CMS, MGS, and the Near Future

"How can I help persons learn to love more music than they do and learn to love more the music they already love?" was a question President Tayloe Harding asked at the 2004 national conference in San Francisco. As the Board Member for Music in General Studies, I seek to adapt his quest in the direction of helping CMS members address those nonprofessionals who probably don't know why they love music. As a theory teacher, I firmly believe that knowing can improve loving, and CMS indeed provides many vehicles that contribute to the intellectual savoring of music.

But as a teacher adhering to the root meaning of education (leading forth), I also believe - and have had confirmed by years of practice - that it is necessary to lead forth from the currently occupied position. That is, education is much more effective if you share your students' experiences and then lead forward from there, rather than simply shouting directions down from the mountain top, as it were. It is this belief in the necessity of shared experiences that motivates the initiative I propose for those interested in MGS.

Let us examine deeply the experience of music and primarily the experience of listening, since that is the musical experience in which the vast majority of nonprofessionals engage.

Of course, we as professional musicians have trained habits of listening, which, as noted above, influence our musical experiences - often positively, but occasionally negatively. For example, during the course of my graduate training, a professor informed me that, while listening, he simply visualized the score. His seeming implication that the goal of all my advanced training was to become a glorified transcription machine catapulted into a rebellious, meticulous, and detailed master's thesis, while examining my own experiences listening to a Haydn mass and using research methodology based upon the philosophical discipline of phenomenology. One result I noted was extensive use of nonmusical metaphors - particularly those for spatial relations - as models for musical gestures.

I would like to encourage more examination of the listening experience, particularly of that of the nonprofessional. Do you, for example, survey your incoming students in general studies classes? Or, to venture even further into the general population, particularly those familiar with online chat rooms devoted to music of any genre, one might be able to glean from them something about their nonprofessional musical experiences?

Of course, these approaches can be thwarted by the inability to articulate the musical experience that is common among nonprofessionals. So, in accordance with the interdisciplinary spirit that is CMS' forte and projected focus, let us allow them other vehicles for expression. Could they, for example, express their own experiences visually via a video or DVD, a drawing, or even a cartoon - or perhaps even a dance or their own musical composition?

Propitiously, the CMS Annual Conference in San Antonio this fall will include a joint Open Forum between MGS and Composition, which could give us an opportunity to discuss, among other issues, how composition can be an expressive tool available to nonprofessionals. Another event at the San Antonio meeting will be an intriguing presentation called Listening in The New Forest: A Demonstration of Contemplative Listening Techniques, which are based on ten Qigong activities. And still another San Antonio presentation, Interdisciplinary Connections in Music Since 1945, intends to point out connections between various models, as its proposal states 'Through comparative analysis of selected works in music, art, and literature...".

Clearly, San Antonio will offer many intriguing opportunities for MGS! I also look forward to having these findings presented in many of CMS's other vehicles - articles in Symposium or the Newsletter, conversations on the Weblog, and perhaps in even more substantial forums such as workshops, institutes, or a CMS "Common Topic."

Please consider sharing research underway, proposals, or simply your thoughts. You can email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. My hope is that, over time, we will build a repertoire of multiple ways of experiencing music. Once we are more aware of the experiences of others, we may be better able to build upon those experiences to "help persons learn to love more music than they do and to learn to love more the music they already love." A peripheral benefit, of course, may be to ourselves!

This initiative constitutes one broad approach to MGS, but of course there are many others. Some have already begun to be explored - as can certainly be noted elsewhere in this Newsletter. Among still further avenues for exploration may include the following:

  • Course content (world music, women's music, popular music, and/or other subsets of repertoire) and methodology (historical survey and participatory approaches including performance and composition)
  • MGS as a teaching specialty
  • Administrative aspects, including budget and staffing considerations
  • The Surveys of National Practice, which were conducted in 1982 and 1989, suggest the need for a similar survey reflecting contemporary practice

Finally, I would certainly like to take this opportunity to thank those who have already undertaken these explorations- particularly my esteemed predecessor as MGS Board Member for Music in General Studies: Mark Mazullo-for their inspiring contributions to a discipline that carries such enormous potential for universally enhancing the music experience!

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Last modified on Tuesday, 07/05/2013

Barbara E. Bowker

Barb Bowker is Professor of Music at William Rainey Harper College, a community college near Chicago, where she has taught music theory, aural skills, and literature since 1979.  She has served CMS in a variety of capacities, including program chair for the 2010 Minneapolis conference, and Board Member for Music in General Studies.  She holds the Ph.D. in music theory from Northwestern University.

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