My Father Never Told Me, or, A View from this Bridge
Published online: 30 April 1996
1995 Robert M. Trotter Lecture
Almost 20 years ago I attended a professional meeting at which Bob Trotter spoke. It was electrifying! His imagination, energy, and insight continue to inspire everyone he touched, persistently urging us to see more deeply. Trotter's article "Lessons for Teaching a Course in Music Listening"1 is an excellent "guide" for the classroom effort, but he was speaking much more broadly. Sagely observing: "Information and knowledge are inert until they become intellectual abilities," he went on to say, "I want . . . to keep myself honest in reference to [my students] motivation. Will they get a thrill out of distinguishing by ear or eye between Ockeghem and Obrecht, or is my conviction about the urgency of that activity an unexamined by-product of my own candidacy for an advanced degree?" He followed that with comments on the implication of pluralism today. There has never been a time when the need to bring intelligence to that challenge has been greater.
Trotter said "four progressively higher states-of-being" are to be generated by use of our intellectual skills: 1) acquaintance, 2) understanding through acquaintance, 3) valuing through understanding, 4) use of these states as vehicles for mutual I-thou dialogue with others. Not surprisingly, these are four key elements in the five related areas of interest I will touch on here.
There has been much angst and uproar about the arts in the past few years, as what we thought could be taken for granted has come under fire. What is all the fuss about? Even a partial listing of the function of the arts, confirmed by scientific research and economic data, includes enormous evidence of impact on human development: on building thinking skills, problem-posing and problem-solving skills; on development of the areas of intelligence and "habits of mind" essential for "life-long learning" and effective/affective citizenship. A huge body of research shows the effect of music study on development of the brain.
Economically, the impact is similar, involving teaching the ability to manage resources, develop interpersonal skills of cooperation and teamwork, master different types of symbol systems, build skills required for a variety of technologies, other specific workplace skills. The arts are a $316 billion business in our economy. The numbers in the economic impact statement produced by the State of California are staggering. So where's the beef?
The most obvious glitch lies in the development of public policy. Consider two crucial words: Consensus, Complexity. How do we as a people manage a huge and hugely growing society? In the face of its pressures, can we effectively mobilize our intelligence to find those deep values to which Trotter alluded?
In this country, where the buck stops with legislative bodies, a large number of Congresspeople are of a generation in which public school children were deprived of real involvement in the arts. In the context of their personal experience, "the arts" translates to just another special interest group -- not a particularly powerful one. Consider: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was the target of even greater hostility than were Endowments. But a huge grassroots protest from elderly people who could not get out and who depended on public broadcasting made a difference.
Examining governmental activity in this realm:
"Cultural policy in Norway. . . has been founded on social democratic values: 1) Equality, equal opportunity, egalitarianism; 2) Quality of life, including cultural aspects; 3) Government involvement and control; 4) Anti-elitism and support of people's own activities. . . the state is seen as the primary actor for obtaining equality [and] has a legitimate responsibility for providing preconditions that are deemed necessary for reaching welfare goals. . . ."2
Many would imagine that this description is the ideal aspired to by the U.S., but Bakke sees American political culture as "characterized by liberal values which emphasize the non-interventionist role of the state [wherein] each individual should have freedom to seek the good life, and government's responsibility is to guarantee equality in terms of formal rights" [italics mine].3 The difference is significant, as is the difference in the makeup of the population. Equality among people considered essentially homogenous, as in Norway, is quite different from equality among a populace as complex as that of the United States.
Add other factors. For years, cultural interest in Europe has been held up as a standard to be emulated. However, a study comparing concert and museum attendance patterns in Germany and the United States determined the most important factor in the decrease of arts audiences to be a change of value orientation. In East Germany, there was an explosion of the need, long suppressed in East Bloc countries, to satisfy material objectives -- more interest in buying a new BMV than a symphony ticket. The overall conclusion: major change in "social macro-conditions" has significant impact on individual "micro-decisions" -- mostly unaffected by individual educational, income, or demographic factors. Reflect on the major social and technical changes in "American" culture in the last 50 years -- the challenge is unmistakable.
It has been our national notion that out of the grassroots collective that is to inform our policy makers comes some fundamental sense of consensus. ". . . everyone agrees that students should be encouraged to strive toward the highest possible goals in education, [but] not everyone agrees upon the best way to approach this."4 What does "everyone agrees" mean? The "agreement" may be far less than one would like to think, in terms of how differently people define their experience. Moreover, a large number of people who cast themselves out of the running for "high goals in education" are not touched by this discussion.
