A Commentary on the Document - Transforming Music Study from its Foundations: A Manifesto for Progressive Change in the Undergraduate Preparation of Music Majors

  • DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18177/sym.2015.55.fr.10882
  • PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/26574413

I read this Manifesto with great interest, as it put into print issues that ideally should have been addressed decades ago by most collegiate music programs. I applaud the insights of the authors in identifying the long-standing curricular and pedagogically entrenched traditions of musical training that have long since been eclipsed by the musical interests and needs for much of the rest of the world.

I had the fortune of participating in the Manhattanville Music Curriculum Project (MMCP) at SUNY Potsdam in the 1960s, an initiative for educating future music educators at a time when there was lessening interest in public school music programs. The project was designed by Ronald B. Thomas, whose publication, MMCP Synthesis; a structure for music education (1970) went far beyond prevailing curricula, musical content and genres, and pedagogical practices of the time. Besides some far-reaching goals and objectives, he incorporated concepts developed by Jerome Bruner, whose work and publications were gaining national attention.

Our professor taught an integrated curriculum that included musicianship skills and knowledge associated with music theory, aural perception, sight-reading, functional piano, and music history. It also included performance, critical listening, and extensive music writing (everything from sight-reading drills to pieces employing compositional techniques, including improvisation and original works). It was intended to be a two-year curriculum, but was taken over in the second year by a professor who moved us back to a more traditional musicianship model taught by professors in their respective disciplines. The MMCP initiative seemed to have disappeared within a few years, even though there had been workshops offered nationally and evidence of a few collegiate music education programs having adopted it.

I mention this experience because the same concerns that were raised relating to music education back then have finally infiltrated collegiate music programs, where classically-trained musicians face a life of limited professional opportunity without additional skills that relate to today’s musical world. Yet most of their professors are still teaching as if we were living in an earlier century. Furthermore, if music education programs in this country are to remain credible, the ubiquitous presence of music technology in the commercial world (i.e., students’ constant use of social media and downloadable musical applications) and implications from research in music cognition and neuroscience of music need to be recognized and integrated in teacher-training.

This raises two concerns of mine that surfaced from the manifesto. The first is, who are the people in a given collegiate music unit going to be to develop the curriculum of the future for their students? Many if not most music faculty in collegiate music programs do not have the backgrounds or experience in such areas as music business, commercial music, audio engineering, music in multimedia, dance, theatre, music of other cultures, music technology, or music cognition and perception, to produce a workable curriculum. Many can probably not improvise, compose, and arrange, unless they are jazz musicians or composers. A review of the job postings in the Chronicle of Higher Education and the College Music Vacancy list over the past couple of years still reveal a predominant interest in hiring conductors, performers, and traditionally trained music educators, although there are outlying institutes, small colleges, and a few universities that have been addressing vocationally-oriented programs in some of these areas.

The second concern is the significance of electronic technology that is permeating every area of our profession. Even for those of us with long-time commitment to it, the constantly changing landscape of new instruments, stand-alone, and internet-based music software, multimedia production, and conduits for music sharing and discussion make it impossible for one to be substantively informed and facile in all of their implementation. This does not take into consideration the interdisciplinary fields within engineering, computing, physics, psychology, mathematics, and health and wellness (all of which use electronic technology) that are influencing our profession.

While a starting point in the near future might be a Tanglewood Symposium-style meeting to discuss these matters, the practical structuring of curricula and the training of future musicians and music educators will require a different kind of teacher in our collegiate music programs. This would need to happen, as mentioned in the manifesto, over time.

One of the biggest issues, even if there becomes a national willingness to construct and implement renovated collegiate music programs, is to identify what they will be and where. Obviously, there cannot be a universal curriculum to cover the vast territory of our profession today. Much may have to do with geographical location, institutional mission, type of student sought by the academic unit, realistic job market that could hire its graduates locally and regionally (particularly for smaller music programs), interdepartmental or inter-institutional collegiate faculty/program collaboration, and the ability to hire the faculty with the expertise that would execute a given program’s curriculum effectively.

I hope that I am not only contributing to the discussion that I believe the manifesto wants to elicit from CMS members, but to colleagues who understand it and have local, institutional leverage, for future transformation of their music units. It may take some music programs to be on the verge of disappearing before provoking the need for change. I hope that we can circumvent this prospect and build a relevant and prosperous future for our profession.

Click here to read the original report by the Taskforce on the Undergraduate Music Major

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Last modified on Thursday, 07/03/2019

Fred J. Rees

Dr. Fred J. Rees is Professor of Music, Chair, and Advisory Board Chair of the Department of Music and Arts Technology at IUPUI. He came to Indianapolis in 1999 from the University of Northern Iowa, where he developed the first graduate music education degree program in the country to be broadcast at a distance over the state`s interactive television network. He has contributed to adapting the Master of Science in Music Technology as a live, videostreamed degree program with worldwide student enrollments. He has also designed the Bachelor of Science in Music Technology degree program, that integrates music technology throughout the curriculum. Prior academic appointments included New York University and the University of Queensland (Australia). His career interests have included distance learning, string education, double bass and piano performance, and music technology. More recent interests include music cognition and interdisciplinary research.

Dr. Rees holds a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Science in Music Education and a performance certificate in double bass from the Crane School of Music (SUNY-Potsdam).

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