Studies in Listening

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: Music Appreciation

What do we really mean by "Music Appreciation"? Can it be taught? If so, what are some of the ways in which successful college music teachers have handled this subject?

SYMPOSIUM has invited four distinguished teachers of "Music Appreciation"from different types of schools in different parts of the countryto write about ideas they have and ways in which they have taught this very important collegiate course.

As always, the editor of SYMPOSIUM welcomes comments from readers concerning this subject.

In addition to Henry Leland Clarke, the other participants in the Symposium were Jeanne Bamberger (University of Chicago), Robert K. Beckwith (Bowdoin College), and Philip Friedheim (Hunter College). Their articles also appear in College Music Symposium, Volume 8.

Of course, students not planning to make a lifework of music can appreciate it. Of course, they can discover it, experience it, enjoy it, yes, even understand it. But I go still further and say that they can study it. Students in other fields don't have to be cajoled into discovering chemistry, experiencing English literature, or enjoying history. They study these subjects as part of a liberal education. And there is no reason why they shouldn't just plain study music and study it profitably.

It is true that students in a survey of music course vary widely, whether or not music majors are included. Some have studied piano for thirteen years; others don't know the ABCDEFG of music. Therefore there is a real problem in organizing a course that will move fast enough for the old hands and yet not leave the neophytes behind. If all the book-learning is tied up as closely as it ought to be with listening to actual sound, it is hard to avoid giving undue credit to those already practiced in the world of music.

For this, and other reasons, careful examination has to be given to the order of presenting the various elements of music and the various periods into which it is divided. A perennial question is whether to begin a survey with the earliest music or with the most familiar music. In favor of the earliest, a chronological approach affords clear and ready-made organization for both teacher and student. And roughly, it proceeds from the simpler to the more complex. On the other hand, really old music may not prove assimilable or attractive. And those with a little knowledge of music cling like bulldogs to what for them is tried and true. Thus arises the counsel: "begin where they are, begin with romantic music." Over against this is the often-quoted observation: "Romantic music is the music we have had the most practice in not listening to."

But the sharpest distinctions are neither between old and new, nor between known and unknown. What sets apart various categories of music with keen, broad strokes, as perceptible to the novice as to the seasoned music student, is texture. Texture, therefore, rather than rhythm, melody, or any other element of music is the springboard for Studies in Listening. The first week deals with textures that arise spontaneously in any century and on any continent. These universal textures can be told apart by anyone, skilled or unskilled, performing or just listening. The student learns that monophony is a melody all by itself; heterophony, simultaneous varieties of the same melody; and antiphony, a melody sung or played in alternation. The texture of the canon, which staggers the same melody in exact carbon-copy imitation, is called "autophony," putting off till later the sophisticated manipulation of inexact imitation. And the irrepressible texture of one chief melody over a shadowy background is called "archiphony" (as the chief worker on a building is called the architect) since the only other word for this texture, "homophony," means different things to different scholars. Examples are included to show that Western art music was basically monophonic before 850 and archiphonic after 1750.

The second week takes up the five historical textures spun out of Franco-Italian civilization in the 900 years between these dates. While there is no excuse for making up new words when old words are precise, the present disarray in nomenclature for these clearly distinguishable textures demands it. Therefore I urge everyone, from my beginners to my present readers, to distinguish the five stages of Franco-Italian polyphony as diaphony, metaphony, allophony, mimophony, and amphony. Diaphony maintains the same time-values through all voices. It is the note-against-note texture of the Romanesque period. Metaphony has more animated voices added afterwards to the given voice. It is the cantus-firmus texture of the Gothic period. In allophony all voices are freely composed, and all are different. This differentiated texture characterizes the early Renaissance, giving way gradually to late Renaissance texture, mimophony, which exploits overlapping points of inexact imitation. And finally comes the word I coined for the prevalent texture of the Baroque, "amphony" (the top and bottom stressed at the expense of the sounds in the middle), a characterization I was happy to have confirmed when Bukofzer called it "the polarity of the outermost voices."

