Know the Score

  • PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40374214

Know the Score is a course in symphonic music offered in the greater St. Louis community for those who wish to become further acquainted with musical literature and performance, specifically the music and musicians of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The classes for each of the sessions of the course have included a broad spectrum of participants. Businessmen and businesswomen, retirees, college students, doctors, lawyers, college professors, and many others representing the same cross-section of those in the St. Louis area who attend the Symphony's concerts. Some have been long-time patrons of the orchestra's subscription series. They come to the course for background information about music in general, and to learn more about favorite composers and works that have become familiar from seasons of the Symphony's programs.

Since January, 1981, Know the Score has been offered each fall and winter in eight week sessions scheduled one night a week for a two-hour period. It is a non-credit course presented by the Continuing Education-Extension Division of the University of Missouri-St. Louis in association with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. A major attraction for those enrolled are the Symphony's musicians who appear as guest artists at each class meeting.

The association of music courses with live performances in the community is, of course, a time-honored concept. Students enrolled in music appreciation at the University of Missouri-St. Louis have attended symphony concerts as supplementary assignments to the material of their course for many years. The proximity of a professional orchestra presents opportunities for course planning that instructors eagerly exploit to the advantage of their classes. UMSL students attend concerts with the preparation commonly offered music appreciation courses: a basic musical vocabulary, historical-social settings of representative composers and their music, and with the strong expectation that the concerts will enhance the experiences of the course material. The musical communication from composer to listener through the performers in a live concert setting is tentative for some, and surprisingly direct and intense for others, depending upon their musical interests. A few become dedicated symphony patrons, and a few others find little of interest in the experience, but most are pleased that they took the opportunity to explore such a cultural activity. Many report that the concerts they were required to attend have changed their attitudes, opened their minds to orchestral music. The requirement, intended to expand the interests of students in a broad spectrum of music, seems to fulfill its purpose.

For an instructor experienced in teaching university students, the opportunity to work with general concert audience members, people of the community with developed musical preferences, can be a new and particularly inviting challenge. The majority of those in a concert audience are not musically trained, of course, but have established personal traditions of attending concerts, and are intimately familiar with a great variety of symphonic literature. They seem eager to organize their musical experiences, to construct a broad overview of musical styles, and to enrich the knowledge and enjoyment of music they have been nurturing over the years.

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, for many seasons, has offered a series of lectures on the music to be performed on each of its subscription concerts. Given in Powell Symphony Hall's upper lobby immediately preceding the concerts, these lectures have always been well attended, even when the discussions have necessarily involved some rather abstract musical analyses. There has also been a successful and popular program of lecture-demonstrations presented on the Powell Hall stage at which musicians appear to discuss their instruments. The community relations staff of the Symphony, therefore, was aware of the potential interest such a course as Know the Score could serve, but the first response, the early registrations to reserve seats in the class, was a revelation to those of us associated with the university's continuing education programs.

The Symphony in recent years has initiated some, and participated in other, audience development studies. As is so often the case, those who have the easiest access to local landmarks and institutions are sometimes among the last to appreciate the opportunities. Many with genuine interests in orchestral music, or at least open minds upon the subject, have not heard a concert in Powell Symphony Hall for years, some since attending a children's concert in elementary school.

With the successful "on-site" programs it had been presenting at Powell Hall, the Symphony expanded its audience development efforts with a community outreach project. The project brought musical discussions and the musicians themselves to people in their neighborhoods at the homes of those willing to serve as hosts of such activities. It was in relation to this outreach program that Know the Score was introduced.

Over the years the course has assumed its own identity, but the vital association with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra has been retained. Each new session is promoted by the Symphony with periodic announcements posted in Powell Symphony Hall and through the mailed communications it maintains with its patrons. The Continuing Education-Extension service of UMSL also presents the course in its usual course announcements. Perhaps the most effective promotion, however, is a basic word-of-mouth communication that has been established. People who have taken the course inform their friends of its nature and scope, and this has been instrumental in continuing the enrollment level.

The most important relationship between Know the Score and the Symphony involves the guest musicians. For a fee, generated by the course enrollment, players are scheduled by the Symphony office to appear for a portion of each class meeting. The order in which the guest artists are invited insures all instrumental families of the orchestra will be represented each session.

The two-hour meetings of the course are scheduled on Tuesday nights at a well known shopping center in west St. Louis County, Plaza Frontenac. As a public service, the shopping center maintains a meeting room that seats 120 people. Many find the amenities of the location, and the opportunities to shop and dine before our class meets, to be attractive weeknight activities.

A survey of orchestral styles that are likely to be heard in a season at the Symphony's concerts provides the basic material of the course. Each class meeting includes the topic for the evening presented in a 45-minute lecture supplemented with recorded examples. Topics have included characteristics of Baroque orchestral music, sonata form, Romantic ideals, program music, and the evolution of the symphony, to name only a few. Examples chosen from a representative composer, usually one or two works, a brief biographical sketch, and a presentation of the historical setting of the works serve to demonstrate the essentials of the evening's topic. While a 45-minute presentation of any of these topics would probably be superficial, at best, in a music course offered for university credit, the concert experience of those in Know the Score creates a quite different circumstance. Most of these people are able to immediately associate a topic with many experiences they have had over the years. The topics of successive evenings serve to unite long-standing interests; for most they constitute a summary of familiar ideas, now placed in a context, rather than an initial exposure to musical concepts.

