Music and Liberal Education

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As one enters higher education, in the form of college or university, the patterns of life can be segmented into two phases, mutually independent only for the convenience of thought here: social activity, and by this is meant all forms of social intercourse, or the relationships of human beings, and not simply relationships between differing sexes; and academic activity, to mean essentially the satisfaction of a total psychological condition, to include both emotional and intellectual needs, through the solution of academic problems, considering the term academic to define a body of organized disciplines used in educational and functional process. This body of disciplines is, of course, of two kinds, referred to ordinarily as scholarly and artistic. As the drives arising out of this total psychological condition transform themselves into varied areas of concern in the human being, these areas of individual concern, whether private in nature, of the general welfare, or institutional, become objectified in the disciplines of related academic areas or artistic media, and finally one learns to work out, within these disciplines, problems of varying degrees of abstraction, depending on the nature of the academic area or artistic media, since any discipline is essentially detached and a separate entity from reality and experience, even though its materials may be rooted, possibly more or less, in either of these aspects of existence.

The point of education becomes essentially a matter of self-identification, although the academic process contains more specific results, in the form of acquired skills and knowledge, than this most significant one. As the physical development depends first on food and rest, intellectual development depends on facts and information; as physical development depends, secondly, on the building of muscle tone, intellectual development depends, secondly, on the development of the structure of knowledge; thirdly, physical coordination related to a specific task such as swimming or other activity might be equated with creative thought applied to a specific academic problem within a specific discipline, such as is occurring here as a discussion of the purpose of education.

The ability and intention of giving oneself to a discipline irrespective of practical application or reward constitutes a level of self-identification, or maturity, to which a student, particularly within a liberal (arts) frame of reference, must rise, if not before attending college at least during a college career. Women, of course, face a greater complexity of problems at present than do men. This complexity is of three parts: home or career, or home and career, and no simple solution is available except for the fact that in any of the three, an educated woman is at greater advantage than the woman with insufficient intellectual and emotional development, or maturity, in carrying on a successful life under any one of the three categories, and particularly under the last of the three.

The procuring of a job following graduation from a college career unfortunately dominates the thinking of too large a majority of college students, particularly in the smaller colleges of the country where graduate work is not part of the college program, or where a four-year college education is thought of by students and parents as well as a necessary part of a successful and affluent life. On the proper side of the ledger, higher education is not a fact nor a job to be accomplished, but rather an activity and an opportunity. The term opportunity stands as a matter of greater importance, for it does not mean an opportunity for a career, for success in a practical sense, nor for the acquisition of skills, but an opportunity to acquire the necessary resources with which to identify one's autonomous existence, in terms of experience, as this existence relates to the objective world and to any social context in which an individual life is carried on.

Conceptions of music as a subject area within this kind of educational context are often ambiguous, except for those devoted exclusively to preparation for public performance as rooted in l8th- and 19th-century practice and tradition. This kind of education is embodied in those institutions identified as "professional," notably the conservatory of music. Because of this predominant concept, the study of music becomes something of a leper among other members of the "academic" enterprise within the liberal educational framework. Institutions and programs of instruction designed to produce the performing musician or the creative artist relative to any degree of concept based on l8th- and 19th-century tradition have a consistency in their efforts because of the continuity of purpose emerging out of the earlier centuries. This purpose revolves around the artist as a possessor of skills and hence an entertainer rather than a person capable of comprehending a symbolistic language of a high degree of abstraction, and as an emotive rather than rational phenomenon, relatively speaking. Therefore, the study of music relates mainly to the entertainment aspect and emotive view of the musical personality, leaving the comprehension of the symbolistic structure of the musical language as a secondary goal, if not completely avoided, in the context of a purposeful direction of educational activity. As with any language, the use of the language is totally dependent on the comprehension of the structure of symbolism which defines it as a particular language.

Music, as a symbolistic language, represents a high level of abstraction of similar kind to that of mathematics, as at one time it was considered relative to the ideology of the theorist, Pythagoras, for example. This is not to say that the symbolistic language of music does not relate to the emotive condition of the human species, but it does say that it is, in any clear and rational concept, an operative language and of a considerably higher degree of abstraction than the verbal languages, since music is not a language dependent on basic contextual relationships of the kind by which elementary physical and emotive experience is transferred from one consciousness to another.

