"A book of manners in the wilderness":
The Model of University Music Education
and its Relevance as Enabler in General Education in Ireland1
About four years ago, a student came to see me about his choice of instrument in anticipation of his practical examinations. We exchanged the usual preliminaries about such examinations: when they were likely to take place, how long they were to last, and so on. At length he asked me about the range of instruments that might be acceptable to the Department of Music. "It says piano, organ, or any orchestral instrument in here", he said, thumbing through the syllabus. "Is that it? Do I really have to play an orchestral instrument?" "Well, let me put it this way," I replied, "You can play whatever instrument you choose, provided you don't have to plug it in."
I had declared my prejudices before he had had a chance to declare his. And in case you missed them, I had anticipated, fairly predictably, that he might want to offer the electric guitar for my edification and that of my colleagues. When I told this story to a commercial musician sometime afterwards, he rather primly said that a good electric guitarist was better than a bad violinist any day of the week. I had no argument with that point of view and I still don't. But it's not a point of view that alters the situation. A good chess player, or for that matter a good mathematician could hardly expect to present herself for an examination in music and hope that a few classical defenses or algebraic formulae would suffice in place of an instrumental or vocal competence in art music. My decision to exclude the rock guitarist (or at least to forbid him the presentation of his skills) rested on the same grounds. As yet, there is no legal instrument that requires me to change my opinion, but a substantial body of music education theory would condemn it outright. In this essay, I shall try to explain, as it were, why I deprived that young man of his gently weeping guitar. I shall want to consider the university model of music education on two levels: first as a deliberate counter-statement to the massive impact of commercial music, and second, as a system of thought which embraces professional and humanist conceptions of music which are distinct, if not actually exclusive, one to the other. By "commercial music" I intend the pop and rock forms of the present day, those that press down with such ubiquitous insistence on the musical imagination. The corollary of this intention is that I am not prescribing a syllabus or canon per se in this paper, which is primarily concerned with certain models of education which in the main are devoted to the rehabilitation and transmission of European musical culture. But these models are not exclusive of other art traditions: they do not, for example, exclude jazz. Nevertheless, I shall want to argue that the first level of university music education clears a vital space for art music and for the study of music in culture which otherwise is overcome by the deafening roar of popular forms: hence my title. Seamus Heaney's phrase2 puts the matter with vivid starkness: the pursuit of art music in the wasteland of rock and pop goes so much against the grain of contemporary thinking (and, for our purposes, contemporary music education theory), that "a book of manners in the wilderness" captures just that deliberation of choice which I want to confront and defend in this essay. Central to this defense will be the notion of a university model of music education, which after all is the brief I have been assigned.3 I shall not be talking about a university model of social anthropology or a model of music education for children, for example. Were either of these the case, my insistence on the central gravity of noncommercial forms would go out the window. Given my current brief, however, I shall want to play the devil's advocate in response to prevailing ideologies of music education insofar as these have been expounded in all three phases of the Music Education National Debate (M.E.N.D.).4 Nevertheless, I would say in passing that I do not myself subscribe to the current egalitarianism which so loudly dictates musical choice in what small measure of general music education is available to Irish children. I deplore the arrogant equation of Schubert and Simon and Garfunkel, to say nothing of the canonic status (the canonization) conferred upon a vulgar, third-rate pastiche of Italian opera intermixed with the desolations of rock music which is "Bohemian Rhapsody."5 What I deplore, by the way, is not necessarily the music itself. "The Sound of Silence" is a beautiful song. "Bohemian Rhapsody" belongs to my long-haired, thoughtful, flared, and even flawed adolescence. But I found those things out for myself, in the massive ebb and flow of commercial music. That they screened out a universe of sound of fundamentally different significance and complexity did not occur to me—why should it have done? I just enjoyed the music and got on with my 1970s youth. Now I find that these two shibboleths of popular musical culture are solemnly presented for scrutiny alongside the pitifully reduced presence of the classical repertoire. It is all a darkness . . .
Although I am not primarily concerned with music education outside Ireland, my reading of the Irish situation will inevitably seem like a j'accuse directed against the multiculturalism of music education theory as a whole and American music education theory in particular. Once again, I feel obliged to establish from the outset that I hold no brief in that regard. Nevertheless, the prescriptive zeal of much music education theory would appear to propose models of thought which run counter to the argument which I would like to rehearse in this paper. To refer for a moment to the second phase of the M.E.N.D. debate, one of the most striking features of the papers presented therein was the gap between American ideologies of music education and the actual condition of music in Irish life.6 It was as if competing versions of Christianity were urged upon the heathen, who listened politely and then returned to do battle with his unchristian gods, notably the Department of Education and the economics of a schools music system without much money. And, as Frank Heneghan reminds us, it is not a multicultural theory of music education which applies in Ireland so much as a bicultural one.7 What this means is that the case for music education in Ireland depends on a historical understanding which addresses this particular difficulty, and not, for example, whether Elvis Presley deserves the same status as Ludwig van Beethoven in Spring Falls, Minnesota. (More of Presley later, as they say.) I think that Kari Veblen and Marie McCarthy were prepared to recognize this multicultural/bicultural distinction in their presentations to the second conference in the M.E.N.D. debate.8 In Ireland, we are so far behind the rest of Europe, to say nothing of North America, that apparently useful comparisons break down under the stress of near-primitive conditions. We have not yet arrived at the point of departure which American music education takes for granted, namely, the (perhaps oppressive) availability and cultivation of the European tradition. And I for one begin to feel a little impatient of the cultural imperialism which prescribes that we abandon or drastically relegate what we have not yet properly attained. Perhaps this is a j'accuse after all. I sincerely hope not.