The very notion of consensus is tricky. Fundamentally, people want to live together harmoniously. They also want to keep their sense of individual autonomy -- the jealously guarded right to make up their own minds. Is there not greater need for understanding another's perspective than for insisting, sometimes prematurely, on "agreement"?
Paradoxically, there also is a less conscious instinct to conform -- due partly to the not entirely sound notion of "safety in numbers." The currently heralded importance of power in neighborhoods, people making decisions that affect the lives of their own communities, is a process that works well only when people feel they have a recognized place in it. Even then, is it power of community "for" or does it slip into power of encampment "against"? In those "communities" -- whether residential, social, professional, economic, or political -- when the members talk only among themselves, they are lulled into a false sense of comfort, often complacency. Beyond the boundaries of their imagined dialogue lurks fear of "the other," even fear of what others may have to say.
To move beyond the confines of inbred "communities" requires developing real relationships with real people across the humanly artificial lines society draws to manage itself. People misunderstand one another far less when they begin to learn one another's "language" at all levels: the meanings of certain words, body language, conventions of behavior, the impact on real lives. By the same token, consider the violence that people historically have perpetrated on one another even when they do speak the same language. Both scenarios require living and working together for common causes. Perhaps it takes a higher concept of the "common enemy," historically the uniting catalyst. What if the common and most dangerous enemy were understood to be alienation from one another?
At the organizational level, healthy policy development would grow from interorganizational relationships in which the focus is on issues of common interest, and from which can be developed cooperative enterprises. There need be not just conferences of "arts people" or professional educators, but conversations that include the PTA, Chamber of Commerce, local politicians, others with whom we live in the larger community. If, rather than circling into camps, there is continual development of understanding the lives of others, when the need for agreement comes, there is much greater likelihood of finding a real, informed consensus. Recall those "progressively higher states of being" that Bob Trotter challenged us to generate by using our intellectual skills.
Ideally, the power of consensus is predicated on the interchange of individual opinion. However, increasing societal complexity exacerbates the reality that some opinions matter much more than others, depending on influence of position, wealth, and particularly the ability to control information. A key factor always has been the ability to control people's concept of themselves relative to the rest of the society.
Music speaks directly and eloquently to this universal human need to participate, to feel empowered, to relate to our fellow man. I've often thought as I hear laments about instruments being too expensive for children to have music in the schools: everyone has a voice. What wonderful vistas we can glimpse through song -- not to mention the sheer joy of singing. But consider what happened when people on a Boston street were asked randomly to sing "Happy Birthday." Often the response was, "I can't sing; I learned in school that I can't sing." (Damage done in the process of a teacher trying to encourage or single out the "best"?) In another instance, orchestra members held a "Petting Zoo in the community" where children could touch and try various instruments. When a violin was held up, every child in the room identified it as a guitar. When asked who wanted to try the instruments, no one dared. One boy said: "I can't do that; I can't do anything." How miserable that a 4-year-old already should feel so unempowered! Eventually, a few were coaxed into trying; more followed suit; by the time the program was over, the children were begging the musicians to stay. A glimmer. A spark. Will it have a chance to catch fire? Out of that kind of deprivation of common experience we are to mold consensus? How do we do that in highly complex and often proclaimed "proudly multicultural" society?
Some time ago, my attention was drawn to the "melting pot" musings of CMS President Nohema Fernández in the January 1995 CMS Newsletter :
"The vision of the "melting pot," which presumes obliteration of individuality, has given way to an acceptance of a multi-cultural diversity which is rich in possibilities. . . . fertile ground for the musician: to explore the musical and cultural traditions that have been brought to this country by successive generations of immigrants from all continents and the manner in which these have blended with the native-American and Anglo traditions in this country."
In principle, I agree. But one phrase that stuck in my mind may be the key element that trips us up. DOES "melting pot" actually presume obliteration of individuality? Historically, the strife to which the coexistence of discrete "majority" and "minority" cultures is prone is well documented. From the misery engendered by that mentality many people were trying to escape in developing an "American" ideal of a place where all peoples could become one people, melding various backgrounds into a common whole. In the face of what seemed a losing battle against racial resistance to that concept, many people have convinced themselves @hat it is healthier to keep the lines of demarcation drawn. In a healthy family, individual differences recognized, appreciated, and nurtured add to the strength and richness of the
whole. Why not in a country? This does not mean people must tightly clutch an old "identity"; those roots will always remain an integral part of their foundation, but woven into their new reality. What would it be like if a butterfly had to keep the form of a caterpillar? Clearly, a butterfly cannot "happen" without first being a caterpillar. If it cannot let go of its caterpillarness, it can never become a butterfly.
