Special Problems in Teaching Music Appreciation

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




I must ask the reader at the very beginning of this article to consider everything that follows as an exploration of a common problem. The undergraduate music appreciation course presents numerous possibilities as well as difficulties both in its organization and teaching, and just as I have learned much from my teachers, I can perhaps explore some possibilities for others. Because the open nature of the course allows for such a variety of procedures, it affords a fruitful area for sharing and comparing ideas.

Before considering the ways in which the course itself can be organized and presented, a number of preliminaries must be considered. This is certainly not a class one can simply "go in and teach," since the materials needed are so numerous. It may not be amiss to affirm at the very beginning the fact that this type of course as taught on the campus of most undergraduate colleges is designed for the student with no previous musical background. It may or may not be required for the undergraduate music major, but in either case it should presuppose no prior background in music, certainly no knowledge of notation or of standard technical vocabulary. As a result, whatever is taught in terms of specialized vocabulary or fundamentals of notation must be geared fundamentally to the ear. In the last analysis, the only thing of ultimate importance here is what can actually be heard. It would thus seem that the aim of the course is not so much to impart specific information as it is to impart an approach to music that is as meaningful as possible. The student must learn to hear more carefully.

Because of this, the quality of the sound equipment in the classroom plays an essential part in contributing to the success of the course. The student in a literature class reading Hamlet from a used copy, or one where the print is small, has a much better chance of getting to the essence of the material than does the student in the music class listening to a symphony of Mozart on poor sound equipment. The best stereophonic set, after all, merely translates the essential concert experience into another medium. The student who has no prior background in music, and who has never heard a live performance of a symphony orchestra, can respond only to what he hears in the classroom. No amount of explaining that "it really sounds different in the concert hall" will help. The equipment must be good, just as the performances must be the best available, and the recordings in the best condition.

Because in this type of class short sections of music are often played out of context, started in the middle, or repeated, it is far more practical to use tapes rather than records themselves. To lower a needle on the middle of a long-playing record is almost certain to leave a scratch. Tapes, if properly prepared, have the tremendous advantage of making it very easy to spot internal passages without wasting class time guessing and ruining records; sections can also be repeated over and over with minimal wear and tear. Copies can be made available to students for review purposes before examinations.

Tapes are also ideal for presenting a series of short examples in quick succession. Although the preparation of this kind of tape absorbs a considerable amount of the teacher's time, it will repay the effort, since a good tape of choice selections can be used term after term both in the classroom as well as in outside listening assignments. Characteristically, short examples can be compiled of different instruments (assuming for whatever reason that the traditional recordings of these excerpts are not useful to the teacher), of different types of melodies, rhythms and meters, of different styles, forms, etc., etc. In every way, tapes are more practical for this type of class than records.

Let us explore for a moment some of the areas in which prepared tapes can be used. In teaching Lieder, for example, one can select and juxtapose exactly those songs and those performances one considers most ideal, and which cannot be matched by any single recording available. Two differing interpretations of the same song can be placed side by side to reveal the depth of some of the more complex Lieder. One can then prepare—with this tape, written copies of the texts with English translations for student use. In cases like this, the student should always have a literal translation rather than a metric one, since only this will direct his attention to the language that is sung, and allow the teacher to analyze specifics of text-music relations while incidentally increasing the student's vocabulary.

Schumann's Carnaval, a favorite teaching selection, can be made more meaningful if the students listening to the work have a tape where the name of each selection is given before it is played. I know a teacher who, in discussing musical forms, whether simple binary structures or elaborate sonatas and rondos, supplies his students with tapes for outside listening consisting of a succession of sonata-allegro movements one after the other, or a selection of various short forms. I have taught a unit on the characteristics of the different stylistic periods from a single prepared tape that played in succession a Gregorian Kyrie followed by the Kyries from masses of Josquin des Pres, Bach, Mozart, and Schubert. Again, it must be repeated that the time spent selecting material and preparing a tape of numerous selections can be tedious, but if the tape is good and the selections well chosen, it can be used again and again as the course is repeated, amply repaying the teacher for the initial time invested.

For this writer, the ideal situation exists when records are used to make the tapes, and then stored, not to be used unless the tape breaks beyond repair. Teachers should be discouraged from using records in the classrooms, particularly if tapes of the compositions are available. If there is a separate listening room for student use, then a taped library of standard classics should be available at all times for student use. This library should contain all the material, including supplementary listening, for the music appreciation classes. A part of the departmental budget should be set aside for the continual maintenance and expansion of this collection. In addition to assigning material from the departmental tape collection, teachers should prepare their own private libraries of special excerpts to be used in their own courses.