If, as Frank Heneghan remarks, "the question of time management is a crucial issue in Irish music education,"9 so also are a number of other things: a proper campus for the Dublin Institute of Technology (D.I.T.) Conservatory of Music and Drama, a national music research library, adequate performance and practice facilities for students in University College Dublin (U.C.D.), an encyclopedia of music in Ireland. I cannot help feeling that some of these matters are essentially prior to a philosophy of music education which reorders the Eroica symphony in the light of Duke Ellington's "Cotton Tail."10 The problem is that the philosophy can seem dislocated when deprived of the context of an adequate musical infrastructure. By "infrastructure" I don't simply mean a single, purpose-built facility devoted to music (a commonplace in Europe and America which nevertheless eludes us here) but also a degree of choice which permits the Eroica to exist as an autograph facsimile of enduring insight and symbolic value, as a sounding musical form enacted and recorded throughout the world, as an expression of post-revolutionary romanticism in Europe, as a vital document of cultural history and as a complex web of musico-grammatical finesse which can be analyzed, imitated and understood by the American university student of music. When that student is thereafter confronted with Duke Ellington's "Cottontail" she is free to make up her own mind as to whether a jazz standard is of the same specific import in terms of musical practice as Beethoven's third symphony. She does not depend on David Elliott for this point of view, nor would he want her to. The Beethoven scholar provides a necessary equilibrium for the philosopher of music education, even if the two can sometimes seem to exist in a relation of mutual incomprehension. The music, you might say, comes first.
"The University Model of Music Education": what is intended by this designation? A professional degree in music? A menu of gradual discovery, in which the antipasti (tonal harmony, ear-training, species counterpoint) are swiftly cleared away before the grand entrée makes its appearance? And what might that be? A fillet of Bach, perhaps, or a joint of Beethoven? In these days of semesterization, the student (to alter the metaphor) pushes her trolley through the supermarket of musical culture and fills it according to the prescriptions of a balanced diet. Well: these are tiresome metaphors and I won't pursue them further, except to remark that there is something of the consumer mentality which attaches itself to music education in the 1990s. And we may be absolutely sure of one thing: the notion of a universal model of college music education is gone forever. Good riddance to it. Its merits were vastly outweighed by the intellectual sloth which followed in its wake. One might say, indeed, that we have moved from universal model to university model, although the latter by no means implies a consensus of ideology and curriculum. If it did, we should be back where we started. Let me remind you, for a moment, where that was. "Only in living memory," writes Winton Dean in The New Grove (1980), "has music been recognized officially in Britain as an arts subject—not merely as a fine art possibly contributing to the liberal culture of an endowed people, but as a human expression, a language with a vast literature of historical and regional forms, giving scope for semantic, aesthetic and sociological scholarship. The chief enemy of progress was the outlook of Victorian boarding-schools, wherein music was associated with foreigners or people who called with fiddle and dancing shoes; musicianship in a young gentleman was dangerous, freakish, effeminate and conducive to immorality."11 Perhaps it still is. But the obsessive preoccupation with harmony and counterpoint by which music attained some status as a university subject has only been attenuated within the past twenty years. Andrew Johnstone in a recent paper for the British Journal of Music Education has shown inter alia how such subjects reflected a social communion of interests: those of the choirmaster and organist of the Anglican church, who found his métier in the progressive stages of the harmony and counterpoint examinations of the old Oxbridge B.Mus. degrees.12 No one foresaw the difficulty of extending these requirements to all and sundry until well after the Second World War; or if they did, precious little was done about it. Certainly in Ireland the serried ranks of university papers lodged in the University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin libraries prove incontestably that this "model" of professional degree endured until very recently.
From my own experience, I would like to think about the ramifications of this essentially British-derived model of university music education in Ireland. Its advantages were clear: a uniform standard of attainment, a genuinely reassuring sense of having one's feet firmly on the ground (if not on the pedal board), a set of objectives which were goal-directed and preordained. By the time I encountered this model, to be fair, these objectives had enlarged considerably beyond the challenging pedantries of tonal answer and invertible counterpoint. For one thing, we were exposed to a substantial amount of nineteenth-century music. For another, the "professional-liberal" distinction which this model rigidly declared was by then blurred. Being an arts student, I found this agreeable. But the model itself unquestionably remained universal. And therein lay its weakness. In fact, the professional-liberal mode of thinking had become so blunted that it was overtaken—in Ireland as well as in England—by a more insidious form of discrimination. This was the general-honors system, widespread in university education up to ten years ago. By this means, the universal curriculum reinforced its hold on the subject itself: either you could satisfy its demands in the honors program, from which you might conceivably proceed to a relatively enlightened study of music, or you were unceremoniously bumped down (midway through first year) to the general or pass level, at which you languished for the remainder of your time. When I say that the honors system was "relatively enlightened," by the way, I am reminded of an African dictator in one of Tom Stoppard's plays who asks a journalist if he knows what he means by a relatively free press. He means, the dictator says, a press run by one of his relatives . . . .