It is one thing to treasure and preserve the indigenous elements of cultures from which people in the U.S. have come. But when third and fourth generations cannot feel an identity without falling back on a large percentage of what-used-to-be, have they not been "psyched" into the notion that somehow this is not their country? As a U.S. citizen, why should I feel any less "majority" than anyone else? I do not. "Americans" are a product of this country. Can we face that? What do we do with it?
Some years ago, at the height of the South Africa divestiture debate, several students proclaimed persuasively that the ideal was for our society to recognize itself as a magnificent salad bowl. Would it not be better to have a wonderful cake, in which every ingredient is essential to the character of the whole?
With a salad, some could decide they didn't like the tomatoes.
This ideological struggle was brought strongly to mind when I visited a university campus and read about its new MultiCultural Center, "founded by a group of black students who wanted a place where they can gather. . . feel comfortable. . . have a sense of belonging." I have been struck by seeing repeatedly, there as elsewhere, the need to create some "space" where a given group of people can feel "comfortable," can feel as if they "belong" -- in their own country. Does this tell us something? That there should be such a sense of alienation that requires tremendous expenditure of resources to provide a "remedy"?
In an article entitled "Who is Me?", a writer in the same newspaper referred to being stumped by having to fill out a checklist that included 21 different possibilities for predominant ethnic background. In a lengthy recitation regarding race, places of residence, political/personal/professional characteristics, she wrote:
"In my travels, when I was younger, I was so proud to be an American. I identified with American first, because I had this crazy idea that all the different types of people in the world could come together and identify as one. This was such a powerful concept of unity for me. I thought the "melting pot" was a fantastic theory. It allowed for my [parents] to be together and have. . . racially mixed kids, yet we were all American. . . When I was out of the country, I was as American as they come, but when I was in America, I wasn't as American as everybody else."5
What has made us give up on the dream of a melting pot? Is it because of a "quick-fix" mentality in the face of extreme complexity? Is it the perceived failure of our country's society to recognize that this integration necessarily includes in equal consideration elements that any given power structure at any given time may wish to discount? Have we given up because it was not all moving along fast enough? Have we learned nothing from the Balkans? from Rwanda?
Another article cites polls indicating that the majority of today's self-imagined "Native Americans" insist that there are too many immigrants, "that America is European in its culture and character and must remain so." But the author observes:
". . . everywhere . . . there are signs of a new world forming. Children . . . born (of two, three, four races) who look exactly like none of their grandparents. They are beautiful children. . . . Africa is meeting Asia. America is discovering the Americas. Indians are trespassing borders. The new Native Americans-blond, black, brown -- ponder the future." 6
It is a common future wherein our country purports consensus to be a fundamental operational principle. We have something to say about that. We must bring to the challenge our awesome powers of intelligence.
In addressing the NASM 1994 Annual Meeting, Edwin J. Delattre, Dean of the School of Education at Boston University, said:
"Blithely accept the fashionable non-sequitur that. . . human beings are [merely]. . . victims of accidents of birth and circumstance -- and the goals of education decline into teaching the young to "copy" . . . give them a false and underestimated [sense] of themselves, of their human heritage, of the possible. . . .
"Indulge the fashion that says you cannot understand my experience unless we are of the same gender, color, ethnicity, and we cast education itself into the maw of self-contradiction and incoherence. In order to make such a pronouncement about the limits to the understanding of which you are capable, I would have to be able to see things from your mind, enter your thoughts across lines of gender or color, which is exactly what the pronouncement says is impossible."
Many have been seduced by the overwhelming complexity and/or brutality of their personal realities into circling the wagons, retreating into a world of "this little (more manageable) piece is mine": The world of Cain and Abel, of Jacob and Esau, of defining oneself, one's sense of worth, largely in terms of comparison and competition with one's brother.
In the reality of our larger community, there is an intense human need that knows no exemption. All people have a personal need for support and nurturing from their environment, their society, their school. Each has a need to feel accomplishment; a need for excellence. Some lose, at an early age, any hope of that possibility -- usually as the result of society's response to them.