Following the fortnight on texture, the next four weeks take up systematically such recognized essentials as time and strength, melody, harmony, and timbre. The last four weeks are devoted to the last four centuries, emphasizing the aspect of music uppermost in each century: style in the 17th, form in the 18th, content in the 19th, and acculturation in the 20th. While every century has its styles, a greater consciousness of style than ever before characterizes Monteverdi and his contemporaries, who purposely wrote now old-fashioned music, now new-fangled (prima prattica and seconda prattica). This lends itself to a contrast of music before and after 1600. The forms of music before and after 1750 lead to studies of Bach and Handel stressing fugue and of Haydn and Mozart stressing sonata form and the like. Classic emphasis on form giving way to romantic preoccupation with content, program, and story follows the shift from the 18th-century drawing-room and palace to the 19th-century salon and concert hall. And finally our own century opens its arms to techniques from other arts, other sciences, other continents, and other centuries. Earlier composers have been inspired by such things, but only in the 20th century is Western art music infiltrated by specific techniques such as pointillism, probability theory, riddle canons, gamelan timbres, and white noise. Thus the various aspects of music as a whole and its course as an ongoing stream come out together as the tenth week brings the survey to a close.

A lecture course with hundreds of students, scheduled five times a week but for one quarter only, absolutely requires setting aside one of the days each week for section meetings. In our course each section contains no more than twenty-five students, taught by knowledgeable and understanding teaching assistants. Incidentally, this serves to break in future college teachers most effectively. Each section meeting includes a quiz on the short biographies in my syllabus, on terms in the Harvard Brief Dictionary of Music, and on the content of the lectures. Perhaps more important still is the opportunity for direct contact and comparatively informal discussion.

Each week there is a report on listening to taped excerpts that illustrate the distinctions inherent in the subject of the week. The listening report blanks, like the quizzes, require objective answers, essay questions being too time-consuming and less focused on the matter in hand. Allowing the student to skip one quiz and one report results in his relishing the weekly check-ups and in his not crying out for make-ups. The music on the tapes and on the final examination resembles closely what has already been studied, but spot passages and memorized themes are totally eschewed. Two reports on public concerts actually attended are an absolute requirement, but their diversity precludes letter grades.

Since the final examination is a weighty factor, lists of composers, works, terms, forms, and places are given four different sets of key numbers so that the student can fill in the appropriate blanks without undue influence from his immediate neighbors. The whole question of a fair final grade is a matter of intense concern, more so than could be wished, because the student cares very much whether he gets five units of B- or of C+. In September 1968 the University of Washington is instituting a pass-fail system for courses outside the field of concentration. Students overanxious about their musicianship may take advantage of this new and less nerve-racking method of broadening their horizon.

The Friday demonstrations of music by guest artists greatly enliven our survey. These have included manipulations of all the percussion instruments in the band room; presentations of Asian instruments; special music for harpsichord, baroque organ, gamba, and lute; one-man evocations of the essence of operas by Dr. Stanley Chapple; electronic and other avant-garde music by our Contemporary Group; voice recitals illustrating varieties of melody; individual and then ensemble demonstrations of the instruments of the string quartet and of the woodwind quintet. Despite the great artistry of faculty members, the students are perhaps still more on the edge of their seats when they follow empathetically the triumphs (and slips) of fellow-students on the stage.

The highest achievement of an introduction to music lies in kindling the student's desire to pursue music further, to listen, to participate, to enroll in such courses as opera, jazz, musical cultures of the world, or American music, and even—it happens to a number each year—to take up music as his major field.

Granted the limitations of surveying music in a single course, at the very least the student should acquire a real grasp of the elements and periods of music, should attain some degree of accuracy in assigning a piece of music to its time, place, and setting, and should develop the ability to hear more than one line at a time, to follow a score in a general way if not actually to read it, and to extract from music as never before its meaning and its beauty.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 14/11/2018

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