In 2013, the President of The College Music Society, Patricia Shehan Campbell, appointed a task force of eight scholars that represented various areas within the music academy. The purpose of the task force was to articulate "what it means to be an educated musician in the twenty-first century and, in turn, what recommendations may follow for progressive change in the undergraduate music-major curriculum." The results of this task force culminated in the release of "Transforming Music Study from its Foundations: A Manifesto for Progressive Change in the Undergraduate Preparation of Music Majors." 1 This document encourages faculty and administrators to embrace fundamental curricular change. At its heart, the Task Force Report "takes the position that improvisation and composition provide a stronger basis for educating musicians today than the prevailing model of training performers in the interpretation of older works."
While acknowledging the need to embrace curricular renovation to address the changing needs of the 21st-century music student, seven scholars who are members of both The College Music Society (CMS) and Society for Music Theory (SMT), including one member of the original task force, recently presented responses to the report in a special session at the 2015 annual meeting of the Society for Music Theory. The original panelists included Juan Chattah, Jennifer Snodgrass, Melissa Hoag, Jena Root, Elizabeth Sayrs, Matthew Shaftel, and Steve Laitz. Each panelist critically examined the central tenets put forth in the manifesto in the context of music theory, including providing an overview of the content of the Manifesto, the current state of music theory pedagogy and practice (including the results of a national survey sent out to theory instructors regarding current pedagogical approaches), and current research in music theory pedagogy, especially with respect to the three pillars of change of diversity, integration, and creativity as outlined in the "Manifesto." In many cases, panelists proposed a flexible vision for curricular renovation.
An in-depth question-and-answer component concluded the session and included the following discussion questions proposed by the panelists:
- How do the three pillars of diversity, integration, and creativity proposed in the "Manifesto" intersect with the current state of theory pedagogy? Which alternative or additional "pillars" should be included? How should curricular revisions be implemented at a classroom, administrative, and overall systemic level? For which populations of students? What are the trade-offs? (discussion led by Jena Root)
- What are the current pressure points for the theory curriculum? What are the internal and external pressures? How do these differ at different institutions? How have these affected curricular discussions? (discussion led by Matthew Shaftel)
- How do we as a community of theorists engage non-theorists in a productive dialogue about these issues? How do we develop, propose, and advocate for a flexible vision of curricular renovation at various levels? (discussion led by Steven Laitz)
The responses in this article include material from the original SMT panel presentation and additional material generated by discussion at the conference. It is the hope of the original members of the panel that the responses brought forth encourage a re-visioning that will allow individual institutions to pursue their own unique missions by offering additions or alternatives to the report's "three pillars," including curricular foci on such areas as critical thinking, entrepreneurship, collaboration, information fluency, music technology, and the preservation of past practices.
Juan Chattah is Associate Professor of Music Theory and Composition at University of Miami - Frost School of Music.
Melissa Hoag is Associate Professor of Music Theory at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.
Steven Laitz has served as a faculty member in Eastman's Theory Department since 1989. Laitz is also Associate Chair of Theory and Analysis at the Juilliard School.
Elizabeth Sayrs is an Associate Professor of Music Theory and Interim Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Ohio University.
Jennifer Snodgrass is professor of music theory in the Hayes School of Music at Appalachian State University.