Musical Literacy in the 1970's

  • PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40373283


This paper was part of a panel presentation for The College Music Society at the University of Toronto on November 7, 1970 entitled
Music and Higher Education in the 1970's. Chairman of the panel was William J. Mitchell. The other panelists were Charles Hamm, James Haar, Claude V. Palisca, Robert J. Werner, and Neal Zaslaw. Abstracts of the papers they presentedas well as Mitchell's introductory remarkswere also included in Symposium Volume 11.

In the conviction that three overworked and sometimes misapplied words—change, innovation, and relevance—will continue to keynote the demands of students, I want to consider their implications in what might be termed a broader concept of musical literacy in the 1970's. Based on more than fifteen years' experience, with an ethnomusicological approach to the study of music, I believe there are some changes and innovations overdue in both the undergraduate and graduate curricula. The relevance of these proposed changes, in the experience of a small but growing number of students and faculty, has already been demonstrated.

All music—eastern or western, ancient or contemporary—is quite naturally imbedded in a rich socio-cultural context: 1) the inclusion of such a context should obtain not only in the specialized period course but also in courses in musicianship, theory, performance, surveys of literature, pedagogy, composition, bibliography, and research methods; 2) literacy in music, somewhat analogous to literacy in language, should include deep and extended exposure to major foreign tongues (the music of one African and one Asian culture, should be included throughout the spread of undergraduate and first-year graduate study in all the courses mentioned above); 3) institutionalized study of the arts in the Western world has long since suffered from an artificial separation of the naturally interrelated arts, a condition that not only obscures their relatedness but also encourages an exaggerated proliferation and fragmentation within each of the so-called disciplines thereby derived (general university and college requirements should be revised to include required courses in dance, theater, fine art, and creative writing as well as clearly related courses in the humanities and social sciences); 4) the materials of theory and literature courses should be coordinated with correlative musical performance; 5) seminars with a Gestalt approach to music in its socio-cultural context should be instituted in both the lower and upper divisions of the undergraduate program; 6) existing core curricula in music should be greatly compressed to accommodate these changes; 7) in all modes and at all levels of instruction the oralization of music (the making of it) should be clearly recognized as the sine qua non of musical literacy; 8) and, finally, qualification for candidacy for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees should be assured in terms of this order of musical literacy rather than extensive but unilateral acquaintance with the musical literature of the European art tradition.

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