Once the mechanics of the room have been set up as ideally as possible, the next basic problem concerns the way in which the class itself is to be structured. Usually, one of two approaches are used. In the simplest cases, the class meets perhaps three hours a week with the same teacher, in which case registration is limited as it would be in any subject class. The more students who request the course, the more sections are opened, and the more teacher hours are utilized. Now, while this type of structure is simple to set up, it actually involves a considerable waste of faculty time. In any school where the general music course is at all popular, and where the department feels at the same time the necessity of keeping the theory or applied music classes down to a minimal student number, student-teachers hours are often balanced out if a few teachers can carry a large student load in the general music class. In other words, the department will sometimes justify fewer students in certain classes by serving more in the general music class. In this way, the student-teacher ratio is maintained within the department as a whole.

If this is the case, and the general music class is large, then either a single teacher will lecture to the entire group each time it meets, or for part of that time the class will be divided into smaller "discussion" groups. These discussion groups are frequently led by other teachers, graduate students, or assistants of some sort. Often, a group of teachers will share the main lectures on a rotation basis throughout the term while each meets his own discussion group on a regular basis. Sometimes, the large lecture is given twice a week while the discussion group meets once; sometimes it works the other way around.

The advantages and disadvantages of each approach are numerous, and should be carefully considered in relation to the school itself, the type of student body, and the staff available within the department when the program is set up. In any case, let us begin with a fundamental principle that the course should be as carefully organized as possible; if it is to maintain any quality, it must be directed and structured at all times. This means that the more people who are involved in the teaching, the more important must be the central controls. Unless the staff is quite exceptional, and think very similarly about music, then the course must ultimately be given to one person. If the lectures are to be shared by a group, then the final responsibility for the organization should be in the hands of a particularly experienced staff member. It is essential that someone knows what is being covered in every class or discussion group each time it meets.

If the class always meets as a single group with the same teacher, then at least it will be organized around a single point of view. This, if not all-inclusive, is at least consistent. One advantage of the large lecture group in this case is that it gives the teacher a very high student load without making his work much harder (assuming the course is handled carefully). The lecture addressed to 50 students is not appreciably more difficult to give when it is addressed to 250. If the course is well taught, it sets up a situation where a large number of students experience jointly a popular course. This contributes considerably to student morale and school spirit. In the hands of a superior teacher, the general music course can easily become an "institution" on campus.

At the same time, the obvious disadvantage of the large lecture lies in the fact that it radically limits class discussion, where students can express or share their opinions. It also limits the type of examinations given to short answer questions, since the problem of marking hundreds of essays becomes overwhelming. Finally, in many smaller colleges, the teacher does not like to be in a situation where he never gets to know any of his students personally.

Actually, many of these objections are not nearly as serious as they might seem at first consideration. For example, the elimination of group discussion actually produces a minimal loss. To my own way of thinking, if there are going to be more than 40 or 50 students in the class to begin with, there might just as well be 300 for all the personal discussion that can go on. As it turns out, however, the music appreciation class needs much less discussion than, let us say, a comparable literature class. The fact remains that the student enters college knowing how to read English. Even if his tools of analysis and perception are not what they will be when he graduates, the fact remains that he can read an assigned novel on his own, understand what is happening, and come to some conclusions as to, let us say, character motivation, by himself. The student with no prior musical background, however, can hardly do the same thing with a Beethoven symphony. He will have no opinion as to the basis for the organizational principles, or the potentialities of any given musical material, or whether these principles or potentialities are utilized effectively or not. In short, the student, knowing that although he can read English he cannot listen critically to a piece of music, is not really that interested in sharing his opinion with the teacher or with his fellow students. In the general music class, the average student wants to know the information that the teacher knows. His lack of prior background thus reduces the value of general discussion. If a student does not understand a specific fact, then no matter how large the group, he can ask for a point to be clarified. In this case, the standing rule for all teachers is that if any student asks a question, there are always others unclear on the same point, but unwilling to expose themselves and ask the same question.

In sum, then, large lectures that are not broken down into smaller discussion groups are ideally suited to the content of a general music course. In the large lecture, discussion is limited to students asking that specific points be clarified, which is, of course, not discussion at all. This may be perfectly satisfactory for this type of class, however, since the course content does not draw on the student's prior experience in listening to music.