"New" evidence that illustrates my point is the "discovery" by Claude Steele, professor of social psychology at Stanford University, of a phenomenon termed "stereotype vulnerability."
"Black students know that the stereotypes about them raise questions about their intellectual ability. Quite beside any actual discriminatory treatment, they can feel that their intelligence is constantly and everywhere on trial -- and all this at a tender age and on difficult proving ground. . . . Whether blacks believe the stereotype or the mere threat that they might be judged in terms of it -- or fulfill it -- can hurt their academic performance."7
You know how hard it is to start something if you know you are expected to fail -- or that your efforts are likely to be marginalized.
One of the most touching books I ever saw, like a children's book, had beautiful pictures accompanying the narrative, a new thought on each page, which said something like:
"I like cool breezes on warm summer days. . .
I like kittens drinking warm milk. . .
I like beautiful music. . . "
things you and I can relate to warmly. Then came a page that said:
"I wonder why some people don't like me." 8
Turn the page. There is a picture of a very dark-skinned little girl looking longingly at a world that seems not to recognize that she is inside that skin.
Sometimes it is the unforgotten innocence of a child's view of the beautiful that shines through the ugliness of a mindset that can be seen, in perspective, as a manufactured aberration spawned by fear and ignorance. I think of Bernstein's Chichester Psalms when the nations rage and rumble, and when all the fuss dies out, there is still the sweet undisturbed voice of young David singing his uninterrupted song. In countless instances, parental vision has transcended the boundaries of circumstance. I think of Ben Carson, growing up in distressed conditions in inner-city Boston and Detroit, becoming, by the age of 33, Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. I think of Marian Wright Edelman, who recalls, "The world outside said we were poor black kids who weren't worth much, but the family said that wasn't so, and the church said it wasn't so. Despite all the negative signals, we knew who we were."
When I was a youngster growing up in the middle of the Black Belt in Chicago in the late 1930s, I lived in a building that ringed a city block, had a garden, a playground, beauty parlor, drugstore, Co-op Credit Union, nursery school, piano teacher, and from the 5th-floor roof, you could see sky, it seemed, forever. Along adjacent Michigan Avenue there were beautiful stately houses. A few blocks to the west conditions were poorer, but in kindergarten, we all went to the same school, and during rest hour listened to music like "Skye Boat Song." No one told us that was not our music and our world.
My father, who was the seventh of ten children raised in the backwoods of Arkansas, had come to Chicago as a teenager, shined shoes to support himself through high school, and
worked full time in the post office while putting himself through the University of Chicago. Though his was a markedly different "cultural" background, he was open to all kinds of new experiences and had a great love for humankind. His thought knew no boundaries; he was gentle but firm in his "you-can-figure-it-out." As with the "Who is Me?" girl, Carson, Edelman, and countless others, because the parent I loved and revered clearly expected that I was "able," it never occurred to me otherwise.
The music in our house ran the gamut, as did the rest of our lives. We lived not just on the other side of the railroad tracks but between two railroad tracks. The other side of either track was not where we could live. But we had a wonderful community that ranged the professional and economic spectrum. There were many human lessons to observe and learn, and no boundaries to the educational idealism that prevailed. As the result of my father's involvement in the international co-op movement, a good part of our summers were spent at an international family camp on a Michigan farm, where I discovered, during the course of shared chores, singing, games, participation in decision-making with people of all ages and backgrounds and experiences, that people who believed in a common ideal were powerfully alike: not in terms of sameness, but "brothers under the skin." Everyone brought something of value to the whole. My father never told me I had to settle for the trappings that go with a ghettoized mentality, so I never did. Similar to the mission of Bob Trotter, my father expected us to find ways to help bridge the chasms of ignorance in a world hungering for the fruits of better I-thou understandings.
An assumption examined by a recent NASM Minority Pipeline Study group was absence of a critical mass of minorities in the field of classical music. No doubt that is the perspective of most people. It was not the conclusion of the study group, which noted that the involvement has been historic and extensive. Why isn't that generally known? Where is the breakdown?
