Availability or Avarice as a Guideline for Educational Recording Access? A Response to Michael Greene

As a music historian, I generally agree with Michael Greene's insistence that funding for music in education needs a substantial increase, and that we must revise the musical canon to include musics of all cultures and traditions. I would add that we must cultivate music's multicultural affinities for interdisciplinary enrichment of other subjects as diverse as Language, Social Studies, Mathematics, and Science. But I recognize that incorporation of such grand curricular designs will take far more than a few token recertification workshops and normal teacher turnover. Before we can effect curricular change in elementary and secondary schools, canon and curricular revision in higher education must provide the background and models for future teachers. Even if we at the college level start now, the trickle-down through public education's monolithic bureaucracies will require massive efforts for decades. Fortunately, as the CMS National Meeting's program shows, we have already started. This program was so filled with interactions between popular, nonwestern, and classical musics and other current developments, that I cannot even list the sessions here. Music instruction at the college level is keeping abreast of current concerns, even though Mr. Greene may be unaware of this.

 Far more serious that this oversight is the fact that Mr. Greene does not acknowledge the conflict between NARAS's profit-supporting and educational missions. His lofty rhetoric ignores the intellectual strangulation inflicted on college music teaching repertoires by current recording licensing policies, which cultivate and protect the privileges of millionaire music businessmen. When Greene says, "The privileged the rich have never made the anthems that stirred our souls . . . Jazz, Country, Rock . . . sprang from the beautiful tapestry of human experience, which knows no economic, class, or racial boundaries," he is accurate only about the beginnings of these musical styles. Many purveyors of this music now have annual incomes exceeding a hundred times those of most music professors. One such successful artist even wants royalties on second-hand sales of CDs he recorded! Rich music business personalities have lost touch with the economic realities that music teachers struggle with every day, and the resultant fiscal obstruction of educational recording access forms a major obstacle to new music course development.

 Michael Greene and the recording industry in general need to realize that the access problem is a critical issue that current licensing policies approach economic suppression of music professor's freedom to teach. Successful encounters between students and unfamiliar music require the most excellent recorded examples available. Widespread dissemination of musical understanding requires reasonably priced teaching anthologies of such examples. At the University of North Dakota the music appreciation course serves over one-third of the student body. This is possible only because high-volume sales permit publishers to produce recorded anthologies. We do not have library facilities for reserve listening by hundreds of students, so we could not bring music to these students without the packaged recordings. Although we have other non-major courses American Music, Rock Music and Popular Culture, and Popular and Classical Musics of the World we have not been able to offer these in large sections because students could not buy recorded anthologies, especially of popular music. This situation is probably repeated on hundreds of campuses nationwide, yet music text authors and publishers tell me that popular musicians, groups, or their agents will license recordings only with such prohibitive royalties or other restrictions that students could not afford the cost. Different impediments apply to classical recordings, for which conflicting licensing monopolies of a few large corporations restrict authors' choice of performances and condemn comprehensive anthologies to second-rate or inappropriate examples in one or more areas.

 The discrepancy between Michael Greene's lip service to educational support and the music industry's obstruction of education progress reveals NARAS's conflict of interest. Although NARAS is justifiably a strong advocate for intellectual property, the licensing policies its members currently embrace put an economic embargo on access to recorded materials for educational purposes. It is time for NARAS to give music education more than sermons filled with multicultural platitudes and scoldings for teaching what the industry permits us. We need a mandatory policy for educational use of all recorded materials that does not unduly burden students, teachers, authors, publishers, artists, or composers. College professors, with NARAS behind us, could develop useful approaches. Possibly, NARAS could require of all members the following:

 (1) Artists, agents, and recording companies would be required to grant automatic permission for educational reproduction of any work quickly, without restriction on other anthology contents, and with provision to the publisher of a clean master recording at reasonable cost, if necessary.

(2) Producers of recorded anthologies would be required to print in record anthology liner notes complete information for every anthologized work, including title, composer, artist(s), and group.

With such a policy in effect, college-level teachers could develop the supporting materials needed to broaden the curricula in any direction. This would allow teachers the freedom to teach all music to the maximum number of students with the very best examples. We want students to delight in sound as we do. Let us hope that Michael Greene and NARAS can empower us to teach them to do so.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 07/05/2013

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