Consequently, the study of music must be reevaluated, particularly within the academic educational condition in the United States identified as "liberal arts" in opposition to "professional" education. The function of musical education within this "liberal arts" framework must center on music as a language of a certain precision, and there is no evidence to support any contention that this precision is limited to the degree of precision presently considered adequate. Effort toward a more precise understanding of sound structure is not yet sufficiently developed nor disseminated, however, to bear extended discussion here, but the reference is to studies in the nature of meaning in music; its kinds, methods, and range of stimulation of consciousness as differing from the nature and scope of stimulation relative to the verbal medium particularly. Psychological studies relating to problem solving have also been structured, in terms of the more complex problem-solution condition appropriate to musical composition, and the probable value of psycho-acoustical studies structured by means of electronically produced patterns of musical sound is inherent in the analytical precision necessary to the structuring of sound patterns in the electronic medium and also in the reproductive accuracy of this medium. All of these achievements contribute to a more exact understanding of communicative process and effect in music than has been possible prior to this kind of effort. Achievement in this direction, however, would not alter in any way premises set forth here with regard to musical education. To further structure the study of music as a language, a three-part division of emphasis is necessary, with equal significance given to each area: history of musical activity, and in this suggesting a slightly different emphasis than a history of musical fact; theoretical and stylistic fact and procedure, the latter relative to both historical and present activity; and the bringing of the written symbol into sound, or performance, along with a consideration of newer processes of direct sound production by electronic means. This latter consideration is not relative singly to either performance or to theoretical or stylistic study, but its rationale and procedural processes evolve out of both.

Music is thought more significantly than it is an activity. In the context of "liberal" education, particularly, this fact must be uppermost in envisioning the resultant effect of the educational structure. Music cannot be studied satisfactorily, for example, without the aid of the written symbols of musical pattern, and this presumes, of course, the acquired ability to read and interpret the written symbol. Aural perception of music alone, which is often the source material for musical study, cannot fully communicate the essential meaning of a musical structure. One, of course, might learn, or assimilate in memory, a musical formulation, such as a fugue by Bach, in varying degrees of completeness by aural perception alone, but the probability is slight and traditionally rare. Even within the procedural operation of electronic production of musical sound, a present method, relative to the RCA Synthesizer at least, of making perforations in paper rolled on a drum, which control and direct the signal to the sound producing mechanism, offers a possible calligraphy of a kind by which patterns and structures of musical sound formations are static, non-auditory, and hence susceptible to unlimited observation and accumulated comprehension apart from the aural patterns. This suggestion of a use of this kind of static indication of the sound formulation itself is only a matter of correlative logic, however, and considering the point of development at which the electronic medium stands at present, it may only be considered as such in an effort to relate activity in this medium to the more conventional instrumental and choral media as they depend on the written musical symbol for a static and relatively permanent record of sound structures. In educational process, however, to consider the performance of music as the predominant fact of music, to be enhanced by either historical or theoretical, that is to say, stylistic study would be to represent music exclusively as an activity and in a much lesser way a language. Additionally, to bring the written symbol into sound only in terms of historical accuracy is arid and misleading as to the nature of music as a language, as well as a misrepresentation of history, of which a detailed discussion is the subject of another writing by this author, but suffice it to say here that history is most significantly event rather than fact, the demanding process of decision rather than accomplishment. For example, to assimilate the piano music of Mozart into a pianistic style which also encompasses Chopin, Brahms, Scarlatti, or Couperin is to promote the pianist as predominant to the music itself as a language, a condition of greater theatrical than musical significance.

The problem is basically one which centers on significance. What the liberal mind must know is the thought which is projected through the totality of the musical language in terms of the significance it had in its period of origin or that which it has at present should it be a product of the relatively present time. Performance is an inevitable portion of the study process, yet the performance of any music not carried out in terms of a realization of both the essential humanistic reality and the essentially musical conditions of a musical structure relative to a specified time and place, a period, so to speak, and to a specific creative personality, lacks significance. The difficulties implicit in this concept of a realization of pre-contemporary music, by which, coincidentally, such music is invested with a contemporaneity relevant to its total historical context, leads to a contemporaneous attitude toward all music, the satisfaction of this goal being most easily achieved in music of the very present.

An equal emphasis on three areas of information and experience in music, stated casually as history, stylistic theory, and performance, constitute a process by which the intention of the educational process would be to develop a personality educated in music for which practical application could be sought and discovered according to individual need and inclination, but for whom life could be both better understood and more successfully managed in whatever situation such a person might direct himself.

Within more practical modes of educational procedure, principally those intended for direct application to an activity, the educational procedure is adapted as accurately as possible to existing practice and style in the field, to the effect that the competent graduate can operate successfully within an existing structure of activity irrespective of its degree of validity. Educational activity oriented in this manner requires and develops a functional personality, but one with little awareness of or interest in creative vision and significant judgment. The more contemplative form of musical education, within the "academic" pattern, but of the three-fold nature described earlier, enhances the quality and relevance of creative thought and judgment, in terms of music as a language as well as its implementation through any form of musical activity.

Significantly, then, music becomes not a specific skill, but one of the sets of symbolistic explanation which serve to render patterns of experience more understandable and tangible even though music, as one of the symbolistic languages, operates at very nearly, and possibly the greatest degree, or highest level of abstraction.

To major in music, within the liberal context, is to comprehend the symbolistic language of music and to interpret the relevance of statements within it, in terms of both intuitive experience and musical activity, to a total context perhaps defined as the human condition.

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Last modified on Thursday, 15/11/2018

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