Undergraduate Preparation for Graduate Education—Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Published online: 1 October 1971
- PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40373273
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.
To recall the experiences of college becomes progressively more difficult as time passes by. We tend to forget most details, and the outlines themselves become encrusted with the varnish of sentiment. Our successes increase in dimension, our failures diminish in importance. The feelings that remain can, after several decades, reduce alumni to tears at the sight of the alma mater, much to the amusement of far less sentimental undergraduates. Because sentimentality may pose a threat to a dispassionate evaluation of an undergraduate education, we should be careful to apply standards of judgment that will minimize this force. Edward T. Cone of Princeton University has suggested in "Analysis Today," an essay appearing in the Musical Quarterly (Vol. 46), that . . . "a work of art ought to imply the standards by which it demands to be judged." We should have similar expectations of a college curriculum and should judge it by those standards before asking if the institution can produce students fully prepared to do graduate work.
To do otherwise may be very unfair to both the college and its faculty. If it is demonstrated that prior to beginning graduate work a student must review a part of his undergraduate curriculum, he might feel justified in blaming the college for failing to provide an adequate background in that area of study. Several questions immediately come to mind. Did the student fully utilize the available opportunities? Did his college ever intend that what was offered was meant to represent adequate preparation? Or was the program considered adequate by the college when it clearly was not in light of the expectations of graduate programs? Whatever the answers to these questions, I believe that adapting Professor Cone's thoughts about works of art to a college curriculum will reveal whether or not that college can prepare students for graduate work.
I received the degree of Bachelor of Arts degree in June 1968 from Hamilton College (Clinton, New York). My study of music was set in the larger content of a liberal arts curriculum, the goals of which were outlined in the college catalogue:
Today a student enrolling at Hamilton is expected to learn to speak and write his own language well, to attain skill in one foreign language, to become acquainted with the methods of science, to expand his knowledge of the relationship between man and society, to become familiar with at least one of the creative arts, and to develop his understanding of ethical and spiritual values. These attainments are essential to a liberal arts education.
(Hamilton College Catalogue, 1968-69.)
Fulfilling these goals restricted the choice of courses during the first two years and many, including myself, were still taking a course in the junior year to meet these requirements, while beginning work in their area of major concentration as well. In my first two years I took courses in English literature, writing, French (including a year survey of the literature), world history, philosophy (two courses), Greek literature in translation, geology, as well as the survey course in music. As a Junior, I took a survey of anthropology to complete a two-part requirement in the social sciences. I have outlined the curriculum in detail to underscore the breadth of study implied by the catalogue description. This required taking five three-credit courses per semester, in addition to which every student took four semesters of public speaking earning two credits for each.
There were few music courses in any given year. Having just two faculty members, the department was obviously restricted in the number of course offerings. A music major took virtually all of the courses with little choice as to the order. Two courses in music history were offered in alternate years, grouping the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods in one, and the Classic, Romantic and twentieth century in the other. There were three semesters of harmony, one of tonal counterpoint. As a senior I took two seminars in advanced studies dealing in a necessarily cursory way with problems of bibliography, editing, analysis, and ear training. Although there was no piano proficiency requirement, those lacking keyboard skill were urged to study. I should add that just as the number of faculty was small, so was the number of those majoring in music. There were three in my class.
In general I believe that I experienced a superior undergraduate education, for the variety of study described above has been enormously useful to me. The exposure to a variety of disciplines and faculty personalities increased my scholastic perspective and enabled me to choose my major with far greater confidence than otherwise would have been possible. Another advantage was the opportunity to study with men who were quite influential even though they worked in fields other than music. The chairman of the anthropology department was one such influence, and it was his personality as much as the material he presented that sticks in my mind.
While the quality of Hamilton College's education was (and remains) outstanding overall, unfortunately in many ways the music curriculum did not achieve the same excellence. Basically, this resulted from the attempt to achieve too much with too limited resources. For one faculty member to teach the entire history of music on a level of some detail requires an unprejudiced approach to all the historical periods. Personal bias against a particular style or composer of a period outside of the instructor's main historical interests can too easily be transmitted to his students, who must later disengage themselves from distorted evaluations. To attempt to teach tonal counterpoint in one semester is to condense at least a full-year course into half the time, a practicality only if the students are thoroughly grounded in harmonic principles and have already been exposed to some of the most elementary contrapuntal ideas in their study of harmony. To achieve these two goals in a study of harmony requires more time than the three semesters available at Hamilton. Thus the counterpoint course was severely handicapped from the beginning.
What could have been done under these circumstances to mitigate these problems? First of all, a lot of responsibility should have been placed upon the student for his own education beyond the classroom. Two summers of independent reading and listening are available to the student who must declare his major at the conclusion of the sophomore year. During those periods the student could begin to fill in his background through a guided program under the direction of the faculty. There are many books that may be considered basic to a music student's library which provide insight into the problems of music and are available in inexpensive editions. Such books as A Composer's World by Hindemith, The Interpretation of Music by Dart, and Friedrich Blume's essays on four periods of music history recently published in English translation, could serve this purpose. At the beginning of the following year, several discussion sessions including both students and faculty could serve to summarize the ideas and attitudes of each author. The result could be an increased awareness of the problems of music and the variety of approaches to them.
While a student is absorbing the facts of and opinions about history, he should be studying the music as well. Inexpensive scores and recordings are not difficult to obtain. Several compositions in pocket score from the periods studied the previous year could become the foundation of summer study and, similar to the readings, they could provide the student with increased insight into the problems of music, in this case developing an analytical method. Preparation by the faculty in advance might include brief discussions of each work with a series of questions that the student could use to guide himself through each work. Again, a period of summary in the fall would be important.
Several questions might be raised. Is it not conceivable that such a program might place a financial hardship on the student? I sincerely doubt it. I feel that a respectable amount of work could be done in a summer with books and scores costing a total of not more than twenty dollars. Students, if they are interested in music, probably spend as much to expand their personal music libraries in a semester. In this way they would have the advantage of purchasing books with an immediate use. What about the student who is not so motivated, will he not fall behind the others? Certainly, but I think it better that he discovers the dimensions of his interest as an undergraduate than after he enters graduate school.
I have never heard of such a program in operation, but I think it would help to improve the preparation of students for a graduate program in music. It would certainly be an improvement over the type of program I completed.
The standards suggested by Professor Cone in another context would reveal the high quality of the general education at Hamilton College, but I feel they would show the music program suffered from a debilitating superficiality. If an undergraduate program must be taught by only two professors, then it should substitute concentrated study for survey. It is better for a student to know a smaller part of the field well than to have exposure to, but not comprehension of, a larger part. If the concentrated work provides him with methods for dealing with the problems of music, be they theoretical, analytical, or historical, he should have little difficulty filling in the rest on his own.
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