Institutes for Music in Contemporary Education - Origin and Objectives

Grant Beglarian

During the current two-year period, 1966-68, thirty-six institutions of higher learning and associated elementary and secondary schools are engaged co-operatively in a nationwide program to examine and improve basic music instruction offered in their curricula. These institutions are grouped into six regional Institutes for Music in Contemporary Education. The program was launched by the Contemporary Music Project (CMP) of the Music Educators National Conference through funds from the Ford Foundation.

Each institution within the regional institute is devising and carrying out one or several exploratory courses in basic musicianship to provide their students with a comprehensive musical foundation for their eventual careers in music. Based on the evaluation of these efforts after the program has been completed in June 1968, it is expected that the part of the curriculum devoted traditionally to the required study of theory and history of music, as well as the general orientation of the curriculum in music, may become more relevant to contemporary musical and educational needs. The definition of these needs and the evolution of a theory of comprehensive musicianship underlying all institutes were the issues considered at the Seminar on Comprehensive Musicianship sponsored by the Contemporary Music Project at Northwestern University, April 1965.1

The Northwestern University Seminar was the culmination of several steps taken by the Project to modernize and broaden the quality and scope of music education on several levels. The general aim of the Project is to bring about conditions favorable to the creation, study and performance of contemporary music. The Project is founded on the premise that the existence of a living culture depends not only upon the preservation of past heritages, but also requires constant rejuvenation and creation of its own heritage as well. The activities of the Project have been focused in the field of composition and education in the belief that a close working relationship is needed between them for a healthy contemporary musical life.

Various activities have been undertaken in the Project towards the realization of its aim. The best-known of these has been the program of fellowships enabling young professional composers to reside for one or two years in selected public schools, writing music for student performing groups. This program was established on an experimental basis by the Ford Foundation in 1959. Since then, seventy-three composers have been given fellowships to work in large and small communities throughout the United States. An increasingly large number of schools retain their composers for a second year by assuming a substantial part of their fellowships. More recently, a number of schools have allocated funds to cover all expenses of their local composer-in-residence programs.2

Based on the initial successes of this program and the widespread interest in its ramifications, the Ford Foundation made funds available to the Music Educators National Conference, not only to administer the composers-in-schools program but also to establish seminars, workshops, and other experimental pilot projects in contemporary music to strengthen the music education programs in public schools and colleges. The Foundation grant to MENC is for a six-year period, 1963-69, and totals $1,630,000.

Since its inception in July 1963 and through 1966, the Contemporary Music Project has established sixteen seminars and workshops in contemporary music both for practicing music educators and for those about to enter the profession. Six experimental projects have also been supported in various schools to explore teaching techniques through creative approaches.3 Through reports prepared by the local directors of these seminars and experiments, through extensive inquiries made by the Project administration during visits to project sites and elsewhere, and through numerous consultations with music faculties and administrators in schools and colleges, a body of observations evolved not only about the state of teaching contemporary musical practices and thought, but also about the general nature of music education offered in schools and colleges. Although these observations are concerned primarily with the training of music educators, they also apply to the training of all practitioners in music.

Setting aside for the time being the more fundamental questions about the quality and scope of professional training in music provided in a university setting, the Project's main concern in 1964 was to evaluate these observations from a broad, realistic perspective and to consider means for improving the musical education of teachers. Observations seemed to fall into three general categories, related to each other and all having to do with musicianship training. These observations, summarized below, formed the basis for the deliberations of the Seminar on Comprehensive Musicianship and the establishment of the Institutes for Music in Contemporary Education.

1. In the seminars and workshops in contemporary music established for school music educators it was found necessary to re-study a great deal of traditional theory and literature in order to provide the participants with sufficient background information. Since the study of traditional practices, mainly those of 18th- and 19th-century music, receives concentrated attention in required college courses in musicianship, it must be assumed that this inadequacy of background is due not so much to the lack of such courses as to their limited scope and purpose. The updating of musical education, therefore, is not simply a matter of adding yet another theory or history course in contemporary music to the already over-burdened and over-compartmentalized curriculum, but rather a question of restructuring the existing required courses in basic musicianshipnot only to devote adequate time to the study of contemporary music, but, even more importantly, to consider all musical traditions in terms of our present-day vantage point. From this process, the student may be expected to gain an over-all understanding of past traditions and their evolution into contemporary musical thought and practices. It may be possible that his musical training can proceed from the grammar and syntax of the musical vocabulary of his own time back to its sources in former times.

2. In college courses dealing with musicianship, the student in music education or performance degree curricula is expected to complete requirements in ear-training, sight-singing, harmony, history, and literature. Some institutions also require training in analysis and, perhaps, 18th-century counterpoint. This broad training is intended to provide the student with an understanding of the art which complements and underlies his technical professional training. In practice, however, this synthesis rarely occurs between courses within the general area of musicianship or between musicianship training and professional studies; the student receives very little opportunity to develop a comprehensive view of his entire field. As a high school instrumental director, for example, his primary function will be that of a conductor; yet his main professional training is not in conducting and other necessary skills. The courses he completes in ear-training and sight-singing, for example, rarely advance beyond the simplest vocal textures. His aural training is considered adequate if he can duplicate in writing a Bach chorale played on the piano, two measures at a time, each repeated at least twice. His knowledge of the repertoire of music is divided into two separate, often unrelated groups: the masterpieces he studies in the music literature course and the body of teaching materials listed for him in the music education course. His knowledge of the general repertoire of music may be gained from yet other sources as well: from participation in performing groups, from studies in his major instrument, and so on. By the time the aspiring high school conductor graduates, he has heard, studied, or played perhaps a thousand works, yet this "knowledge" will be left largely unused, since he will deal mainly with pieces in the current repertoire of school music as soon as he begins his career. The courses in literature and history of music do not provide him with the broad perspective he would need to work as a well-informed teacher and musician in an increasingly complex educational environment. It would seem possible that the student would be better prepared for his profession if he knew where to find materials appropriate to his need, how to study them, how to form critical judgement about them, and how to use them for appropriate artistic and educational purposes. Courses in musicianship might serve a more realistic purpose if they provided the student with a synthesis of all his studies by relating them to each other. The process might develop a comprehensive musical attitude which would seek the untried, the unknown, the contemporary, for the musical challenges and rewards they provide. This observation applies to the hypothetical conductor of a high school band as well as to the conductors of our symphony orchestras and concert artists of international fame.