The next problem to be considered in the organization of the course concerns the student's outside preparation for the class. This involves a number of apparently separate items: the choice of a textbook, the problem of outside listening, mandatory attendance at concerts, and indirectly, since these all affect it, preparation for examinations. In regard to these important items, I have always felt that the significance of all homework assignments, indeed the prime aim of the course, is to get the students to listen to music carefully and meaningfully. As a result, I feel that the choice of textbook is ultimately the least important problem; indeed, the presence or absence of any text is not of central importance at all. From their other courses, students are only too used to reading assigned pages from a text for homework, outlining them in their notebooks, and giving the information back on examinations. Reading about music, however, can take one only so far along the road to understanding. The most important type of homework for this class must be listening assignments. Indeed, the success of the course depends on the ease with which listening assignments can be fulfilled by the students. This is the one area in which inadequate school facilities are most likely to weaken the function of the program.

The first problem here is how to make listening time available for the students; the second is how to structure this time. If the school has a language lab, then very often some of this equipment can be set aside for music listening. In practice, however, this kind of aid only works in support of small elective classes of advanced students. One must sit down with a pencil and paper and multiply the number of students in the class by the number of hours per week of required listening, and then see if the language lab can service it. In addition, there is the problem of last-minute listening, of cramming before examinations, when students will need extra time. In short, it would seem that the larger the enrollment in the class, then the more the department itself must supply its own listening facilities. If the class is large, then the expense of providing individual listening, i.e., with a small number of students at a group of tape decks, each listening with his own earphones, becomes formidable. A simple solution to this problem, which incidentally provides a number of side advantages, can be found by setting up a single classroom with a student supervisor to play the required selections at scheduled hours throughout the week. If the room is available for group listening for, let us say, 15 hours a week, then some schedule must be posted weekly telling what music will be played at what hours. The student himself will decide when he wants to listen, and listen again if he chooses, to fulfill the homework assignments. It will immediately be apparent after the first few weeks which hours are attracting students and which are not. The hours at which time no one comes can then be removed from the schedule. By the same principle, extra hours can be scheduled for a few days prior to examinations.

A significant advantage of this sort of group listening, where members of the class come at will, appears in the figure of the student supervisor. If the supervisor is an upper class music major, or a graduate student, or another teacher, then the listening can be directed and controlled; the forms can be outlined, and questions can be answered. The supervisor of the listening sessions should attend the main lectures. Thus, for the setup of this course I would propose that, instead of dividing the class between lectures and discussion groups, all class time be given to required lectures supplemented by supervised listening sessions that function as homework aids. It would be understood that if a student preferred to listen to the music on his own, he would be at liberty to do so. The presence of a supervisor, however, ready to clarify points and answer questions, adds considerably to the lure of the group listening session. Since the supervisor should be encouraged to aid the students in every way, it helps if he does not know the content of any examinations beforehand. In this way he will not select or condition the information he gives the students.

If this type of listening cannot be set up, and the students must find ways on their own to listen to music, then this severely limits the type of work one can demand in the way of outside assignments. At the same time, one must remember that the students at campus colleges as well as large city commuting colleges can avail themselves of home phonographs. Most public libraries have recording collections that circulate, and most large cities have special libraries containing extensive collections. Just as the student is expected to buy copies of novels and plays for his literature courses, he can also be expected to buy his own recordings for his music class. Certainly the recording will be of more use to him in later years than his music textbook. The single disadvantage of having the student buy recordings instead of texts is that this tends to limit the choice of music for the course content to major works, or to groups of shorter works that can be found together on a single record. The problem of larger works, operas or oratorios, becomes insurmountable. If I wish to analyze in class the first act of Le Nozze di Figaro, or even, Heaven help me, the first act of Die Walküre, can I reasonably expect the students to buy the entire opera as a part of their term's expenditures for recordings? Handel's Messiah supplies marvelous opportunities for teaching examples, but a half-dozen excerpts will perhaps suffice. Even if one asks the students to buy single records of "highlights," one can be sure that no recording will have just those selections the teacher wants. Once again the tremendous advantage of controlled listening is revealed in that it allows the teacher to use prepared tapes of just those selected excerpts he chooses.

Now, after all these preliminary concerns have been settled: the setup of the classroom, the use of tapes and records, the control of student assistants and outside listening, etc., the problem of the course content itself can be examined. The final decision as to what selections will be included for analysis and discussion, and how this material is to be arranged and presented, depends very much on the special background of the teacher. No matter how the course is set up from on high, the individual teacher must, wherever possible, be allowed to arrange the class content, if only to insure that the course will be taught as meaningfully as possible. In many introductory literature courses, all teachers are informed that they must cover The Odyssey, The Republic, Oedipus, Beowulf, or whatever, but this sort of control should not be carried over into the general music class. No one in his right mind would set out to teach a history of world literature in a single term. Yet this is just what the music teacher is asked to do. The ultimate aim of the literature course is to acquaint the student with specific masterpieces from our cultural heritage, whereas the music course is equally designed to teach the student a method of listening to music. Thus, the choice of compositions can vary considerably without affecting the content of the course. In the last analysis, the choice of materials for the term's work must stem from the teacher's own background and orientation, from his own performing ability, perhaps from the presence of certain musicians who might be in residence or giving concerts at the college during the term, or even from the repertoire of the major musical organizations in the city during a concert season. Sometimes I change the content and method of organizing the course simply to provide myself with variety from one term to the next, or to test some new composition as to its "teachability."