I taught general students for years and they were among the most interesting minds I encountered. But the course itself was a permanent reminder of second-rate citizenship. You might study something thus far and no further. Certainly not as far as the honors stream above you. You weren't bright enough for the professional degree: that was clear. What else was there to do? The dim hope of redemption remained in the shape of a commendation, but that eluded most people. And here I am being a little philosophical, when I say that both degrees were structured—intentionally or otherwise—as paradigms of life itself, or at least a very 1950s, Irish, Catholic, authoritarian sort of life. But it is easy to be wise after the event. Heaven knows what future generations will make of our interventions, including my own.
We have left most of this behind fairly recently. The transformation of Irish degrees in music reflects this departure vividly: the proximity of conservatory/college of music and university department of music is another indication of change, and change immeasurably for the better. Although Irish universities do not themselves contain the performance departments found in colleges of music they self-evidently benefit from them and have done so for years. In some cases they have begun to recognize this fact in the credits for performance allocated to degree specializations alongside musicology and composition.13 In brief, the range of models could scarcely be more numerous without endangering the viability of any one of them. This, in parenthesis, is a problem which remains to be addressed in Ireland. Having liberated ourselves from the constraints of a universal model of music education we nevertheless run the risk of duplicating and thus weakening resources in a small country. In my own area of specialization, for example, I would far prefer to see a National Music Research Library situated in central Dublin (as with the Traditional Music Archive), rather than try to achieve on several campuses what none of us has: an adequate resource for musicological research. By the same token, having established the first graduate taught course in musicology in the Republic of Ireland, I see little point in trying to duplicate other areas of graduate study which are cultivated on other campuses. To do so in Ireland almost certainly is to dissipate the strength, quality and market of the discipline concerned. The cake is limited in size. Competition is in the nature of what we do, but cupidity avails no-one much benefit in the end.
What these developments amount to is a radical shift in the professional-humanist polarity of university music education. "Professional" is no longer a hidden synonym for "church organist" or "secondary school teacher," although the latter still figures prominently among our graduates in Ireland, as elsewhere. The "university model of music education," indeed, begins to break down under the duress of so many different meanings. In Ireland, for example, it can signify—at random—undergraduate programs in music education, in performance, in music history and compositional techniques, in analysis and in a blend of all these. It can also denote degree courses more or less exclusively devoted to any one of them (as in the Bachelor in Music Education degree jointly offered by Trinity College Dublin, the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the D.I.T.) At University College Dublin (U.C.D.), which does not offer options in music education, the arts/music distinction (as in B.A./B.Mus.) is frequently softened in favor of a foundation/option divide. But in fact the recently introduced modes of separate entry for the two U.C.D. degrees is intended to reflect the differences in aspiration between them: the B.Mus. degree allows for a professional commitment to music (or at least an avocation of one), which the B.A. does not. This is not to suggest for a moment that the two courses are not closely related: they are. But the pure music degree provides time, space and additional courses which send out a message to the student that reads: all your eggs are in one basket. His or her arts counterpart has other claims to make.
Having dispensed with the notion of a "universal model" of university music education, I would still want to hold out for some element of commonly held objective or purpose, however broadly based. For example: I would be prepared to venture that no degree course in the Irish Republic has displaced the European art tradition and/or a greater or lesser commitment to ethnic musical culture (Irish and otherwise) from the center of its preoccupations. I would venture further that we cannot identify any lessening of that Eurocentricity which is resented by American music education in its attempt to widen the scope of musical experience and feeling;14 finally, I would say that rock music, where it surfaces in Irish academe, is a matter of anthropological or sociological interest rather than an inherent object of serious musical study.
All of this could change in the morning. Commercial music has already found a way into the academy via the circuitous route of ethnomusicological and sociological studies, and it has been reformulated and repackaged (notably in the United States) as a reordered model of classical or art music, which is to say: not only has the elitist/egalitarian, European/American, Classical/Popular, Paleface/Redskin argument been resolved well and truly in favor of a value-free system of musical objectives (so that Johnny Cash is no less and no more worthy of scrutiny than Johannes Ockeghem); this argument has also dovetailed into a magisterial reappraisal of certain musicological techniques and their usefulness. One example will suffice: the language and style of ethnomusicological dissertations which represent the musical object as if it were a European art structure ("Structure and Symmetry in the Formative Works of Big Tom")15 enter a new proposal. No longer do popular forms simply rival the classical repertoire: they now supplant it. And in so doing they borrow much of the technical and critical apparatus which was hitherto attached to so-called "serious music" (a hopelessly vulnerable and inadequate term). The logical outcome of this development is that the status of European music (and of art music in particular) is undermined. Some will welcome this outcome, others will resent it, but there are very few, I take it, who will deny its force.