In nearly half a century of working with children and adults under all kinds of circumstances, I have known none who, when equipped with the requisite basic information, did not respond empathetically to whatever bespoke the expression of various phases of the human condition and its spiritual yearnings. At the ARTS 21 conference convened by NEA chairman Jane Alexander in April 1994, a wonderful array of performances took place during mealtimes: classical chamber music, African drumming and dancing, Hispanic dancing, and other ethnic performance art richly found in the Chicago area. At one point, it was delightful to see a black waitress responding to the music with bobbing head and body. Picture the scene in your mind. . . It was a performance of a Mozart Quartet. When my elementary school children in Gary, Indiana discovered the relationships between the substance of their traditional neighborhood songs, dances, life experiences, and the world of Bach, Mozart, international folk musics, that which they already knew became treasured elements of a much larger love, and the children understood themselves as a viable part of a far broader world.
In a contrasting aspect of the same truism, Doug Curry, referring to the rise of rappers as "the authentic and popularly elected voices of their group," creating an art form of its own, said: "Their work [reflects] accurately the life that society at large has abandoned them to. . . the rappers of today, alienated and trapped in their `underclass'. . . have reached self-consciously only for things belonging to them, to the exclusion of things that have rejected them."9
When I was a child, minorities expected random hostile responses from the "majority" populace. Yet, we still believed that getting to know one another would gradually alleviate the problem. For a period of time the automatic negative reaction was largely transcended. I am troubled to find it creeping back in subtle ways. In our 1O-second-sound-bite technology world, more than ever we have become accustomed to seeing individuals merely as icons representing a whole group or system of characteristics. Is that surprising in a complex world barreling on at breakneck speed?
Another response to complexity is the attempt to "freeze-dry" experiences. To keep things manageable, we are into a preservation mania. Imagine nine dots in the configuration of a tic-tac-toe matrix. Draw four straight lines that, in toto, go through each of the dots. Most people find that no matter how they do this, one dot is left. They may try interminably without finding the solution. A few people will discover that the solution involves going "outside the box." From earliest childhood, people construct boxes, determine the parameters of their world, make it manageable. They rarely consider that there is something outside their box. When they do, it often is at the level of outside-the-box being the realm of "the other," thus something to be feared and guarded against.
In our frantic need to make sense out of our universe, we try to hold onto yesterday -- not recognizing that, by definition, substance does not change, but the form in which it appears invariably must change with the passage of time, with change in perspective, with change in human need. We struggle to hold on and wonder why the form turns to dust in our hands.
It always has been clear to me that my "culture" is whatever has touched my life. Whatever I have experienced is, to a large extent, whatever I am free to choose to experience, as well as that which is part of my life involuntarily. The question is: What will I make of it? That was my father's constant question to me. Whatever the "givens," there were possibilities circumscribed only by the limits of my imagination, creativity, and perseverance. What would I make of this life? More important: it is not just MY life, nor yours -- but part of a continuum made possible by the sacrifices of many who went before us. What we make of it will, in turn, shape the possibilities of many who come after.
Though the world has tried hard to bully or coax me to settle for a prescribed narrow cultural niche into which to cram the self of myself, my father never told me that was my "place," my "box" wherein I should be content to stay. One of them had a credibility problem. It was not my father.
Not too long ago, music was routinely considered "the universal language." That vision seems to have faded. Is it because the substance of that ideal has been misinterpreted or the term misdefined? Indeed, there are musics specific to the geography of peoples all over the world. Wherein is the universal element? It is in the sustenance of a phrase that stretches our spirit, the excitement of organized sound that mirrors our heartbeat. It is manifest for the African coal miner able to bear his crushing circumstances by teaching himself how to play Bach on an improvised violin, and for the bereaved Alaskan mother, powerfully consoled by hearing Shaw conduct Mozart's Requiem , though she had never heard such music before. There is universality in the need to express hope, despair, joy, profound experiential insights, whether the product of hearing a mountain stream, or the centuries-old "folk-rap" of the song/dances of middle Europe and ancient Scandinavia, or contemporary ghetto-rap. Respecting and understanding the musics growing out of the experiences of other peoples is central to the development of our own understandings as world citizens. The extent to which those understandings are recognized as and become a part of our own psyche, and thus part of our own modes of expression, renders them elementally an integrated part of our own culture.
Could it not be said that everyone is "trapped" within the experiential walls that surround them, whether the confining force is external or self-imposed -- whether the music one knows is exclusively classical, jazz, or rap, etc. Relegation to any one of those relatively small "boxes" contributes to lines drawn in the sand to imaginary walls built against "the other." Can we as a culture afford that kind of compartmentalization?
