Overview and Content of the Manifesto

January 1, 2016

In 2013, Patricia Shehan Campbell, at the time President of The College Music Society, appointed the Task Force for the Undergraduate Music Major (TFUMM) to consider "what it means to be an educated musician in the twenty-first century" and "to make recommendations for progressive change in the undergraduate music major curriculum." Members of the task force included a range of disciplinary representation:

David Myers, Music Education (TFUMM Chair)
Ed Sarath, Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation (Lead Author)
Juan Chattah, Music Theory
Lee Higgins, Music Education
Victoria Lindsay Levine, Ethnomusicology
Timothy Rice, Musicology and Ethnomusicology
David Rudge, Instrumental Conducting

Over eighteen months, the TFUMM developed a rationale and a set of recommendations to ensure the continued relevance of the undergraduate music curriculum, with particular attention to "graduates' potential for successful participation and leadership in contemporary and evolving musical cultures" and their ability to "successfully navigate through the many challenges and opportunities facing professional musicians today, particularly in the classical music realm."

The Three Pillars

The task force fashioned its recommendations on three central pillars necessary for enhancing curricular strategies within undergraduate music majors: creativity, diversity, and integration. Collectively, these pillars address the insistence on viewing musicianship through a holistic lens: the TFUMM took the position that re-integrating creativity through improvisation and composition, alongside the dominant model of preparing performers in the interpretation of existing works, provides a stronger basis for educating musicians; the TFUMM recommended that students engage with musics of varied cultures, musics from a wide range of generations, and musics emerging within diverse social contexts; and the TFUMM asserted that the undergraduate music curriculum should integrate its contents at deep levels across sub-disciplinary areas.

Broadening curricular strategies by attending to the three pillars added a veneer of 'comprehensive musicianship movement' to the document; but although analogies can be established in terms of content, the TFUMM report (known as the Manifesto) extended the environmental pole beyond curricular contents, emerging as a reflection of, and response to, the current social circumstances, the communicative and media transformation, the global economic restructuring, and the resulting social inequalities. In line with the three pillars for curriculum change and considerations about teaching and learning, the TFUMM offered recommendations encompassing nearly every facet of the undergraduate curriculum, urging instructors to allow students "an opportunity to engage in curricular planning" and suggesting that "students' preparation fit logically with the likelihood of opportunities for employment." Moreover, prior documents and movements acknowledged the need for educators to consider the significance of a holistic education by attending to a plurality of literacies, yet these documents or movements did not flesh out how curricular transformation and the implementation of new standards in the academy is to be accomplished; left unchecked by the precise mechanisms for implementing changes, these documents directly hindered the transformation they promoted. Acknowledging prior (and repeated) calls for change to ensure that curricular content and skill development remain relevant to music outside the academy, TFUMM indicated that while surface change has transpired primarily through additive means, foundational change has yet to take place, and concluded that "without fundamental change, music departments, schools, and conservatories [could] face declining enrollments."


While bringing together sub-disciplinary perspectives, the Manifesto foregrounded the need for negotiating tensions inherent in differing interests and goals of various sub-disciplines. As a result, the Manifesto underscored that, although there are powerful voices insisting on a continuation of music curricula as a universal and monolithic set of practices, there are emerging voices offering a new sub-disciplinary balance that accommodates a plurality of practices. The Manifesto thus highlighted that the current sub-disciplinary fragmentation may or may not contribute to building cross-sub-disciplinary alliances, as perceived overlap between sub-disciplines leads to collaboration, but may also lead to competition. Notwithstanding, the emergence of the Manifesto reminded us that disciplines cannot function within academia in isolation, and that cross-sub-disciplinary efforts are inseparable from disciplinary formation and sustainability. Sub-disciplines wishing to sustain themselves in the current economic, cultural, and political landscapes must enact a delicate balance, solidifying their identity while not isolating themselves from the views of sister sub-disciplines.

Reception of the Manifesto

Like in any committee work, members of the task force did not unanimously agree on numerous facets of the report, and various perspectives of individual members were not represented in the final document. Moreover, members of the task force recognized that the recommendations in the Manifesto could (and most certainly would) rouse heated arguments within academic groups; yet, all members of the task force agreed that respectful dialogue over these issues is timely and perhaps crucial. As a result, the TFUMM submitted the report to The College Music Society and presented it to the profession of higher music education at large, in hopes of catalyzing cross-sub-disciplinary conversations and encouraging curricular transformations.

The contribution of the Manifesto, therefore, may be best understood on at least two levels. The first is the content of the document itself, in particular its insistence on attending to creativity, diversity, and integration (the three pillars); holistically, these perspectives present a stimulating vision of musicianship for the twentieth-first century. A second measure of significance of the Manifesto is in its raising awareness that a few sub-disciplinary areas (musicology, music theory, and ensembles) have maintained a privileged position within the broad undergraduate music curriculum; a position that comes with great responsibility, but also a position much-desired by other sub-disciplinary areas. This, in particular, stimulated changing views that, in the context of schools of music, lead to strong criticism and institutional contentions, both within and beyond the boundaries of departments or divisions.

We may praise the Manifesto for calling into question a number of settled assumptions about music curricula, and by proposing curricular options that parallel current economic transformations, generational shifts, and sub-disciplinary agendas. Alternatively, we may disapprove of the Manifesto for the exact same reasons. It would be erroneous, however, to attribute too great an influence to any single document when considering the emergence of an idea or the development of academic sub-disciplines, as the views put forth in the Manifesto have been (to various degrees) in the collective consciousness of musicians within academia; as noted, the document is a response to and a reflection of current social, cultural, and disciplinary circumstances. Notwithstanding, the most enduring contribution of the Manifesto may then be found in the quality of its questions, and in the ways in which those questions will continue to resonate for musicians within academia.



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