The Department of Music in the Contemporary University

  • PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40373915

The arts in higher learning are rapidly changing. Some of this change is a response to pressures from outside institutions while some is created by faculties within them. Whatever the source, change occurs within a philosophical framework and in the evolution of practice and content of academic artistic endeavors. The anxiety and uncertainty in collegiate music faculties centers much on both the question of our evolution's direction and the resultant concurrent stress in our philosophical framework. Also, the role of the musician in higher learning is different now. The long-standing set of expectations for him is becoming dysfunctional. In one sense, we can say that the academic musician has made progress in his responsiveness to his environment. In another sense, we can say that the changes created have placed the creators in a bewildering complex of options.

Music as an endeavor in higher education has not always enjoyed the multifaceted role that it has now. One frequently hears it said that music was part of the curriculum in the medieval university, that it has always been one of the seven liberal arts. But that is misleading. When the seven liberal arts were formed in the seventh century, A.D., they were comprised of two parts. One part was the trivium and included grammar, rhetoric, and logic—all verbal in character. The other part was the quadrivium comprised of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music—all numerical in character. Music was essentially the study of the numerical ratios that Pythagoras, Aristoxenus, and other ancient Greeks found in their acoustical studies. It was not learning the art of performance. Also, Aristotle established a longstanding attitude toward the making of musical sounds: making music should be left to the slaves and speculation about meaning in music should be the concern of the free man. This attitude prevailed throughout the middle ages.

With the founding of the medieval universities in the 13th and 14th centuries, the mathematical study of music was included in the seven liberal arts, but not the making of music. Of course, the sound of music was needed and it existed in the chapel and in daily life, but it was not academically respectable. The performer, in almost every university, was a pariah among academicians. One exception was at Oxford, where the first doctor of music was granted. But for the most part, the musician marched at the end of the academic procession and his art was denigrated because it did not fit into the numerical and verbal symbolic systems of the seven liberal arts that mankind so arduously formed out of its desire for and drive toward rationality.

Since those early days, not much has changed on the continent of Europe. Today studies about music, that is, musicology, are found primarily in the universities, and teachers of music makers have formed their own academic organization independent of the university, namely, the conservatory. Again, the common exceptions are still in the British Isles where the performance of music and studies about music live together in the universities even though there are also conservatories for the performing musician.

The dichotomous treatment of music was practiced in the early days of our country also. When Harvard College was established in 1636, music was studied as part of physics. Liberal education was verbal and numerical and was replicative of the seven liberal arts in the medieval university. Musical sounds as a symbolic system were not recognized by academicians. Even today there are a handful of liberal arts colleges that do not grant academic recognition to the practical study of music, which we call applied music. It was not until the last half of the nineteenth century that academic respectability was given to the musician by a few institutions in this country. That is why so many music departments are so young. At first, separate departments of music gave diplomas outside of the liberal arts college with which they were affiliated. Then, during the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of this century, these separate departments were assimilated by their colleges and were granted academic recognition. However, except for a few institutions, music courses accepted towards the Bachelor of Arts degree in this country were initiated in this century.

I have used the terms academic respectability and academic recognition. What is the test for these? It is simply academic credit toward a degree granted by an institution of higher learning.

Our history is a fascinating evolution of the struggle for recognition by those who have challenged the idea that the only substantive symbolic systems man has developed are words and numbers. One could narrate numerous details about this struggle, but my purpose has been to show the history of a regrettable dichotomous treatment of information about music and the making of music. It helps explain why there is so much foolishness about the role of the performer and the role of the scholar in a department of music. We are the product of a long history of social mores and social conditioning that has treated the performer as homo ludens (playing man) and the scholar as homo sapiens (knowing man). This has been built into our language; we play instruments, but we study music history.

The denial of this schizoid treatment of musicians is found in the physiological organization of the human being. We now have information about how we function that was not known until recently, although the Renaissance man would say to us "I told you so." The validity of his assertion about the unity of human beings is found actually in the hemispheric organization of the human brain. In the left hemisphere, primarily, we conceptualize, analyze, and use words. In the right hemisphere are the operations of intuition and artistic thought. There is a massive joining tissue between those two hemispheres and there are millions of nerves connecting the two hemispheres integrating their functioning, making it possible for either hemisphere to take over, at least in part, the work of the other, should either be damaged. Therefore, we can say that a performer who doesn't treat his instrument logically and does not know why a work is performed in a particular manner is operating in a half-brained manner. The same can be said of the musicologist who is not sensitive to the organization of sound represented in the score; he too is operating in a half-brained manner.