In the historic, universally everpresent need of people to express themselves, the voice is everyone's most accessible instrument. Virtually all children croon and chant as they experience new stimuli in their environments, as they master new skills. Children who are severely psychologically damaged often will not talk. A friend of mine who played her flute for the residents of a nursing home was deeply touched and others profoundly astonished when an elderly patient who apparently had lost her power of speech began to sing along with a tune she recognized from her childhood.
Has it ever occurred to you that the rise of rap as an "art-form" has coincided strikingly with the absence of singing in the public schools? "Rap" as an outgrowth of the oral tradition was not unfamiliar in my neighborhood growing up -- much longer ago than Curry's 15-year benchmark; the rhythmic talk was fun, easily moved into music. Unlike the despondent anger of much of today's "rap," it occurred in the context of a wide range of music. Some of my fondest memories are of a 7th-grade math/music teacher -who also subbed as a trombone player in Earl Hines's band. On our music days, we sang countless songs ranging from "The Old Lamplighter" to a wide repertoire of other music that informed our sense of history of world belonging -- always with attention to the meaning of the words in their social/cultural context.
Studies confirm what common sense and mother-wit already have told us: that children's "play" really is a matter of learning life-strategies; that by playing games people evaluate possibilities without having to physically experience potentially negative situations; that our minds allow us to experience far more than we could in body alone. When we experience in music the essence of the song literature of other peoples, there is engendered a human connection that is not easy to deny in practical life-terms. The small child who hears only the sounds of his/her everyday social context, whatever that is, is impoverished in gut understanding of the wider world and thus in ability to function productively in that world -- in which we all live.
While we were "losing" participatory music in public schools, the profession was becoming increasingly esoteric, sucked into artistic self-indulgence. In effect, we have been party to blocking a major artery in the heart of people's need to express themselves and relate internally to one another. Starving the soul and spirit -- all in context of a large loss of individual and communal singing, except as being entertained.
"When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is. . . a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby talk, when. . . people become an audience and public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk [of culture-death]."10
In one comparative study, we saw the probable effects of massive social change wherein values are driven by a perceived need for material comforts, once those comforts seem to have become readily accessible to individuals. The making-money-mania, always present in the past, now is a magnified element of the complexity that has mushroomed in this last half-century marked by development of the atomic bomb, the competition explosion detonated by Van Cliburn's Moscow 1958 "Triumph," and the launching of Sputnik. In the ensuing years, we have increasingly gone after the big-bang, the big buck; the big win, the big star. With a television set in every household and the lottery figuratively on every corner, never mind the odds. This form of insanity is exacerbated by
"the music industry, where adults seldom trespass, [and which] is the stronghold of corporate criminals who truly get away with murder. Everyone knows that teenagers. . . are angry, confused, alienated and imperiled in these days of imploding families and vanishing value systems. Probably the first measure of decency among adults is whether we try to help these kids or try to make money from their predicament."11
Another mixed blessing aspect of the change in direction since Sputnik and Van Cliburn has been the attention given to education of "gifted" young people who wish to pursue a particular interest such as music or science. In the music discipline there have been some wonderful artistic blossomings, and compelling evidence of the impact of arts study on academic development, self-esteem, etc. Unfortunately, the gulf between those in special or magnet schools and the masses of those who are not, has widened to the point where there is relatively little common experience -- thus, relatively little understanding or empathy. What was based on a presumption of common value lost much of the heart of its power by isolating itself. We are beginning to see the emergence of efforts to apply to the experience of all children what has been learned in the process of educating the gifted. Still, we have a Congress full of people who have not experienced the arts as essential to their lives, who have not gone to school with the brilliant scientists who have crucial information and perspective on environmental and other scientific phenomena. It is not surprising that, at a critical level, their subconscious says: We did without that, and we're just fine.
What's missing? and why don't they know it? Remember the salad bowl? We know what music does and could be doing for humankind. We know the extent to which it positively affects mental and physical development, open up the inner and outer world, shed light on the possible. But are we keeping it a secret?
Strauss waltzes spoke to my father's spirit as much as did the music of his "indigenous culture." When I (and others) heard Tannhauser's rapture of a homecoming, it spoke to our own. Given my voracious reading habits, musics from Africa, Asia, South America, anywhere my imagination ever traveled, speaks to me. My father never told me I could not love it; he never said it belonged to someone else's "culture" and therefore not also mine. Then, and ever since, I understood and determined that whatever I can see, hear, perceive in my own terms, is a part of, belongs to, the me of me. Herein is the essence of the Biblical reference (Acts 2:6) to an occasion when the spirit was so strong that "every man heard them speak in his own language." It is an exhilarating freedom I wish intensely for every human on this planet. It is what called me to teaching.
