Once More on Curriculum

April 30, 2001

In my three years as Board Member for Musicology, I have had the opportunity to discuss curriculum with CMS members from a wide range of teaching institutions. Whether from small, liberal arts colleges in rural settings or large, research universities in urban settings, my colleagues who are teachers of music history are thinking about new approaches to teaching and they are engaged in ways to enhance their classroom instruction. All want to be exciting teachers and productive scholars; all want to boast innovative curricula that appeal to an extraordinary diversity of students; all want their students to perform satisfactorily on some instrument, to know the difference between sixteenth- and eighteenth-century contrapuntal styles, and to be able to distinguish Ellington from Basie. All of us want, what seems to me after three years' reflection, the unattainable: a curriculum that satisfies everyone, from deans to eighteen-year-old, first-year students.

I have heard our music historians berate themselves and disparage their deans and department chairs for the shortcomings of their curricula. We are dismayed that we are asked to expand our programs to include courses and subjects beyond our expertise, and we are dispirited that our salaries do not reflect these increased responsibilities. We are also discouraged by our colleagues' and deans' myopic vision, and we deplore their contentedness with decades-old methods of teaching and scholarship. At every turn, we compare our programs to those at other institutions, convinced that our own offerings are deficient and woefully outdated. These issues were voiced clearly at the meetings in Toronto, perhaps most noticeably in the discussions at the joint open forum for musicology and ethnomusicology and at the session called "You Want Me To Teach What?"

Our concerns are neither gratuitous complaining nor heard-it-before academic whining. As teachers committed to maintaining high standards of classroom instruction, we are disturbed by budgets that constrain our ability to teach effectively and by administrative decisions that thwart our creativity. Ideally, we would have the personnel and budgets to allow our curricula to include an extraordinary range of courses that run the gamut from Hildegard to Bernstein; Rameau to Ella; musical theatre to music for film; West African drumming to salsa. For most of us, this ideal is simply not feasible. Nevertheless, I believe, as does my colleague Robin Armstrong, whose excellent article follows, that we absolutely must reconceive our programs and reevaluate our own effectiveness. We cannot rely on the same curricula that worked well in the 1970s through the 1990s. We must continue to grumble, to revise our curricula, and, in the best CMS tradition, to seek each others' advice on novel and practicable (and not so practicable) approaches to pedagogy. On the other hand, I am also convinced that we need to applaud the many good aspects of our programs. Some of us are Brahms scholars; others, through performance, bring the music of Debussy to life; others still are specialists in the musical traditions of the Navajo. We are good scholars and good teachers, and our curricula, whatever their shortcomings, already reflect our passions. If we cannot have the curriculum of our dreams, perhaps we can expand the scope of our own expertise to improve what we already do well.

2096 Last modified on May 1, 2013
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