The Training and Retraining of College Music Faculty

Elliott S. Schwartz

I wish to discuss General Music courses (specifically introductory survey courses designed to stimulate intelligent listening or "appreciation") from the standpoint of teaching: the special skills and sensitivities required of a General Music instructor, and the degree to which our universities prepare graduate music students—who are, after all, our future instructors—to acquire these. In my opinion, there are three important concerns (at the very least) which need to be identified and addressed:

(1) Training (or the Lack of It). It is ironic that the title of my presentation which CMS and NASM assigned to me, includes the word "training," when in fact very little "training"—development of job-related skills, on an unashamedly practical, vocational level—ever takes place in a typical graduate music program. On the contrary, our students who earn graduate degrees, especially those working in musicology, theory or composition, are almost exclusively concerned with pure research or creative activity. They are rarely (if ever) confronted with any foretaste of the joys and frustrations that lie ahead when they enter the world of undergraduate teaching

Although we may assume that many of our graduate students will become college instructors, we don't often mention that fact, nor do we consciously "train" them to be effective at their future jobs. At best we may teach by example, with ourselves as models and the graduate students as apprentices, in which case they often acquire, by default, teaching skills that are most applicable to small classes of other highly motivated students at the graduate level! More often than not, their graduate education has left them unprepared for the special teaching challenges associated with undergraduate General Music: projecting one's voice and personality before large groups and vast lecture halls, reducing complex issues to their simplest, most direct forms, and (perhaps most importantly) working with a vast range of students who may be unmotivated, inexperienced, or musically illiterate.

(2) Language, Jargon and Notation. Since advanced study is, almost by definition, a process of increasing specialization, graduate music students may often become professionally preoccupied with a limited body of knowledge. As a result, they may develop a very sharp (but narrowly defined) set of tools, skills and terminology. They have not only learned the jargon commonly known to all musicians—chord labels, opus numbers, structural guideposts (e.g, the "recapitulation"), organizing principles of tonal logic (the"dominant"), important dates, nicknames, and of course Western staff notation itself—but have added, the jargon of their own individual sub-specialties.

Specialized languages are inevitable within any complex discipline: highly useful, (in fact, essential) in transmitting ideas efficiently, as a natural consequence of study and as pre-requisite to further study. Musical jargon (in all the varieties just noted) can be enormously valuable. But it can become dangerous, however, if people possessing it come to believe that they are members of an "initiated" Priesthood, culturally superior to all those illiterates who don't possess it. Graduate students, at the peak of their specialization, are,especially vulnerable to a rude culture shock as they embark on their first teaching jobs, since it's very likely that they will be forced to communicate with students who don't speak the jargon.

What does a beginning instructor say to a class of undergraduates who cannot read musical notation, who cannot perform or analyze works of the standard repertoire, who may not even know the names of such works (or their composers), who may not have any sense of Western cultural history? The instructor may very well assume that such students are simply unteachable in that state. The teacher would probably concentrate, then, on:

(a) introducing students to the jargon (at least some of it); or

(b) introducing musical notation (at least basic rudiments).

Another instructor, equally appalled at undergraduate illiteracy, might assume that un-"initiated" students are simply dumb, and hopelessly incapable of comprehending anything substantial. This instructor might concentrate on

(c) teaching the simplest historical facts (names and dates); or

(d) making pleasant references to the language of the emotions, quasiprogrammatic "meanings," expressivity, even—save us all—greatness.

All of these approaches bypass what should be the main purpose of an introductory survey course: the growth of intelligent, critical, sensitive listening skills. Ideally, we want to develop these skills in our students to the degree where a given piece or performance can be perceived uniquely, and at the same time related to a body of tradition.

The most successful "appreciation" teachers have learned how to develop these listening skills with a minimum of reference to either musical notation or complex terminology. Beginning instructors, fresh out of graduate school and so fluent in their own specialized language, may have to re-think important musical issues, or exciting subtleties of a particular passage, so that they can discuss these in English with their students. This is not meant to suggest watered down courses. On the contrary, I am suggesting that we assume musically "illiterate" students to be perfectly intelligent and literate in other respects, and capable of discriminating judgments. We " should offer them a chance to explore the subtleties of musical structure and style "in translation," very much as our colleagues, in other departments continue to offer courses in comparative literature, or the philosophy, of mathematics, or the history of science.

(3) Limited Repertories, Limited Tastes. The heavy emphasis upon ever-increasing specialization at the graduate level (culminating, of course, in one's dissertation) runs the risk of producing graduate students—future General Music instructors—With a narrow range of musical interests, usually tied to the Western Art Music of the past (a body of literature with the wonderfully apt acronym WAM).

Ironically, though, anyone attempting to teach an undergraduate, introductory survey course in the 1980s (not to mention the 1990s and beyond) must have the broadest, most flexible range of tastes, and interests. Although our "appreciation" courses may still focus upon the repertory of the WAM tradition, we will see its very special nature—its unique strengths and weaknesses—much more clearly in the context of other repertories. When we have a greater understanding of many musics, from the radical avant-garde to the classical Indian to vernacular folk styles, we will have created a "global" base from which we can see our own familiar music much more clearly. In other words, the successful "appreciation" instructor, working with students for whom the Western tradition is wholly uncharted territory, might find it valuable to "discover" Western Art Music afresh, as an ethnomusicologist (or a Martian) might discover it. In the overall domain of "taste" and choice of repertory, as in the use of musical jargon and reliance upon notation that I mentioned earlier, instructors must learn to temper all of their specialized skills and preferences (so finely honed in graduate school) with the flexibility and insatiable curiosity—perhaps even some of the innocence—of the "generalist."