There are still many mysteries about how humans function; but we do know that anyone accepted into an institution of higher learning has both hemispheres of his brain with him. We talk about human fulfillment. It would seem that it is a whole-brained operation. Fortunately for us, higher education is becoming a whole-brained endeavor. However, there are still among us a few people who cling to the medieval concept of man's intellect. They argue that the arts belong outside academic life because of their nonverbal and nonnumerical nature and the skills they require. But then, how much academic credit should be allotted to the tracing of the nerves in a frog or cleaning test tubes or observing the stars or comparing rock strata—all nonverbal and nonnumerical endeavors?

Our concepts of academic propriety and respectability have gone through great changes. One could say that these changes have occurred in spite of people in the arts. In the nineteenth century, there was a gradual intensification of interest in the nature of the arts and the relationship of man to them. The result of that interest was the acceptance of aesthetics as a phenomenon worthy of study. Especially, it was the study of meaning in art and how we obtain that meaning. Art was treated, and still is treated by some people, as a peculiar phenomenon created by peculiar humans. The argument has been that the philosopher or scientist or linguist is one person at work but another when he cultivates his rose garden at home. Artists grasped the opportunity to enjoy this notoriety, and aided that myth. Wagner, Liszt, Schumann, and others especially come to mind. Today, the layman can claim that he was conned by the folks in the arts into believing that only the self-proclaimed artist works in the realm of aesthetics. This is not true, as whole-brained mathematicians and scientists and other kinds of people will tell you. Polanyi, the scientist-philosopher, has said that something is true when it satisfies, an interesting idea that reveals Polanyi's propensity for feeling his way through science. But then, scientists as a whole haven't helped us much. Only recently have there been courageous admissions that the scientific method is more myth than fact. Also, mathematicians are beginning to admit that formal satisfying design is an essential characteristic of adequate mathematical processes. Perhaps the strongest statement about the underlying sameness in the arts and sciences was made by Bronowski in his Ascent of Man. He illustrated scientific concepts by using works of art drawn from man's history of expressing his private ideas through paint, mass, sound, etc. The point is a rather simple one: man has only one kind of brain, one kind of mental operation essentially, regardless of the externalized forms he creates. It seems quite evident that now many kinds of people are concerned about a whole-brained human being fulfilling himself in a whole-brained manner and that the divisions among the humanities, the sciences, the social sciences, and any other sub-divisions one would like to name are diminishing.

What does all of this mean for a department of music in an institution of higher learning today? The answer is: we can look at the past differently; we can look at ourselves today differently; and we can look at our future endeavors differently. There are musicians doing so already.

In our recent past the musical scholar worked on his manuscripts, wrote his papers, enjoyed esoteric fellowship at professional meetings, and expected little to come of his efforts in the world of music making. The performer assumed that he could take a musical score, prepare it on the principle of "I think it should be done this way," and mount the stage "to do his own thing." The result was Mendelssohnian Mozart, Wagnerian Handel and Chopinesque Beethoven. The musicologists grumbled about moving out of departments of music into departments of history, and the performers were willing to help them pack up their musty books and manuscripts. But, the musicologists couldn't do that, because music in order to exist has to be sounded. The music historian is dependent on the people who make the sound. Too, one can hardly name a musicologist who did not begin his interest in music by making it. So the rubbing of elbows continued until the musicologists formed a bridge, a means of communication. They found scholarly value in analyzing performance practices, and this began not long after World War II. The products of this effort have been helpful to honorable performers, and the interaction between scholarship and performance is our pleasant state today. We have entered the era of scholarly-based performance.

Therefore, the performance of a work in terms of the knowledge we have about it today is not only a problem of integrity for the art form; it is also a problem of integrity for the performer. If we choose to ignore the problem of integrity, we deny the meaning of education and the scholarly efforts that underlie it. We deny the institution in which we live, higher learning.

There is an assumption underlying the new era of scholarly-based performance, and that assumption affects both faculty and students. The assumption is that universities are institutions of higher learning.

The word "learning" in this usage sometimes becomes peculiarly limited. Some use it as if it is applicable to students only. Perhaps this is why the work of a collegiate teacher is misunderstood. Students think that their own learning is the only learning taking place. Fortunately for them, that is not true. Their teachers are learning also, and that is what we call scholarship or research. If a collegiate teacher is not involved in a new project, whether it is related to his courses or not, that teacher is functioning without creative activity and may be depleted as a source of learning energy. What he teaches may sooner or later come from yellowed pages of notes, or outmoded performance practices. His students will suffer. That danger is particularly great for students of undergraduate faculty.

During the past half century, the American system of higher learning unfortunately has separated creative work out of undergraduate faculty endeavors. The generation of new knowledge has become the accepted domain of the graduate faculty and the graduate student in many major institutions. In music almost all information of fundamental worth has come from doctoral students, while only a relatively small number of graduate faculty have added to our knowledge. For most students, the doctoral degree in music has been not only a terminal degree, but also the experience has been a terminal process in research.

