Considering Curricular Challenges

March 1, 2005

Spring is a very important season of the year for The College Music Society. The Society’s ten regional chapters hold their annual meetings in February, March, April, or occasionally May. It is during these few months that more members of CMS gather together to share their musicianship, scholarship, professional concerns, and fellowship than at any other time. And, it is at these meetings that much of the important discourse of music in higher education takes place. For a number of years now, the ever-changing leadership of our Society has sought to capture the vitality and totality of these meetings and the power of their discourse by asking all regional chapters to focus on a single national topic at their annual meetings. The purpose of this request is to gain greater definition on issues that confronts CMS and the profession.

The cumulative output of the topics has helped The College Music Society form goals and actions for addressing these concerns in meaningful ways. This is most especially true in recent years where topics such as “What You Can Do with a Degree in Music: Career Options Outside of Teaching and Performance” and “Given Three Wishes, What Would You Change About Your Role as a Musician/Teacher in Academe, in Your Community, and in American Society?” are currently shaping CMS work projects like the brand new Task Force on the Review of Graduate Standards that the Society is undertaking in conjunction with NASM. Further, each year’s topic is chosen in large part based upon work that was inspired by a previous year’s topic, contributing to a systematic avenue for adaptation and change upon which is so critical for music professors to be providing reflection.

In 2005, the objective is no different. Years of thinking, researching, developing theories, and the recording of both successful and failed attempts at curricular reform are now resulting in our current topic being placed on the agendas for our regional meetings. Considering Curricular Challenges: Balancing Emerging Student and Cultural Demands with Traditional Music Teaching and Learning, our present topic, establishes a broad framework for us to have discussions at regional chapter meetings regarding proven methods of teaching that have worked for so long but may not be working as well now.

This topic also provides the opportunity for us to explore what may be missing that is vital to our art and our students. This is often difficult, even for the elite in our industry, to know the difference between what is the contemporary student’s lack of intellectual, attitudinal, and/or musical abilities to meet expectations (a student’s challenge), and what now has become a demand that we find new ways to instruct and motivate our students to meet our expectations (a professor’s challenge).

Each music professor in America I have chatted with on this subject in the last fifteen years has admitted witnessing changes in the way students are prepared in the world of music before they arrive at our campuses. They are most often differently prepared, not less prepared. Access to the musics, experiences, and opportunities for skill development that are the basis for our common methodologies are lacking with our entering students, and that is a new and different phenomenon. This difference is not in how much secondary school band or chorus experiences these students have had (and this is likely to have been much less than ours as a result of new high school scheduling models over the last generation) but in the changes in the environment (or marketplace) that has affected them most profoundly since the advent of personal recording and playback devices and the resulting growth and sophistication.

We have held tightly to the traditional standards of music teaching and learning that we as current faculty, our mentors, and their mentors have practiced and proven are what the proper expectations of future outstanding professional musicians and music lovers. We have also trusted these standards to sustain our art in our society as well. “If we do what we have done well, all will be well” is our daily prayer as it has been for several generations. And, though both of the first two sentences in this paragraph remain true today, perhaps only the first one should now continue to be true.

I hope that a greater body of expertise reflected in the vast membership of CMS can be brought to bear on how we might better help students meet standards we do not want to change, both traditional and new ones. The regional discussions on our 2005 topic can do this. But, I also hope that collective light can be shed on revealing ways that our curricula can serve not only the needs of our students but our art and its place in our society as well. I believe the future of the study of music in higher education depends upon it.

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