Are there any specific ways of dealing with these concerns so that future General Music teachers are prepared more fully for the challenges they are likely to face upon receiving their graduate degrees? I would 1ike to suggest a few, not as sure-fire solutions but as starting points for serious discussion. First of all, we should find ways of identifying a certain group of graduate music students—those who are particularly literate in English, or those with a flair for public speaking, or those who are truly sympathetic with the concept of intelligent listening as a worthwhile end in itself (not a poor man's substitute for performance!)—and helping them develop their teaching skills. We might have them work as "section" leaders, or in some other apprentice-intern category, especially during their final year of study (just as we ask fourth-year medical students to make hospital rounds).

Secondly, we might consider requiring at least one course in Education for all graduate students, so that our future teachers would be familiar with basic issues related to teaching (or the history of higher education in America, or a comparative analysis of curricula and texts in key subject areas). Thirdly, we might also require that graduate music students take at least one course outside their particular field of specialization—in fact, outside the Western Art Music tradition if at all possible, on the theory that the serious study of Balinese Gamelan, or New Orleans Jazz, or the American avant-garde since 1950, will result in a fresh look at all music.

Finally, any discussion of Music in General Studies and the preparation of teachers should go beyond the training of faculty, to an equal important concern for the re-training of faculty. Here the major issues are not likely to be focused upon teaching skills (we can assume that professors of long standing have already developed their "style"; on the other hand, even experienced faculty members can stand to benefit from a reexamination of course materials (from textbooks to films and computer programs), curricular philosophy, and one's choice of listening repertoire for classroom discussion and assigned study.

Some instructors may prefer to go about, their "re-training" in an informal manner. I would suggest that these teachers begin by making every effort to stay abreast of the changes in their students, "keeping up" with shifts in student tastes and expectations just as we might expect to keep up with scholarly developments in our own specialized disciplines. Furthermore, take every opportunity to bring guests into your lecture hall; performing attists visiting campus, faculty colleagues in related fields, or even film showings —celluloid "guests," in a sense—can be invaluable. In a similar vein, take field trips (perhaps to a concert in a nearby city, perhaps to an instrument building workshop). Open your course to outside influences, even a few, "outside" the realm of music (ties to religion, architecture, computer science,sociology and the like)in your attempts to broaden your tried-and-true approach.

On a more formal, institutional level, instructors can avail themselves of a growing number of resources—seminars, workshops, publications and conferences—supported and sponsored by professional organizations. The College Music Society's 1981 Wingspread Conference, which I attended, was one such resource; this jointly sponsored NASM/CMS Dearborn Conference is another. In addition, the 1982 and 1983 CMS-sponsored Institutes on Music in General Studies, held at Boulder, Colorado, have proven to be highly successful vehicles for concerned college instructors get together—exchanging heated ideas, esthetic positions, course outlines, tips on new books of films, whatever it may be that makes teaching exciting.

I was privileged to be a member of the 1982 Boulder Institute faculty. When I was invited to make this presentation at Dearborn, I wrote to my Boulder students and asked them if they might have any suggestions or comments to make on the general subject of the "training and re-training of faculty." It seems most appropriate for the last words of this presentation to be theirs.. I would like to end my remarks by quoting a few of their written replies to me. Here are, three representative samples, from the dozen or so that I received:

A. "With regard to the training of college teachers: I find that my colleagues have had little, if any, teacher training . . . I believe that all musicians, bar none, are going to be involved in music education. Some look upon that phrase as demeaning and with considerable condescension, but, nevertheless, that's what the teaching of music is. Therefore, all persons intending to pursue music as a career should have at least one course that helps answer the following questions: (1) Why teach music? (Every musician should have a philosophy concerning the value of music inhuman life and society . . . ) (2) What should be taught about music, generally and specifically? (A matter for individual speculation, but a matter on which each individual should do some speculating.) (3) How should music courses be taught? . . ."

B. ". . . Some basic esthetic knowledge for teachers in this area should be necessary. I do really mean music esthetics per se. It's surprising that we skirt the subject in our training of the music professionals, but we can rationalize the omission with the thought that they have to run the machine rather than know what it is for. A professional teaching nonprofessionals does have to know what it's for . . . second, knowing the music of one's heritage (say, American music both past and present) is not necessarily a chauvinistic act, but finding one's roots . . . we might pause to know ourselves a little better.

C. "Dear Elliott: Please ask your friends in Dearborn to put themselves into the following situation:

[Hello? Mrs. Prattlesworth? This is Dean Cranston from Greenswamp College with some very good news . . . we've decided to offer you that position . . . Now as you recall, we took special interest in your resume because of your performance degree in trumpet and a wealth of chamber music experience. So in your first semester you'll be teaching Creative Listening and Intro to Music Literature. The second semester it will be Jazz History, and Music and Values . . .]

"Who could make this up? It happened to me a year ago . . . Yes, I'm loving every minute of it. But if I had gotten this job five years ago, straight out of graduate school, I might have cracked up. Perhaps I would have survived . . . on my liberal arts undergraduate education and my graduate performance degree. But X University knew that most of us would end up teaching in colleges (and not always private lessons). Couldn't someone have rounded us up to discuss the principles of effective teaching? To explore when one "lectures" rather than "discusses," how to give assignments for maximum intellectual growth, how one recovers from a disastrous class? Beyond the giving of a seminar report, we never taught other college students . . . and I don't think we thought any of the above would be necessary. We might have resented the notion. But please tell the NASM that it is important to provide meaningful guidance to future college professors."