Eurocentricity is, or should be, an American problem. Being European, I fail to see how we can be other than Eurocentric.16 Our bi-culturalism, like our politics, shows some hope of redemption therein.17 But the sorry truth is that we have been swept along by the tide of North American ideology without taking due stock of the context, the curatorial panache, the zealous reanimation and preservation of European culture which stands behind the current reorientation of American music education theory. It is this fact of cultural history which bestows upon the egalitarian rhetoric of the American academy its notably tense demeanor. When David Elliott, for instance, strings together "baroque choral singing, bebop jazz improvisation, Balinese kebyar and Korean kayagum sanjo" in order to philosophize about music as a "diverse human activity"18 the first of these terms (baroque choral singing) stands out with tarnished grandeur from the rest of them, like a hitherto privileged member of the community fallen on hard times who must learn to accept the new dispensation. The fundamental tenet of Elliott's philosophy is that all music is a human activity rather than a product of that activity.19 Arising from this tenet is the proposition that none of it is privileged. As someone committed by profession to the cultural history of music (to say nothing of aesthetic preference or the functional status of music by comparison with language and architecture), I simply don't find this to be the case. The privileged condition of European music, for example, as a carefully cultivated analogue of painting and architecture in the seventeenth century cannot simply be neglected or denied in favor of a philosophy of music which insists upon the equivalent condition of all musics, irrespective of their origins and purpose. Historians of music are not much concerned with implausible theories of musical superiority. Nor should they be: they are a waste of time and intellect. But musical difference is another matter. And the vital question of difference is so decisively eclipsed by Elliott's philosophy that it may be reclaimed by educators with an obligation to extra-musical meaning. Consider a history of architecture which evaluated St. Paul's Cathedral purely in terms of its capacity to keep out the rain. In such terms, Wren's architecture would in my view be diminished, and quite properly so, to a level whereby it could usefully be compared with the waterproofing of London houses, for example, during the seventeenth century. Or of American houses in the twentieth. All sorts of buildings keep the rain out, and I know from firsthand experience that St. Paul's is one of them. But is that fact a useful common denominator for the purposes of architectural history? And is the prior impulse "to construct" (cathedrals, houseboats, igloos) the prevailing point of contact for a philosophy of architectural training and education? In the same way, is the fact that all kinds of people make music a reliable foundation for comparative studies in music education? The status and function of music, from people to people, and from one period of history to the next, enters such a decisive claim on the historical imagination that music itself cries out for a more stringent, locally-defined understanding than that. Abstract notions of musical superiority are self-evidently reprehensible, but the notion of musical difference is not. Insofar as European music (to look no further) locates and expresses a wider system of political values, codes, even structures of thought, it establishes a sociocultural matrix that we can scarcely ignore. Still less can we respond to it as if it were just another commodity on the educational food chain. Music is not value free. Not all musical value-systems are the same. And musical structures are not always interchangeable.
I dwell on this point because I believe it has been lost in the current reevaluation of music education in Ireland. And it is with this point in mind that I pose the following question: why should we exchange one form of cultural imperialism for another? Having endured the wretched musical aftermath of an either/or bi-culturalism in the past (art music as an indifferent symbol of the English presence in Ireland, ethnic music as an oppressive instrument of nationalist and sectarian culture), why should the Irish European now regard the amorphous multiculturalism of contemporary American music education as a desirable objective? This question can have no meaning if we forget about the vital differences between music in North America and music here. The European tradition in America is taken to such a pitch of intensity that we can recognize its magisterial presence there without ever reduplicating it in Ireland. By contrast, commercial music—and I mean the American model specifically—is more than a mere fact of Irish musical life. It is tightly woven into the seam of Irish adolescence; it resonates with loud echo up and down the country, in the bedroom , in the car, in the nightclub, in the stadium, in the noble lord's estate, and of course on the university campus. It is a form of mass going, if that pun is tolerable. If much of it is brutal noise, no matter. The main thing to get straight is that it is here.
What is not here is that other model of American culture, that "imaginary museum of musical works" by which the European tradition becomes a permanent educational resource—in performance, in composition, in research—both for its own sake and for the wider model of social, political and cultural history which the music itself communicates.20 This being the case, our sense of a university model of music education ought to be more informed than it is. If university music is to "enable" music education at large, other models need to be regarded with care, and sometimes with circumspection.
Two extracts chosen from the astonishing gamut of music literature in the United States can put this challenge of selection into perspective. The first is from the preface to Mozart's Operas, a collection of essays published by Daniel Heartz in 1990.
The ultimate source of my ideas, here gathered, is the classroom experience of trying to bring Mozart's operas to life in the ears and imaginations of students—many generations of students in fact. At the University of California (from 1960), at the University of Chicago (from 1957), and during terms as guest professor at Princeton and Cornell, Mozart's operas have always been the central focus of my teaching. Earlier still during graduate study at Harvard, I recall giving a lecture in the Mozart year of 1956 on Don Giovanni, which substituted for the expected lecture on the topic of my Ph.D. dissertation, French sixteenth-century dance music. From this it may be safely assumed that Don Giovanni has always held a special place in my affections. The essays here that began as program articles for the San Francisco Opera and other companies are live classroom presentations in a sense too, in that they attempt to reach out to a wider public, while keeping in touch with the latest research results of specialists everywhere. It seems appropriate, then, to dedicate these essays to my students. In doing so, I can begin to repay them for so many exhilarating exchanges over the years . . .21