For undergraduate faculties, there has emerged an idea that they are only teachers, that research is not their responsibility, that creative thought is someone else's challenge. This has led to the cry: "publish or perish." This is an objection from overloaded teachers and a whimper from academic incompetents. Publishing and publicly performing are merely the means for sharing what one has learned. Publishing, especially, is a sharing with colleagues scattered around the world. If one doesn't want to learn and has nothing to share, does he belong in an institution where teachers are supposed to be exemplars of learning?

The problem of the generation and sharing of knowledge is exacerbated by the economic conditions that are forcing the decline in numbers of doctoral students and therefore the decline in the amount of searching for new knowledge and refinements of what we already know. Therefore, university faculties and their supporting agencies must reconsider the role of the undergraduate faculty and the hierarchical treatment of undergraduate and graduate faculties in terms of teaching loads and economic support.

My view leads me to this conclusion. Any teacher in a university must be a creator of new experiences for himself, which he shares with others. In a department of music, we are blessed with three vehicles for sharing—the printed word, the concert stage, and the printed score. No one is limited to any one of these. He is limited only by his capability of excellence in any of them.

One can argue that teaching is another vehicle for sharing. That is true; and it is common to us all. Furthermore, it lends itself to sharing beyond the classroom. Teaching is an analyzable form of human behavior and techniques have been developed for analyzing it. For those who know these techniques, teaching is less and less a mysterious process; it is a learned skill with definite kinds of procedures that comprise that skill. Teaching is observable, just as learning is observable. One grades students on what is seen and heard. So it is with teaching. Furthermore, an analysis of teaching can be converted into a verbal report, a research report, of the procedures used and the efficacy of those procedures. And that is sharable too.

However, I hasten to add that the evaluation of studio teaching is a complexity in need of concentrated effort. What criteria do we use? Also, a group performance may yield a standing ovation while the student learnings deserve a raised eyebrow. Public acclaim is not a criterion for teaching effectiveness; it may be only approval from the gullible. It seems that collegiate music faculties have a task before them. How do we evaluate performance as an indicator of teaching effectiveness, and as an indicator of creativeness?

The term creative, of course, is one of those troublesome ones that we use altogether too loosely. It has a public sense and a private sense. Privately, I could create the wheel and not know I was merely recreating it. Publicly, my creative effort would be given little notice. A truly creative person in the public sense is well informed. Generating new knowledge in the public sense requires a persistent pursuit of new developments and new adventures. In the collegiate setting, the beneficiaries of this persistence are not only the faculty but also the students.

The student, then, has a model to emulate, and students reveal the quality of their models. If they do not know the import of stylistic validity in performance, then one assumes that their model does not know this either. If they do not carefully analyze the works they perform, one concludes that the instructor does not. If they do not avidly follow recent developments in the world of music, one assumes that the precedent is not in their knowing. Students are no different from other forms of human life; they know only that which they have experienced and retained. They are both obvious and subtle commentaries on the quality of their models.

As it is for a teacher, so is the university for the student. It provides a base for inquiry at a level of intensity that is available to us nowhere else. It is a place where curiosity can be nurtured and parroting of authority can be thwarted. That is why we all become exhausted and quarrelsome, and live on the edge of anxiety. We pursue knowledge and truth out of an intense desire to make life better, to make better the means for human expression in nonverbal and nonnumerical media, to make our re-creations of the works of the geniuses of the past more truthful. The process by which we do this is learning, sharing what we learn, and maintaining the social structures that make these possible.

This is a formidably difficult task for the musician in the contemporary university. We have great demands placed on us and our role is multi-faceted. We are expected to re-create great art for ourselves and the public. We serve the general student and the aspiring professional in the field of music. We are asked to generate new knowledge, to provide new directions, and to anticipate the future. A department and its university as a whole is a patron of the arts within and outside the university. In short, we are asked to provide for the musical life of the people inside the university and the community around it. All of these demands, all of these pressures, whether they are real or felt, push and pull us in so many directions that sometimes we flail about trying to determine our priorities and preserve our integrity from superficiality. But then, there are always fundamental ideas that cut through a plethora of confusing details. One point of departure is to reconsider the adequacy of the assumptions on which we have functioned. And then, we can search for others to replace them or to augment them.

When faced with confusion, I usually seek facts. As I told some students: rumors are more fun than facts, because what do you do with a fact? A fact is a fact. The rejoinder to that is: facts are useful. So let's consider a few:

  1. There are about 40 million amateur musicians in the United States, almost 20% of the total population.
  2. About 800 million dollars is spent on musical instruments each year.
  3. Over a billion dollars is spent on phonograph records each year.
  4. The number of symphony orchestras rose from about 800 in 1960 to about 1400 in 1975.
  5. There are now about 15 opera centers in the United States during the summer.

