The Stanford Story: A Union of Scholarship and Practice

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When one has assisted at the birth of a department and has thereafter been closely associated with its development for eighteen years it is impossible for him to view the corpus with complete judicial detachment. I shall not pretend to do so, therefore, only hoping that my natural paternal bias will not seem too obtrusive to the reader.

As a beginning to the story, it is logical to speak first of intent. Stanford, so far as I know, was the last of the major universities in the United States to establish a music department. That happened in 1947. Leaving aside the reasons for the delay, since they are not pertinent to this review, the decision to act presented both a problem and an opportunity. The problem, of course, was to determine what this particular university in this particular location might do to best advantage considering its resources, the nature of the institution as a whole, and also the character of the music programs that were already in operation elsewhere. The opportunity, stemming from the absence of local traditions or preconceptions regarding musical education, was to examine freely the several possibilities that came to mind. Curricula from different types of schools were analyzed and visits were made to observe them in action. It was a salutary experience if only because it demonstrated that no one had a monopoly on musical or educational virtue. Be that as it may, at the time the analysis was made one could readily distinguish the programs for the music major in American colleges and universities according to whether they were directed toward musicological, practical or pedagogical ends. In some larger schools or departments the aims were multiple, but even so, the three prevailing types of study were, as a rule, quite sharply separated from each other. Corollary to that, one could observe a similar separation, sometimes amounting almost to antagonism, between the persons representing the different fields of work. The advice from some of the older hands was to accept those divisions as irreconcilable facts of life and to proceed accordingly. We chose, however, to do otherwise, in the belief that an attempt at a rapprochement of certain key disciplines in music might be more fruitful in the long run than a continuation of the then-current separatism. The intervening years have only reinforced that belief which is now represented in the character both of the courses and the faculty at Stanford.

In essence, we have tried to build a department on the premise that a union of scholarship and practice is at once feasible and desirable. As we see it, this in no way implies any stifling or levelling of individual talent, although it does require some accommodation on everyone's part to the general objective of cultivating specialized excellence within a broader musical and educational context shared by all. With that in mind, we have organized our major curriculum as follows:

Undergraduates begin here by majoring in music rather than in piano, theory, music education, or any other branch of the subject. Their work at this stage is divided about equally between studies in theory, performance, and history. After completing a certain number of courses, however, a person who has shown marked ability may apply for admission to an honors program which permits him to supplement the regular curriculum with an individually tailored concentration in composition, performance, or musical research. Honors work comes to a cadence at the end of the senior year with a public demonstration of the student's accomplishment.

On the graduate level, students are first screened with regard to their general musical knowledge, ability in performance, and experience in their intended specialties. Once admitted, they may concentrate in musicology, composition, performance practice (including conducting), or music education. The first leads to the Ph.D., the other three lead here to the Doctor of Musical Arts degree. At Stanford those two degree categories are distinct in respect to their specialized goals, but have elements in common, including: 1) presumption of a broad, general education which may be extended into the graduate years depending on the student's previous schooling; 2) a substructure of work in musical analysis and performance practice—studies which, perhaps better than any others, serve to bridge the gap between the scholarly and the practical; 3) an orientation toward possible careers in college or university teaching, implemented by the appointment of every candidate to a teaching assistantship sometime during his period of residence.

The most sensitive areas among those mentioned for possible concentration undoubtedly are performance and music education. This does not proceed from any native incompatibility of these subjects with the American university system, but rather from the intellectual frailty or inadequacy displayed over the years by many of their practitioners. If that is so, a beefing-up of the academic diet seems called for, but nothing so radical as major surgery. That is Stanford's view, at least; and we have acted upon it by enlarging the scope of all work in performance to include the study of performance practice, and by a comparable strengthening of the contextual requirements for work in music education.

Such an ordering of affairs is of course as arbitrary as any curriculum is, and reflects the ideas, interests and abilities of a particular faculty. At the same time, it is related to a more general trend in American musical education toward the center from the extremes of unenlightened practice and unmusical scholarship. Our own observation is that the candidates for the different degrees benefit from their shared experiences with no one suffering loss of identity. In any event, we do not have the slightest wish to deemphasize the special fields, but while cultivating them we hope also to impress on students that all of us who call ourselves musicians are engaged to some extent in a common enterprise and are subject to similar high standards of achievement.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 14/11/2018

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