The second excerpt is from a recent paper by Franz L. Roehmann entitled "Technology, Culture, and Music" published in this journal in 1995:
Leonard Bernstein wryly observed ". . . it's Elvis. He introduced the beat to everything. . . . Because of him a man like me barely knows his musical grammar anymore. . . ." Whether Elvis is truly responsible for the beat in American popular music is open to debate, and we can argue about his ultimate standing among the pantheon of twentieth-century musicians. However, we would be wise to consider carefully the implications of Bernstein's comment about a changing musical grammar. In addition to the grammatical changes that MIDI and other music technologies impose, we now have two "post-Elvis" generations who, voting with their feet and dollars have opted away from an older European musical grammar. This is not something that just happened last week, last year, or even last decade. Nor can it be attributed to the vacuous rebelliousness of youngsters. It's also parents and grandparents who together with their children increasingly tend to see classical western art music as archival, as a cluster of more or less beautiful and interesting musical artifacts far removed in time and place from present-day realities. In America, the grand tradition of Western music is simultaneously receding into history as it evolves under the pressure of diverse cultural influences . . . (p. 127)
. . . In the same way that "high modernism" can't be forced down the throat of a disinterested (sic) public, so too, foisting a "high civilization" drawn from European traditions is bound to seem irrelevant to an increasingly pluralistic culture that ever more loudly proclaims "Mine!!". . . Whether one characterizes formal music education as besieged, anxious or merely concerned, there exists an undeniable, McLuhanesque heat emanating from young, sophisticated musicians who find their satisfaction in musical applications which are in many ways shaped by the electronic instruments they prefer to play. We can no longer afford a high-culture attitude that marginalizes their music, technique and vocabulary. Change is essential—and it starts with how we educate music educators. (p. 130-1)22
I would like to comment at some length on both of these passages because they illustrate diametrically opposed philosophies of music education, the first implicitly, the second explicitly. Both also express American points of view about music education from either end of the spectrum of choice with which I am concerned in this paper. The Heartz preface speaks to a privileged community of high culture; in the Roehmann excerpt lurks the boy with his electric guitar. (I am in no position to insist upon an "either/or" debate in the United States, but I can recognize the drift of an argument like anyone else, in this latter case between the policy objectives of the National Association of Schools of Music in the U.S. and individual commentators like Roehmann.)23 I can also press home the argument that an "either/or" debate may well be valid in Ireland.24
The Heartz preface cannot be taken simply as a ritual acknowledgement: it is a strategic device which establishes a continuum between "the classroom experience," Mozart scholarship and the wider arena of actual performance. Heartz locates his own responsibilities as a teacher at the center of his work so that the "exhilarating exchanges" between him and his students over a period of thirty years become the fulcrum for ideas which are incomparably lucid and compelling. Widely admired for the probity and sympathetic intelligence of his operatic criticism, Heartz takes considerable pains to indebt himself in these regards to the very students whom he has taught. And neither is the "attempt to reach out to a wider public" incompatible with the solitary reaches of specialist scholarship.
The debt to students is not, I repeat, an empty formula. I strongly suspect that Heartz may intend graduate students rather than undergraduates in this instance, but this being the case simply attests the benefits of dialogue between those who learn and those who teach (and thus learn in the process). Heartz's preface stands for a pedagogical ideal, Socratic rather than didactic in emphasis, which represents all that is admirable about graduate education in North America. But there are other strategies. Chief among them is Mozart himself. Heartz assumes his central stature in the pantheon of high culture not as an extraneous icon of European sensibility shared by the superior few but as an immanent presence which irradiates the whole business of teaching and scholarship in music. The gentle message is: if you invest the sum of your waking hours in this pursuit, Mozart is worth it. Another, closely related implication is that whereas French dance music of the sixteenth century may bear the weight of a doctoral investigation, it lacks the sweep and vision to inspire that student-scholar continuum which Heartz advances as the informing source of his career. This may be unfair to French music (although I doubt it) but in any case the dance music is moved aside by the young Heartz in favor of Don Giovanni, which continues to hold "a special place" in his affections. In sum, Mozart advances to the forefront of these considerations not simply for his own sake but because his music symbolizes the objective of university education in the humanities, as this is understood by Heartz. This objective is to engage with the past, but not as an amorphous whole. Instead, the past is filtered through that special form of authority which is Mozart's prismatic imagination. By "prismatic" I mean the remarkable manner in which Mozart's music reflects not only his culture but ours. The numinous presence of his music hovers on the brink of revolution in Europe while it stands scrupulously apart from the domain of political barbarism. Mozart's music gives access to a life of the mind even as the shadow of the guillotine falls across the score of La Clemenza di Tito. This unnerving admixture of pristine autonomy and immanent extra-musical engagement is worth knowing about. Or so Heartz seems to believe.
Leonard Bernstein, by contrast, believes in Elvis and the American beat. Although Roehmann sees no disingenuousness in his protestation of grammatical deficiency, I find it difficult to accept it at face value. Bernstein exalts Elvis, after all, from the comparative security of a lifetime's devotion to the well-made American musical, to say nothing of Bernstein's own preeminence as one of the great conductors of the twentieth century. If the choice lies between "Heartbreak Hotel" and the symphonies of Mahler, as Bernstein seems to think it does, can we really trust his implied re-orientation and self-criticism in the phrase "a man like me hardly knows his musical grammar anymore?" Have Bernstein's musical horizons been thus dramatically extended by "You ain't nothin' but a houndog?" Nothing in Bernstein's career, even at the zenith of his trendy self-promotion, bears this out. If "Elvis introduced the beat to everything," this did not distract Bernstein one whit from his assiduous cultivation of high musical culture. In the light of his Mahler performances and recordings alone, this kind of posturing sounds merely fatuous.