The most obvious general outlines for this type of course allow the music (1) to be arranged in chronological order, (2) to be grouped according to genre or medium, and (3) to be presented in an order proceeding from simpler to more complex works. All three approaches supply the teacher with certain advantages as well as disadvantages. The advantage of the first, the historical approach, is that it suggests to the student most vividly the growth of music through the ages, and in a liberal arts school affords a method of correlation with other historically oriented courses such as literature, philosophy, etc. One can easily speak of the 19th century here not only in terms of musical but also ideological and historical landmarks. The major disadvantage of the historical approach appears at the beginning of the course. If one starts with any discussion of Medieval or Renaissance music, no matter how brief, then one is initially presenting the music most foreign to the students' own listening experiences. If one chooses to omit these periods, and to begin with the 18th century (an "historical" approach that is at long last becoming historical itself), there still remains the problem of terminology. One must begin with fundamental vocabulary. Thus, whatever composition is examined first in class, it must be used to identify certain basic concepts of melody, harmony, rhythm, phrase structure, etc. The historical approach makes it difficult to generalize about musical matters, as it tends to emphasize individual compositions and historical periods.

An approach built around an examination of different genres supplies one considerable advantage in that individual selections can be grouped easily into separate compartmentalized units. It also makes it easy to reveal the possibilities inherent in any given form, since the teacher can juxtapose in close relationship similar works from different periods: a symphony by Haydn against a symphony by Berlioz, or selections from an opera by Mozart against one by Puccini. In this way the student explores the variety of approaches possible for any given genre, while the teacher, guided by his own musical strengths, is free to decide whether he will choose a unit on opera, Lieder, keyboard music, symphonic music, etc. Clearly, the number of large units needed to fill up a term's work would have to be limited, omitting many important areas. The disadvantage of this approach is that it tends to be onesided, supporting the teacher's limitations. In avoiding the historical, one tends to isolate individual compositions in a vacuum without giving them a specific place in the stream of cultural history.

The last approach tends to separate and examine the elements comprising the musical material itself through an exploration of the nature of melody, harmony, rhythm, form, elementary theory, the problem of absolute music versus program music, etc. This has the tremendous advantage for the student in that it enables him to begin with simple elements and basic vocabulary, and to proceed from there to more complex concepts, from simple homophonic forms to complex contrapuntal textures and involved symphonic structures. This approach would certainly seem to support the basic aim of the course, and teach the student how to listen, but the difficulty lies in the fact that in the long run the concepts and procedures tend to overwhelm the music, and the individual compositions, the masterpieces of our cultural heritage, tend to become examples demonstrating techniques.

Special methods of organization can also be found or invented by the teacher. It is possible, for example, to set up at the beginning of the term, certain basic polarities common to all music of all periods, and then show how these operate in a variety of works chosen from different eras. One basis for this polarity could be called the "classic" versus the "romantic;" where the term "classic" is equated with organizing, rational, formal elements; and the term "romantic" with expressive, irrational, improvisatory elements. Any number of compositions from different periods could be analyzed with an eye toward discovering the elements in each that contribute on the one hand to unity and coherence, and on the other hand to diversity and variety. Another special approach that could easily supply the basis for a term's work would be based on the concept of music as an abstract pattern compared with music as a bearer of ideological content. A unit on forms and structures (sonata, rondo, fugue, variation, etc.) could be followed by a unit on program music (Lieder, tone poems, oratorio, etc.), leading to a culmination in a single major work such as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which can be approached from both points of view.

Whatever the method of organization, whether traditional or unique, whether adhering to the order established in a given textbook or venturing into experimental areas, the course must be geared around the special personality of the teacher. I would think, however, that despite the frame, which can be varied considerably without changing the value of the course, and considering that all approaches contain certain advantages as well as disadvantages, one element must remain constant at all costs. The course should always be built around the finest music available from the concert repertoire, since this must make the strongest impression on the students, as it has on all through the centuries. Nothing will be gained by the teacher's misguided attempt to appeal to the students through the use of any music containing instant surface appeal but lacking the ultimate depth that allows us to return to it over the years as to a true friend.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 14/11/2018

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