3. The experiments sponsored by the Project in the use of creative techniques for teaching music to young children have succeeded in direct proportion to the creative abilities of their teachers. In the successful pilot projects, the children developed both an understanding of a musical process and the skill needed for its execution. When the two aspects of the learning situation were directly related to each other, and when one aspect generated and necessitated insights or skills in the other, then the acquired musical knowledge seemed to have a personal relevance to the child's own musical growth. The experiments were conducted primarily to introduce contemporary practices to students in elementary schools. As in college-level seminars, it was evident that contemporary music need not be presumed to be outside the common musical heritage of the students. Perhaps, even to a more marked degree, the very young seemed to function naturally in the musical idiom of their time. It is obvious that the music teacher in such a creative situation occupies a most crucial position. His own musicality must emanate from a broad, comprehensive base of musical knowledge and skills. If the creative approach has validity, the college curriculum should provide the prospective teacher with means for developing this potential in him. Existing required courses in theory seldom do this.4

The curricular recommendations formulated at the Northwestern University Seminar led to the establishment of the six regional institutes. The courses devised by local program heads in each of the thirty-six institutions attempt in varying ways to realize the following general aims.

1. To relate directly each component of basic music studies to one or several other components; for exampletheory to history, or ear-training to analysis, writing, performance, sight-singing, and conducting.

2. To use materials illustrating techniques and styles from all periods and types of musical repertoire. To establish relationships between the music being written today and that of the past.

3. To devise a continuity between a course on one level and that which precedes and follows it. The totality of the music curriculum, from kindergarten to graduate school, is viewed as a responsibility shared by several educational and musical interests.

4. To help the student develop self-direction, exercise imagination, and sharpen critical judgement in a broad perspective of music.

5. To enable the student to generalize from particulars and to deduce particulars from generalizations.

These aims are embodied in several ways in the courses now being offered on the collegiate level of participating institutions. Courses and activities on elementary and secondary levels and programs for in-service training of teachers are being conducted along similar lines. Each course follows a pattern those teaching it have found fruitful. Despite this diversity, certain generalizations can be made.

Most courses combine the study of several components of musicianship in the same classroom. A large number of classes meet daily for one or more hours. In some instances, the institute courses are substituting for all previous curricular requirements in theory and history.

The IMCE students in the college usually represent a typical cross-section of all music students. There are, however, classes made up of only those majoring in music education. In one institution, the course is given to students who are not majoring in music.

With few exceptions, IMCE courses are taught by one instructorthe local program head. From time to time he may invite other instructors to take over the class to give the students the benefit of other views and other interests. In the few exceptions, IMCE courses are taught by a small group of instructorsa musicologist, a performer, and a composer, in one instanceworking as team, or by rotating the students each term from one IMCE instructor to another who cover substantially the same topics but from different points of view.

In some institutions the main emphasis of the local effort has been to produce new illustrative materials and texts, to prepare programmed instruction materials, or to re-arrange the sequence and content of existing courses.

The members of IMCE represent a broad sampling of educational institutions, from large state universities with many hundreds of music majors to small independent schools, from conservatives to liberal arts colleges.

The typical IMCE classroom is treated as a laboratory for music. In it, an assignment to write a passage illustrating a certain compositional procedure, for example, may be complemented by its immediate analysis, performance, criticism, and reference to relevant models from the present and the past. The student, in effect, is expected to function as a practicing musician in a real world of music in an educational setting. The point is to adapt this setting to the particular musical needs rather than the other way around.

The great diversity of IMCE courses, cataloged elsewhere, attests to the belief that no single, dogmatic point of view can be tolerated in music educationwhether this education is for preparing future composers or music educators, for future scholars or performers, or for literate audiences for music. The institutes are committed to a constantly evolving point of view towards the means for educating the comprehensive musician.

1Comprehensive Musicianshipthe Foundation for College Education in Music. Washington, D.C.: Contemporary Music Project, MENC, 1965.

2Contemporary Music for Schools (A catalog of works written by composers in the Young Composers Project1959-64 . . .). Washington, D.C. Contemporary Music Project, MENC, 1966. A fully annotated catalog of selected published and manuscripts works of all composers in the Project is in preparation under the CMP Library Program. It will be available in early 1968.

3Experiments in Musical Creativity. Washington, D.C.: 1966. Contemporary Music Project, MENC, 1966. A report of pilot projects in Baltimore, San Diego, and Farmingdale.

Warren Benson, Creative Projects in Musicianship, Washington, D.C.: CMP/MENC, 1967. A report of two pilot courses at Ithaca College and Interlochen Arts Academy taught by Mr. Benson under CMP auspices.

4These observations and other information are contained in the published report of the Seminar on Comprehensive Musicianship.