I have taken not Bernstein but Roehmann at his word when he advises that we ought to consider carefully the implications of Bernstein's remarks. I'm not sure that we have more than one post-Elvis generation, given that he died in 1977, but I am sure that there is false logic in the argument that the American people have somehow abandoned serious music under the infantile spell of a pop song. Roehmann is surely correct when he asserts that serious music in America is under siege and on the decline, but I would contend that the explanation which he offers for this state of affairs is both inaccurate and implausible. Given the population of the United States, to say nothing of its vital multiculturalism and economic prosperity, who can doubt the permanently elitist condition of art music there? Elvis is an important chapter in another story, namely the rise of American popular culture from the closing decades of the nineteenth century to the present day. But he is not to be held responsible for the aging condition of American audiences for art music or the fragmented polity of cultural interests, in which rival claims for ascendancy (and for dollars) contend against each other with bewildering vehemence. The truth surely is that the European tradition in the kaleidoscope of North American culture is one shade among many, which for over a century has been promoted by private enterprise and the vested interests of cultural, if not racial dominance. And the "beat" of rock music, whether or not we ascribe its origins to Elvis, overarches this span of diverse musical cultures, even as it transcends the boundaries of the U.S. itself. If the "grand tradition" of music is "receding into history," if a "high-culture attitude" has pole-axed the cultivation of art music, we cannot blame the kids for that, so to speak. Nor can we blame their Elvis-loving parents and grandparents. The blame, as Roehmann might concede, lies with the education system. Even the economic self-interest of popular music, together with its virtual omnipresence, is not enough to destroy an idea. And music, at the last, is fundamentally an idea about sound. Roehmann is right: change (his or mine) begins with the educators.
Is Western art music a dying relic of European high culture, the preserve of a privileged communion forever stemming the tide of popular taste? I believe that this gloom-laden scenario avails us little. I am writing this paper on the campus of an affluent Canadian university whose facilities for art music far exceed anything we are likely to realize in Ireland. I doubt very much whether such facilities would even be contemplated in Canada, let alone provided, if they were being proposed for the first time this year. The power and prestige of commercial music in the late 1990s is simply too great to make a case that would stick, given the expenditure involved. And faculties of music in Canada and especially in the United States are under considerable pressure to pursue the path enjoined by Roehmann. One ethnomusicologist recently asked in defense of his course on The Beatles, "Why should we only study the music of dead white guys who lived long ago?"25 My answer would be that the dead white guy is a living red herring: the question that stands behind this politically correct rhetoric is whether the European tradition deserves its hitherto sovereign claim on the educated imagination. And my answer to that question is: in Europe, yes it does. More precisely, I would advance Ireland's right of access to the European tradition (after centuries of denial and neglect) over and above the interests of cultural egalitarianism in North America. Why, I ask myself, should Irish music educators take on the cultural crises of the United States as their own? The only reasonable explanation can be that the prestige of dismissal (as in Roehmann's case), is a subset of that enthrallment with American culture which is an everyday occurrence in Irish life. We have the apparatus of American popular culture on our doorstep; we have the sound of it in our heads. Accordingly, we roll over with Beethoven and get on with the dreary business of taking it into our schools and colleges. It's what the kids want, isn't it?
I can't quite understand how we have painted ourselves into this corner, how music has become not an object of study but a form of social therapy, in which the historical dimension of the subject has all but disappeared.26 The astonishing reluctance to discriminate between music instruction and music education (a distinction which seems to surprise people anew every time it is raised) is one consequence of this transformation, so that the performance of music—any kind of music and at virtually any standard of competence—automatically takes precedence over its understanding and reception. To judge by music education literature in Britain and the United States, this precedence is so far gone as to be irreversible. To be sure, the programs in music history and musicology offered by university departments throughout the U.S. and Canada (to say nothing of Britain and Continental Europe) would seem to contradict this state of affairs: but mediocre performance as an immanent form of student-centered discovery looms large over the process of music education as a whole. Meanwhile, the music itself begins to disappear. To adapt Roehmann's phrase, it recedes into the archive. The vast literature which surrounds it, by which it is rescued from obscurity and brought to light, is itself remaindered as a minority preoccupation.
The cult of performance has so overtaken our sense of music (from the regiments of Suzuki to the peaks of the international competition) that our conception of music has narrowed accordingly: how much music do we even discuss in general programs of education, even in the European tradition? Scarcely any of it, is the banal answer, to say nothing of its historical meaning and significance. A European art form which rivals literature in its range and depth of feeling, structure and historical engagement withers and dies under the incessant pressure of "Me" and "Mine" and the present tense of American popular culture. The deliberate eradication of this form in the interests of pragmatic self-advancement seems to me an irresponsible abnegation of the past. What most distresses me about this high-handed repudiation of art music is the assumption that one generation is free to dispense with its obligations to the generation that follows. Those who most loudly proclaim the irrelevance of a thorough-going historical understanding deprive not only themselves but their educational charges. If the history of European music is to be reduced to the tokenism of two or three shards of "classical music" dutifully collected by the secondary school student as so many fossils on the beach, the university model of music education must answer this shocking void. It must provide not only the kind of professional/humanist programs which I discussed at the outset but also the kind of canonic density of engagement with the music itself which will redeem it from our willful obscurity. In plain terms, it must teach people how to listen. The Cinderella-subject of music education—that is, education about music—does not thrive in the current climate of self-expression. The grey term "music appreciation," something akin to basket weaving or knitting long, shapeless pullovers in the 1950s, betrays our colossal neglect of a dimension of music that requires every bit as much attention as performance. If music is to impart its meaning, other than as a chic form of aural wallpaper, we had better get to grips with this astonishing omission. We have ostracized the listener. We have left her to the solitary pleasures of the compact disc. We have hardly explained a thing. Consider for a moment the prospect of a university degree in English—or a high school course for that matter—which regarded textual explication and the reading that precedes it as marginal activities. Contemplate the absolute loss of a syllabus. We have no need of deconstructive criticism in music education: we have already dispensed with the central authority of the text. And in the wake of that decision, history and criticism follow suit. A program of second-level music education which neglects the vital relationship between music, history and listenership is doomed to mediocrity. If I am to be doubted, it should not be prior to a consultation of the new curriculum in music in the Leaving Certificate cycle. The crowning irony of this state of affairs is that music as a school subject will remain an elitist activity: another generation will pass in which the confusion between instruction and education will ensure the minority status of the subject. In the meantime, the potential of music as a central resource in the humanities will have been lost. Again.
