives in modal theory and counterpoint, late nineteenth-century harmony, and twentieth-century compositional devices and techniques would have been valuable additions to the curriculum. Work in these courses should include extensive writing and analysis. Taught in a historical context, they would provide the student with considerable knowledge of our musical heritage.

While the music theory program was excellent as far as it went, the music history program was the weakest part of the music curriculum. Only two quarters of general history were required, and no material earlier than the Baroque era was covered. The material that was presented received a sketchy treatment because of the scarcity of time. A student was truly forced to obtain most of his knowledge of music history on his own, if he was to obtain it at all. Aside from the basic survey, three music history electives were offered: chamber music literature, orchestral literature, and opera literature. These courses were excellently taught and valuable additions to the curriculum.

Rather than attempting to survey music history in one year, I would suggest at least two years of basic history emphasizing a particular style for each quarter or semester. General music trends could be stressed first, in order to give the student a broad outline of musical events, followed by investigations of pertinent specific topics. Since we are least familiar with the medieval and renaissance periods they should be emphasized strongly. It is important for a student to develop a thorough understanding of what went on musically from 900 to 1650 because these musical practices form the basis of our entire musical system until the 20th century. A generous listing of history electives should supplement the basic history program. While the three history electives offered were excellent, more were needed to cover a student's special areas of interest and to stimulate concern for unfamiliar music literature. Related to but somewhat separate from the music history program is the question of knowledge of the literature of music. Students at my undergraduate school were not overly encouraged to learn the great masterpieces of the standard repertory, and only in the above-mentioned elective courses was any stress put on this most important aspect of a musician's training.

I feel that a knowledge and love of the world's great art music is a sensitive musician's most important possession. Hopefully, the establishment of a listening repertory for undergraduates would increase that knowledge and nurture the love of this music. The listening repertory would consist of a list of the great music of all style periods, and the student would be responsible for recognizing each composition on listening examinations given at predetermined times during his matriculation. The list should be correlated with the content of music history courses but would not necessarily be a part of the courses. The mere introduction of this music should be enough stimulus for learning to the truly interested music student.

If I were to pick one area where my undergraduate school failed me the most, it would be the area of ear training and keyboard harmony. The ear is enormously important to a musician and can never receive too much training, and the ability to realize music at the keyboard is almost as basic. Students at my undergraduate school were allowed one year for each of these subjects. While keyboard harmony was taught as a separate course in the second year, ear training and sight singing were incorporated into the first year music theory course, along with some elementary keyboard harmony.

Both courses were well taught, but they were just not given enough time. I would advocate a program of separate courses in ear training and keyboard harmony, each covering a two year period. In ear training, melodic dictation and sight singing should be emphasized both years. Harmonic dictation stressing the function of chords within a tonality and their relative positions in the tonal hierarchy should keep pace with the introduction of harmonic principles in theory classes. In keyboard harmony, techniques of realizing a figured bass, harmonizing melodies at the keyboard, transposing, improvising, and score reading should be among the topics covered during the two years with an emphasis on the latter three in the second year.

Since a strong library is essential to a superior .music department it should be one of the most fully developed resources of the department. I believe that two prerequisites must be met by a good music library built to serve students and faculty. I) It must have a rich collection of music, books on music, and records, the selection of which is supervised by a fulltime music librarian or faculty committee, and 2) it must be housed in the music building. Neither of these prerequisites existed at my university, and therefore I was not exposed to the richness that an excellent library can provide. I would urge any university striving to build a music department of character not to scrimp at the expense of its music library.

The last aspect of my evaluation does not truly apply in the same way to my preparation for graduate study as have the preceding points. However, since it affects students and the quality of undergraduate education I feel it should be included. The performing groups of a college music department are truly, along with applied music, the most important aspects of the music program. They are the only ones that actually touch music directly and should therefore be given the highest consideration. A well-planned rehearsal schedule, allowing every performing group adequate rehearsal time should be devised. All performing groups should meet at least three times weekly and for a total time of not less than four hours with orchestra because of the difficulty of the repertory and the problems involved, with stringed instruments receiving at least five hours weekly. The situation at my school and at many others I am acquainted with falls short of satisfying these minimum requirements.

While my undergraduate school provided me with excellent training in music theory, it failed me in music history and ear training, mainly because insufficient time was allowed for these subjects. It also failed me by providing an inadequate library and neglecting to introduce me to the riches contained in the available collection. However, I did receive many benefits from my study at the school and because of these I am not sorry I attended. I hope my comments will help in a small way to improve the quality of music programs at this and other schools, or at least to give administrators and faculties some ideas for consideration.

Read 2034 times

Last modified on Tuesday, 13/11/2018

Go to top