More than is at first obvious, higher education plays a seminal role in this picture. What we do or do not do, what we know or do not know, our sensitivities, attitudes, even our moral courage, has a powerful effect on what happens to and for the next generation. Through our doors pass future performers, pedagogues, parents, policy makers. What kind of values, perspectives, understandings do we impart to them? What is the measure of our mentorship? Young people come to us with incredible energy, a potpourri of gifts, a hunger for the beautiful and a latent passion for sharing it. Despite the hand-wringing about a "dying art," they keep coming. Given the powerful part music plays in our very being, people respond to whatever of it is literally and figuratively accessible to them. Think about it, watch, and listen: music is going on all the time. That removes a lot of our "excuses," should we be too comfortable with letting our efforts stop at teaching graduate students about Ockeghem.
Where audiences have dropped off, I believe it has more to do with people's eventual boredom with whatever they do not have real involvement with. People may tire of coming to watch, but I see no lessening of people's desire to DO -- if it seems possible. This has huge implications for the responsibilities of our cultural stewardship. After one spends many years mastering the complexities and subtleties of the world's greatest musics, it can seem daunting to think of imparting that to those who do not have a similar background. Easier to say: let them (or us) be happy with just their (or our) "own" music. Change is not popular. Making waves is not popular -- and requires a very strong swimmer. Bucking the tide risks getting "beat up" -- but somebody had better have the courage to risk it. The alternative is not acceptable. If we are not socially/culturally/economically inclusive, if we do not heed Bob Trotter's urging to use the intellectual abilities we have to the end of making music's natural bridges of understanding among the peoples of the world, we all lose.
Not unlike the pitfalls of nationalism and tribalism, we have unwittingly tripped over a parallel situation in the arts and "community." Referring to disavowed but de facto political posturing, self-interest, and ulterior motives, guised as arguments over principles, Margaret Wyszomirski, director of the Arts Management Program at Case Western Reserve University, cautioned about the dangers of fragmentation of effort, the trap of emphasis on uniqueness: "Fragmentation inhibits the cultivation of common outlooks, values, and ways of thinking . . hinders both paradigm and option development . . . breeds instability and vulnerability."12 Remember the salad bowl?
To be part of a constructive solution to this social/cultural indigestion, we need to be much more sophisticated and proactive in the area of public policy development, and it must go much farther than interaction with the other members of the "arts community." As musicians, as keepers of the culture, we had better be very savvy about the power of the public will and act accordingly. It is clear that people have the will to preserve that which they know and experience intimately. Music is everyone's language, until some are told they can't speak it anymore but must let others speak for them. Soon it's forgotten.
What happens in the public schools and in community music life is, directly and indirectly, our responsibility. We are increasingly aware that it is more than a question of just keeping our own jobs going, more than indulging in a preoccupation with what Bob Trotter called "unexamined byproducts of [our] own candidacy for an advanced degree." With all the insight and ingenuity we can summon, we should figure out how to relate every aspect of performance and scholarly education to public school and community music education. Our students already are ahead of us in seeing the need for this and in their eagerness to respond to it. We must battle the inertia of our own hard-won salad-bowl education. It is a matter of urgency.
Meanwhile, how do we get the word out to those in our populace whose organic musical components were allowed to atrophy? First and foremost, we must resist the urge to isolate ourselves, no matter how comfortable that may be. We must find a way to speak to, hear, and be heard by "every man . . . in his own language." It requires deep listening -- and who has better ears than we? For those who are "experientially challenged," we must play a major role not only in research, but in making the results of that research known, There is a significant body of information that will challenge and enlighten even our own notions, including findings that run counter to the notion that only a few will/can be "musical," hinting at something more expansive about the possibilities for the larger society. They have enormous (and to some, threatening) implications for the work we do. How dare we presume to shape young futures without having such information?
We need to know about and learn from highly successful precollege programs such as the A+ program in some North Carolina schools, where the arts are integral to the curriculum. Both attendance rates and test scores have soared. We should be proactive in lending our support and expertise to projects that demonstrate such possibilities.
