From the Member-at-Large for Music in General Studies

December 1, 1994

Editor's Note: Robert M. Trotter was the first Board Member for Music in General Studies, appointed to the position by President Robert J. Werner after its creation by the Board. Professor Trotter did much to define the area of Music in General Studies and to lead the dialog concerning the relation of the music program in the college and university community. We are pleased to reprint a piece of vintage Trotter that first appeared in the Spring 1978 Newsletter of The College Music Society.

President Werner has recently honored me with an interim appointment as Member-at Large for Music in General Education, and Editor Arthur Tollefson has invited me to communicate with you through the Newletter. I hope some of you will correspond with me, perhaps offering ideas for activities related to your concerns, perhaps joining in debate in the area of music in general education.

Please consider the following definitions and assertions, which influence my attitudes and behavior: (1) “learning,” the interplay of experience and memory, goes on every-where and every-when, at many levels of the human spirit. When we refine learning with conscious aims and reflecting, it becomes (2) “education.” In turn, when education is allied with candidacy for a degree it becomes (3) “formal education.” Although such candidacy can be genuinely useful, it can also be ill-advised, distorting aims, atrophying self-corrective capacities, nourishing cynicism and “sclerosis of the imagination.” If I were not defining learning so broadly, I might even say that degree candidacy sometimes defeats, thwarts it, turning good dough sour.

Degree candidacy often contains a potentially useful aspect called more precisely (4) “training,” preparation for operational needs on the job.Training is honorable when it increases competence in the search for quality and precision; it is debilitating when it encourages sub-human imagery with ways to manipulate the environment as an It, rather than to become engaged with that environment as a mutually-confirming Thou.

Certain (5) “endemic behaviors among us college music teachers can encourage the abuse of training; one, substituting, often unconsciously, authoritarian for authoritative stances; two, honoring excessively that territory of the intellect where there are correct and incorrect answers, at the expense of the territory beyond, where rich ambiguities and essential paradoxes live; three, failing to relate training consistently to its context of general education.

The phrase (6) “music in general education” means two things in this context: one, formal study of music by people whose main interests lie elsewhere, who choose to refine their musical involvement by formal study simply in order to enhance their lives; two, formal study of other matters by people whose main interest in life is music, who are called—beyond choice, perhaps—to earn a right livelihood through some refined relationship with it.

Two final definitions: (7) a “member-at-large” is someone in a formally organized group who demonstrates enough long-standing concern for one or more central aims of the group to serve as an agent for continued consideration, debate and action related to those aims. My (8) “Bailiwick” as Member-at-Large for Music in General Education is: for degree candidates in other areas, courses in music often called music appreciation and music literature; for degree candidates in music who might someday be professional musicians; those same courses as well as those often called music history, if they offer liberalizing insights into our cultural heritage and inherited value systems. And finally, courses offered in other areas, serving as “general requirements and electives” for degree candidates in music. I want to make clear my position that teachers at all levels, in studios and schools, are professional musicians.

These days, having become once again a full-time music teacher after a fruitful intermission as an administrator, I am fascinated and sometimes haunted by the persistent image of a curricular San Andreas Fault. Despite enough positive confirmation from colleagues and students to make me feel good earning my livelihood as I do, there is clearly a lot of negative energy around: many lively students seem to live “suspended between impatience and dread,” able to connect nothing with nothing, dimly aware that a mostly unknowable future may include little market for their competent energies, bewildered by our priorities and by our assumptions that our inherited values are theirs, resentful of their peers who show passion for precision along with readiness to make personal what we offer them. I am concerned to match my resources with their needs, their resources with my needs. Although my good-will towards them individually is indestructible and I want theirs, with quite a few I sense that the less time we spend together the better for both of us. Somehow, my present concern with music in general education seems relevant if it can help put composing, performing, analyzing and evaluating music into broader perspective.

Perhaps you will respond to the following assertions and correspond with me about them. They relate to the teaching of introductory courses in musical analysis and criticism--(appreciation?literature?history?). I believe such exchange could be useful to the aims of the Society.

(1) It is imperative that we include many examples for study from repertories outside the great classic tradition of Euro-American formal notated music: from global oral traditions, current popular and esoteric pathfinder styles.

(2) It is imperative that we help students refine their capacity to support evaluations of compositions and performances, as free as possible from subliminal prejudice, by referring to some explicit norms.

(3) It is imperative that we take enough time with some individual pieces for students truly to begin an intimate acquaintance with them.

(4) It is imperative that we include as part of analytical study some concern, on the one hand, with music considered as social behavior in a cultural group, and on the other, with music as an evocative agent, as communication beyond the alphabet of the “inner landscape made audible,” so that our emphasis on the analysis of musical elements might take on more genuine meaning in student's lives.

(5) It is imperative that we continually take the initiative to keep in touch with our colleagues teaching composition and studio or ensemble performance, to strengthen the interplay among our students' analytical-critical, compositional and performance studies.

(6) It might be useful to consider “classical” repertory from the first fifty years of the twentieth century as the core of our initial concern with roots in the great classical tradition, letting Bach-Mahler join Chant-Corelli as exceedingly useful historical treasures. Doing so might help shift the politics of experience with our students, turning that San Andreas Fault from cataclysm, bang or whimper, into a breech delivery.

Thank you for your consideration.

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