If these bleak projections seem unacceptable, we ought to turn again to North America, where high school music education has become almost synonymous with band and choral programs.27 In Canada, for example, and certainly in Ontario, I can find no evidence of anything else, save for the initiatives in music theory and history taken by isolated teachers here and there. But in the main, it is the band and the choral ensemble that prevail. And this is why the first year of university programs becomes a remedial exercise, in which basic concepts and repertories are introduced to the student for the first time. At the University of Western Ontario, for example, all music students in the B.A. and B.Mus. programs undertake up to 20 hours of classes per week in theory, harmony, counterpoint, listening skills, aural training, ensemble work and of course in historical surveys and analyses of the European canon. In Ireland, where remedial activities loom on the horizon and in some cases are already in place, an average weekly course load in the first year is about seven hours. No doubt there are important variations to be found in such timetables on either side of the Atlantic. But I advert to these schedules for one reason only: we can see how the university responds to the demand for music education in a context which limits high-school music to polished (ensemble) performance in the main. It would be blatantly unfair to the objectives of the Irish Leaving Certificate program to suggest that they compare closely to North American principles of education. Nevertheless, these objectives—whether or not they increase the number of schoolgoers taking music—will place similar burdens on the Irish university system. The conservative complaint from university teachers is that standards are already down, that school leavers know less and less as the years go by. Well: I for one am tired of that complaint, and would wish to propose something more positive in its stead. Could it be that Irish universities might radically re-appraise their programs in the light of North American tertiary models? I think that we might greet this proposal with modified rapture, if it were also possible to introduce a "minor" in music which advanced the case for informed listenership as an exclusive mode of learning. By "informed listenership" I mean that matrix of historical, critical and musical skills which allows access to the repertory itself. Certainly such skills are vital to the professional/vocational/liberal models of music education already in place. But taken alone, they also have much to offer the nonspecialist. At University College Dublin, the B.A. modular Degree program in "The History of Music" is committed to the cultivation of these skills as ends in themselves. It has never once occurred to me that university degrees in English were primarily intended for the training of creative writers: the implied parallel with musical studies is not wholly exact, but it can be useful. Can the university enable the study of music other than as a professional form of training? I don't see why not. If "psychological studies" (as against psychology), "Greek and Roman Civilization" (as against classics) and the like have their place in the academy, it seems high time that a cognate model of musical studies was more widely introduced than is presently the case. But for this to happen, more than a change of focus is needed. An increase of resources is also mandatory.
Let me close with two admissions. The first is that I doubt we have been simple and straightforward enough about the infrastructures necessary to the development of music in Irish education. There has been too much theory before the fact of our deprivations. These deprivations are so widespread as to claim prior attention over the fine-tuning of pedagogical models of musical thought. Library resources and performance facilities are deplorably inadequate (particularly the former), and these must be addressed if any material advance is to take place. Both are vital to the well-being and development of professional-humanist degree courses in music. But in fact the resources required for "Historical Studies" (of the kind sketched here) are rather less. And these are available. We should think about applying them far more widely than we do.
The second admission brings me back to Heaney's "book of manners in the wilderness." The louder the insistence that all music is of equal relevance to the students whom I profess to teach, the more committed I am to that vital accommodation which a university department can create for certain modes of musical culture. All I would ask is that the image "a book of manners in the wilderness" be taken for what it is: not as a retreat into the abyss of desolation, but as the enterprise of giving voice to the past. There is room. There is space. We must nourish the conditions for both. In the meantime, I remain grateful for the opportunity to play Devil's Advocate.
1This paper was first delivered as an invited lecture to the Music Education National Debate (M.E.N.D.) Conference sponsored by the Dublin Institute of Technology (D.I.T.) and held at the D.I.T. College of Technology, Dublin (Ireland) on 8-10 November, 1996. The Keynote Address at the Conference was given by Professor Sir Frank Callaway, and I am grateful to him and to other delegates (including Mr. Frank Heneghan and Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin) for stimulating comment arising from the delivery of this paper.
2"A book of manners in the wilderness" is taken from the poem "A Dream of Jealousy" by Seamus Heaney, which appears in the collection Field Work (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), p. 50.
3The author of this paper was expressly invited to consider the role and function of the university in the wider context of music education in Ireland.
4The M.E.N.D. debate (see note 1 above) took place in three phases (April 1995, November 1995 and November 1996) during which important contributions were solicited from American and British visitors, notably David Elliott, Bennett Reimer, Richard Colwell, Janet Ritterman, Ramon Santos, Dorothy Straub, Kari Veblen (Phase II); Harold Abeles, Paul Lehman, Patricia Shehan-Campbell, Keith Swanwick and the keynote participant, Sir Frank Callaway [University of Western Australia] (Phase III). These contributions tended to isolate the differences between North American and British theories of music education; they also helped to identify several distinctions between primary and secondary levels of music education in Ireland and North America respectively. The fundamental disagreement between David Elliott and Bennett Reimer (as between "music as process" and "music as aesthetic object") was a seminal point of discussion in the second phase of this debate (November 1995).