The evening's topic is followed by an appearance of a guest musician for a one-half hour presentation. All of the symphony players participating as guest artists have different approaches to the class, and these differences are encouraged. During the preliminary conversation with the instructor, usually by telephone, only the most general guidelines are discussed to acquaint the guest with some of the unique characteristics of each class. The players are asked to speak of special interests regarding their instruments, careers, and music in general. Depending upon their experience in speaking to large groups of people, the specific content of this segment of the evening is left to the guests. Often it is possible for them to relate their discussions and performances to the topics presented earlier in the evening, but this is not required.

An interview is prepared by the instructor for each guest. It is not always used, but occasionally it serves as an extended introduction of the guest to the class. Some of the musicians are veteran teachers and speakers, but others need to be drawn to the class with a few leading questions and comments. Usually questions from the class and the performer's enthusiasm quickly give direction to the presentation. Some come to the class with prepared lectures on such subjects as playing techniques, the history of their instruments (complete with historical instruments to enhance the presentation), or a variety of related subjects that have included violin construction, reed making, and the structure of brass instrument mouthpieces. Other guests are less formal, and depend upon a few provocative statements, usually pertaining to the performance demands of specific composers and conductors, to generate questions from the class for the evening's discussion.

All guests perform during some part of their segment of the class period. Some play extended passages of music accompanied only by brief comments, others prefer to play shorter examples to illustrate their remarks, but often the performance takes the form of a mini-recital at the close of the guest's segment. However the guests choose to proceed, their appearances are always a high point of the evening for the class.

No guest musician has ever been unsuccessful in capturing the interest of the class. Some part of the discussion regarding performance, an aspect of the instrument, playing style in specific works, or the personal motivation of a musician always engages the attention of the class. The delight of the class at the opportunity to meet and speak with symphonic players, and to hear them perform in an intimate setting has been highly gratifying to all who have appeared as guests in the class. Some of the Symphony players have returned two and three times over the span of the course.

At the conclusion of the evening's performance there is a ten to fifteen minute break. Many in the class use this time to have short individual discussions with the guest.

The remaining half hour of each class meeting is devoted to a preview of a major work on the Symphony's program for the coming week. Concert previews give immediacy to the topics that have been presented, and it is frequently possible for the guest artist to anticipate the preview segment with mention of a particular section, or a solo passage in the work being considered. Those in the class who hold series tickets to the Symphony's concerts find this segment of the course useful as a preparation for the next program they will attend. Others find that the previews encourage them to attend more concerts than they otherwise might. The effect of the concert preview is apparent at the class meeting the following Tuesday. Those who were part of the audience return with comments on the work and its performance, and with further questions regarding its structure, orchestration, or the history of its composition.

Midway through the first eight-week session it became evident that the course content would have to be completely revised for the next session. There were many questions about the styles of composers whose music could not be mentioned, about musical concepts and techniques that could not be presented in the available time, and about arrangements for guest artists in the future. Accompanying all of these questions and suggestions came declarations from many of their intention to re-enroll in the next session, or at sometime in the near future. As successive classes were surveyed, it was discovered that almost 50% of those enrolled had taken the course before, and of that group, half had attended in the immediately preceding session.

The response to this situation of returning participants over the years has resulted in an evolution of the course content. Presentations of varying emphases have replaced the original introduction to orchestral styles. The composer and orchestra in changing societies, large musical forms, the evolution of orchestral instruments and the elements of orchestral style unique to specific composers are some of the themes that have been used in the expanded scope of subsequent sessions.

A particular interest of last year's classes in the detailed structure of works will be reflected in the selection of topics for the coming session. The form of a single work will be examined each week, with composers and works chosen to present various formal procedures, thematic construction, development, and variation techniques that appear in the spectrum of styles heard during a complete concert season. The invitations extended to guest artists for the next session will again insure that all instrumental families are represented, in this case, by an English horn player, trumpeter, percussionist, and violinist. For the first time, an assistant conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is available to appear as a guest in addition to the players. A conductor's overview of orchestrational techniques will be of the greatest interest to the class.

Those times, before and after class and during the break, when short discussions take place with individuals and small groups of students, are particularly interesting and enjoyable for the instructor. The discussions range from matters of concert etiquette ("Why is there no applause between movements?" "Exactly, what are the duties of the concertmaster?"), to impressions of recent performances. Occasionally there are technical questions regarding form, melodic construction, harmonic function, and other matters relating to the structure of music. Along with requests for future discussions of specific works, and appearances of favorite Symphony musicians as guests in coming sessions of the course, many are eager just to share their new musical experiences with the instructor and others in the class. These brief, informal conversations are also important in providing the instructor with ideas for minor format adjustments and topic developments that preserve the vitality of the course for those who plan to re-enroll.

. . . . . .

Participants in Know the Score express an eagerness to expand their musical knowledge and association with music beyond the weekly concerts they attend. Apparently, this is also true of other performing arts audiences as well, for the success of Know the Score has encouraged the development in the St. Louis community of opera, theater, and dance courses structured on its model.

The instructor willing to go beyond the university classroom to explore the interest of general audiences in the musical experience will find these audience development activities as stimulating as teaching within a traditional academic setting. Acceptance of the challenge is rewarded by the satisfaction known only to teachers of the most dedicated and self-motivated students.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 24/10/2018

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