But there are many other facts that can be summed up in this way: it is estimated that about 5,000 musicians in this country make a living through performance only. This includes the members of the ten symphonies that have fifty-week contracts. The remainder of the thousands of musicians that seek a performing career enjoy only part-time work as performers and augment their incomes in a variety of ways, especially studio teaching. This is the reason why some of us have deep concern for those who want a career in performance. We are concerned about the adequacy of their preparation for the real world, which is so different from the world of their desires. It is also the reason why a faculty should be extremely careful about its encouragement of students who seek a career in performance. It is an ethical problem.

In a commonsensical way, one can state principles of operations for a faculty. We know that such a competitive marketplace requires dedication, perseverance, strength of character, and acceptance of sacrifice. It requires an individual who is willing to become very systematic in the practice room and willing to use time with great economy. It also requires teachers who will provide instruction in how to become independent and self-sufficient musically. It requires teachers to understand that knowing why is as essential as knowing how to do, that analysis and feeling are inseparable, and that the integration of thinking, feeling, and doing is essential to artistic success.

As for the other kind of performance—teaching—we have little stable information about the marketplace. The fluidity of demand for teachers is baffling because we do not know what will follow the present period of retrenchment. It could be that the American people will do what they ought to do; they may reduce class sizes for the sake of children's learning. But at the present time, we see only class size being held constant while other variables fluctuate. Especially, we see a decline in the number of teachers. Therefore, we must make more stringent our expectations for those who would teach music.

We can establish our expectations according to the information we have gained about school music teachers. Musicianship and information about music are a necessary condition to teaching because they are the substance taught. But excellent musicianship and much knowledge about music is not sufficient. Because one knows and can do music, this does not mean one can teach it. Teaching is a very different human behavior that demands, especially in the case of children, knowledge about how humans learn. Learning music is also a process of learning how to learn music. Teaching others how to learn is a peculiar process that is only successfully undertaken by those who care as much for the learner as for what is being learned. This too requires whole humans who are aesthetically sensitive, personally warm, and care for learners, and who insist that school music is for learning music rather than learning how to be used by the PTA or the football crowd for entertainment.

The two concerns discussed thus far have been for prospective professional musicians. In spite of the depressed marketplace, these people will be helped to become their aspirations, but only with a clear conscience that we are acting ethically toward them, that they are well informed about the marketplace, and that their education is appropriate to the professional work they intend to do.

In addition to these people, there is another very large group of students for whom we care—the majors from other departments. This population is part of the 40 million amateurs in this country. An entire department shares in the responsibility for the quality of musical experience they can achieve. Music majors contribute to that process, and it is their obligation to do so as part of their education. Music majors are needed by their peers. Amateurs could not achieve the excellence they know in the usual collegiate setting without majors mixed among them.

Unfortunately, collegiate educational programs have failed to care for the amateur adequately. Once professional programs were introduced, music faculties gave their energies to reproducing their own kind, and we still seem to think that our first concern should be the aspiring professional. The amateur has had little place in that scheme. We must reconsider our objectives for amateurs and the financing of their musical education. Why should they be deprived of study in performance? If we believe in liberally educated persons, education for individual differences, and self-fulfillment, we have no right to deprive the amateur of any kind of musical development. The difficulties in treating these people justly are not insurmountable; they only require careful systematic treatment from faculties that believe in educating whole people.

Music in higher learning has come from the unhappy state of a pariah to a position of security. The arts as a whole will have an even firmer place as academic colleagues gain a better understanding of how human beings function and what is needed for them to be well nurtured. Henceforth, the role of music in higher learning will be determined by the breadth of our own vision and our willingness to consider ourselves differently. Aristotle is dead, and his ideas about the arts are too. The medieval view of man is dead, and so is the medieval university. If any force has caused their demise, it is the American university with its belief that professional and general education can nurture one another. That belief has brought together those whose common concern has been human fulfillment. Although collegiate faculties have digressed and, at times, have been confused, they have done rather well, as the thousands of children in school music, the forty million amateurs, and the burgeoning concert attendance the year round attest.

At best, the preceding remarks are a sketch and a partial one at that. The point has not been a detailed analysis of new directions, because these are already being tested—music merchandising, computer-assisted instruction, recording engineering, copyright law, etc. Now that the ancient dichotomization of the verbal-numerical and the arts is diminishing, and the multitude of marketplace endeavors for musicians is in our consciousness, the issue is the nature of change within higher education. There is now a smorgasbord of opportunity in and related to music. The question is: how do we see ourselves and our colleagues in this evolutionary process, and where are we all going?

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Last modified on Friday, 09/11/2018

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