5See the [high school] Leaving Certificate Music Syllabus (Higher and Ordinary Level), published by the Irish Department of Education (Dublin: The Stationery Office, 1996), Appendix F [p.24], "Prescribed Works". These form "an obligatory part of the syllabus at both Ordinary and Higher levels and will be examined in detail." The prescribed works are in two alternating groups, each of which contains four works. The first of these groups includes "Bohemian Rhapsody" in addition to one work by Bach, by Tchaikovsky and by the Irish composer Gerald Barry. An option in the performance of popular music includes works by Simon and Garfunkel, Lennon and McCartney and John Barry.
6See Frank Heneghan, The Music Education National Debate. Interim ReportPhase II (Dublin: Dublin Institute of Technology, 1996, unpublished report), pp.28-47. The simplest difference to identify here is statistical: music is taken by less than two percent of Irish seniors in high school, as against the fifteen percent of U.S. students identified by Bennett Reimer and as noted on page 33 of this report. But the impoverished condition of music in Irish schools is in fact only part of the problem. The performance-centered (and child-centered) condition of U.S. programs (notwithstanding the recently introduced National Standards for assessment) differs fundamentally from the hitherto specialized syllabus in harmony, counterpoint, performance, history and analysis which prevailed in Irish schools up to the introduction of the new syllabus (1996). The radical revisions which this latter document embodies are in part a reflection both of American and British music education theory.
7Ibid, p.18ff. It is germane to this discussion to distinguish between the inclusive nature of David Elliott's philosophy of music educationwhich reflects a North American response to the dilemma of multi-cultural claims upon the intellect and [musical] imaginationand the binary focus of Irish cultural life which reflects the Gaelic/English divide in language, in music and in literature. This distinction at least allows us to query the relevance of American models of musical culture to Irish education.
8Ibid., p.64: Kari Veblen, as reported therein by Heneghan, gave priority to "an overriding concern... for the preservation and promotion of [traditional] music". See also Kari Veblen, "The Teacher's Role in Transmission of Irish Traditional Music," International Journal of Music Education 24 (1994), pp.21-30.
10See David Elliott, "Rethinking Music: First Steps to a New Philosophy of Music Education," International Journal of Music Education 24 (1994), pp. 9-20; the discussion of these two works occurs on pp. 15-16.
11Winton Dean, "Education in Music: VIa. 1: From 1800, Great Britain," The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan, 1980), vol. 6, p.26.
12Andrew Johnstone, "Techniques of Composition in the British and Irish University Curriculum," British Journal of Music Education 12 (1995), pp. 247-272.
13Such recognition of performance obtains, for example, at University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin.
14See the discussion of Franz L. Roehmann's argument below.
15In the interest of tact, this (I trust) is a fictional example: actual instances can easily confirm the point under scrutiny, which is that a fundamentally European concept of musical valuation now attaches itself to musics other than the tradition of high culture for which it was invented.
16The vital refinement of this term ("Eurocentricity") in a European context is that it should be taken to encompass ethnic as well as art traditions, without bias to the historical integrity and function of either. Whereas "Eurocentric" is almost inevitably a pejorative term in North American discourse, it need not be so in Europe. Ireland, as a European State, gains from a distinctive world-view other than that advocated in the United States. For better or worse, Irish bi-culturalism ought to be clearly distinguished (as argued above) from the multifarious condition of cultural traditions in the United States (and Canada).
17One widely-aired argument (formulated by Richard Kearney, among other cultural commentators) is that the binary condition of Irish political culturein brief the divergence between Unionist and Nationalist readings of historyoffers some hope of reconciliation in the federal context of a European Union. My subsequent argument is that bi-cultural musical traditions likewise are best understood within a European rather than a global context.
18Elliott, "Rethinking Music," p. 18.
19Ibid., p.15 and David Elliott, Music Matters: A New Philosophy of Music Education (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), passim.
20See Lydia Goehr, The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) for a reading of music history which is generally sympathetic to Elliott's philosophy of music education. In particular, Goehr argues that the "work-concept," by which musical compositions enjoy cultural autonomy as artifacts of a wider value-system, can be located no earlier than c.1800. It is this argument that allows her to advance the view that "Bach did not intend to compose musical works," a philosophical proposition that rests happily with Elliott's interpretation of music as process rather than product.
21Daniel Heartz, Mozart's Operas (Berkeley and Los Angeles: California University Press, 1990), xiii.
22Franz L. Roehmann, "Technology, Music, and Culture," College Music Symposium 35 (1995), 124-131.
23Of particular relevance here is Roehmann's criticism of the "intellectually based arts community" and the aspirations towards "high civilization" voiced in the policy objectives of the N.A.S.M. See p.130 of the paper under discussion. These objectives are particularly germane to the national standards advocated by the Music Educators National Conference in the United States. These standards were discussed at the M.E.N.D. conference in Dublin by Paul Lehman, who chaired the committee which drew them up in the first place.
24By "either/or" I intend the aspiration towards European or American objectives of music education.
25A remark attributed to the British scholar Jim Kippen in the Toronto Press in 1995. Professor Kippen's lectures were given at the University of Toronto, where he is a member of the Faculty of Music.
26When Roehmann writes of the "imminent irrelevance" (p.130) of high culture as an objective in North American music education, he surely reflects a new status quo that dispenses with the history and reception of European art music as valid ends in themselves.
27This is not to gainsay the objectives in "general music" recently described in the national standards for assessment advocated by the Music Educators National Conference in the U.S.