There are countless policy questions/issues to which we can apply our expertise and guide the exploration of our students. We need to understand the historical and developmental workings of the competition dynamic and of the cooperative ethic. Much of our approach to education is based on the fact that our society places high value on winning, succeeding, achieving more than more than someone else. We must be aware of the paradox that, at the same time the competitive fire rages within the interdependent structure of our society -- and is hailed as the cause of progress -- an even more fundamental factor in the progress of the human species requires quite a different approach or attitude. Intrinsic in the great breakthroughs of civilization has been the element of creativity, wherein "the human mind seems most capable of creativity when motivated, not by the hope of reward, but by the intrinsic joy of finding new answers to a problem . . . the findings imply that most of us are at our most creative when playing with ideas for the sheer pleasure of it rather than out of need or greed."13
Some studies indicate that there may be important cross-cultural factors at work. Anglo-American youngsters were found to respond to situational stimuli in as competitive a manner as possible, exhibiting strong rival/superiority inclinations. Certain second-generation minority groups showed particular traits of equality orientation, closely followed by altruism/group enhancement, although by the third generation they moved farther in the direction of the majority cultural inclination. These factors would seem to have some significance regarding the participation of minorities in competitive situations, and consequently in the mainstream of careers in classical music.
The College Music Society has been a pioneer in opening our thought to the presence, the dignity, and the fascination of ethnic musics. Now it is time to promote ethnic music in the most creative, "for real," inclusionary way -- to pridefully and respectfully acknowledge and study what happens to it in this country beyond the first generations, to trace its influence on and integration into the music that is "American." There is tremendous potential in giving attention to rewriting our Western music history and theory texts to include the musical contributions of ethnic minorities and women who are and have been part of our Western civilization. We have the scholarly expertise necessary for that. Do we have the will and the courage?
We have to resist mere ethnic indulgence or the ultimate put-down, exclusion: that's yours, this is mine. Otherwise, it is just another subtle way of keeping "the other" in its place. Approaching the challenge intelligently expands the enterprise beyond mere education in ethnic musics to the development of the greater overall intelligence that grows from the ability to relate, synthesize, integrate information.
Greater understanding of the realities we have considered here can shed important light on how/what we individually and as a conglomerate faculty and administration hear and see, what choices we make, how effectively we teach, mentor, interact with, unlock the tremendous potential of a huge reservoir of talented young adults. Feed their courage and ability to get "outside the box." There is important work for them to do on behalf of a world that desperately needs what musical insight and development can bring to it. As with my father, if we never tell them the fable that says they are lesser, never intimidate them with the notion that they have to stay inside the box they came in, maybe when the world beats on them, as it will and does with us all, they will know who to believe. The creative energy generated by the resulting strengths will help illumine the future in a way that would make Bob Trotter feel that his life-example was truly worthwhile.
Author's Note: What appears here is the gist of my talk, but without some points, without the many "stories" that illustrate the points, without the extensive bibliography. If you would like the full text, I will be happy to send it to you, if you will address a note and $2.00 postage/handling to me at Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies, Wyman Park Bldg., 3400 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218-2696
1 Robert Trotter, "Lessons for Teaching a Course in Music Listening," Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, 4:51-62 ni 1990.
2 Marit Bakke, "Does It Make Any Difference?: Classical Music Concert Repertories in Norway and the United States." Paper presented at 21st Annual Conference on "Social Theory, Politics, and the Arts," U. of California, Santa Barbara, October 1995.
4American Symphony Orchestra League Newsletter, Washington, D.C., 4 August 1995.
5 Asian Scope, Student newspaper, U. of California, Santa Barbara, Fall 1995.
6Richard Rodriguez, "New Native Americans Are Blonde and Fearful," Baltimore Sun, 25 October 1995, 17a.
7 Connie Leslie, "You Can't High-Jump If the Bar Is Set Low," 6 November 1995, 82ff.
8 Shirley Burden, I Wonder Why... (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc. 1963)
9 Doug Curry, "Pure Black: The New Fusion of Hip Hop and Jazz," Rochester, NY about . . . time, 19-21.
10 Hal Crowther, "In a Dying Culture, Thank God for Snobs: America, It's Time to Raise Some Highbrows," Washington Post , 27 August 1995, Giff.
12 Margaret Jane Wyszomirski, "Policy Communities and Policy Influence: Securing a Government Role in Cultural Policy for the 21st Century," Symphony, Sept.-Oct. 1995, 30ff.
13 Morton Hunt, "How the Mind Works," New York Times Magazine, 24 January 1982, 31.
Last modified on Wednesday, 15/05/2013