Musicology and the Music Major

Margaret Murata

The rewards and excitement of teaching music to the general college student are often immediate and can also be long lasting, not infrequently because the biology or engineering student may play as well as or more ably than a music major and because he may be motivated to make the most of the limited number of music courses he can fit into his course of study. Such a student may take a music appreciation course of the kind Professor Levy describes, or a course surveying the history of music, a "period' course, or some interdisciplinary course that includes music. He may easily end up taking more classes from the musicologists on the faculty than does the music major, who often takes only the required semesters of a music history survey. Certainly we teach more in courses than just the course material, as Professor Hepokoski's points demonstrate; but nevertheless, the limited contact between the "musicologist" and the undergraduate music major hardly provides the opportunity to present the variety and the scope of the skills and interests of most musicologists. The music student should not go on to a career in music imagining that "musicology"—whatever it is thought to be—is an ancillary or a circumscribed aspect of music.

The job of the musicologist-teacher, however, is not to prove that his territory is broad; rather it is to broaden the resources and musical experiences of his students. As a group, music majors have the most intense and constant involvement with music, but typically it is also narrow and restricted in terms of style and repertory. Trying to analyze a Mozart wind serenade with great reluctance, one oboist protested to me recently, "But I'm an instrumentalist, and all I want to do is play my instrument!" Today's music majors will fill the teaching studios of tomorrow, and the breadth or narrowness of their educations will determine the breadth or narrowness of the next crop of musicians.

Because the music historian may teach any one student for as short a time as a single quarter or semester, while a performance student may work with a studio teacher for as long as four years, the indirect way for "musicology" to present itself to undergraduates is in cooperation with the studio faculty. I teach in a modestly sized music department with two other music historians and thirty studio instructors, so musicology is not off in its own department, emerging only to give service courses. We have plenty of opportunity to interact with performers, composers, conductors, and students, and do so regularly. Still, it takes an effort to diminish the instructional gap between the studio and "academics." I have said how important I think it is to remove this gap, whether it is real or perceived. My few suggestions here for doing so are addressed as if to music historians, but they can easily be read as a set of expectations for musicology in the undergraduate environment.

  • 1. Be recognized as a resource person, for information about editions, repertory, reference works, ornamentation and such like, or for translating texts for singers and choral conductors. The more informal such exchange can be the better.

  • 2. Be an academic middleman between colleagues in other disciplines such as physics, literature, anthropology, or ethnic studies, and the music classroom—not necessarily your own classroom. At Irvine, for example, we had a successful series of lecture/master classes for voice students on specific repertories, such as settings of Goethe or French poets, which the students prepared to perform and professors from the French and German faculties discussed. Mallarmé is difficult enough to interpret as literature, and the average music student does not have enough French to take an advanced poetry course; yet we expect a sophisticated French set of all voice majors! One master class given by Professor Renée Hubert on Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Verlaine, and Éluard explicated specific poems and placed them in a historical and interpretive context that was as illuminating to the music faculty who attended as to the undergraduates in the performance class.

    Furthermore, most music students either don't have the time or the motivation and guidance to "shop around" for general courses. It is really up to the music faculty to bring acousticians, actors, literary critics, and cultural historians into the study, interpretation, and composition of music, on an imaginative and lively ad hoc basis.

My third and fourth suggestions are less concrete and more difficult to implement. Both pertain to that currently elusive concept called "performance practice," because the most common exchanges between studio teacher and musicologist concern questions in this area. Today, performance practice is not just a field collecting more and more "how to" recipes for playing music of increasingly specific times and locales. It is a field also trying to establish a more general framework for understanding performing, for thinking about what constitutes those practical, intellectual, and cultural elements that turn a score into music.

  • 3. Therefore, the notion of "performance practice" itself has to be made more open and "user-friendly". Currently we have sets of possibilities from which performers make better or worse decisions. "Alternative" options have penetrated well into the nineteenth-century repertory. Pluralism in various mixes has replaced purism (e.g. Simon Rattle adapting his lessons on early violin to his wonderful performance of Haydn's Creation with the Los Angeles Philharmonic). Some areas of musicology, like some performers, are testing scores as increasingly open texts. This spirit of experimentation needs to be conveyed to the student to encourage musical involvement and creativity, though without diminishing the basic discipline to be learned from so-called "literal" readings. Coaching student singers and accompanists or the occasional chamber ensemble is a direct way to try out different articulations, tone productions, tempo adjustments, bow strokes, phrasings, etc., in the guise of rehearsal techniques. This increases flexibility of response in the student, as it casts different lights on the score. To paraphrase Professor Hepokoski's second and fourth points: avoid conveying an "image" of any musical composition as a static, ideal entity. Avoid implying that the "aesthetic" features of any musical composition are fixed and immutable. These injunctions are as applicable to Mozart as to Landini.

  • 4. The musicologist, then, has also to be a present force for historical consciousness—not only on behalf of compositions, but also on behalf of how they are played. That Trevor Pinnock differs from Thurston Dart is not just a matter of new knowledge from archives, treatises, and instrument restorations. That Munch's Debussy differs from Boulez's is not a matter of a new critical edition. The musicologist, more than any other music professional, is in a position—I would say is obligated—to articulate and make explicit the tensions and shifts between changing "oral traditions" in Western musical performance and changing modes of reading scores. This, too, is a part of music history. It is a part not contained in the shelves upon shelves of Monuments of Music, and it is certainly absent in music history textbooks. Every undergraduate deserves a discussion of "fidelity to the score" as meant by Schnabel, Salzer, and Toscanini; it is a topic inversely related to the frustrated cry of a professor of piano, "How do you teach schmalz?"

The constant, underlying complaint of undergraduates is that music courses don't have related goals, that they don't apply to each other. Of course they do, but the students do not realize where the synthesis takes place. "Performance" to them usually signifies doing something: moving your fingers, modifying your embouchure, keeping your larynx down. Students are not aware that harmony and history, as well as studio lessons, are all ear-training in part, and that it is the ear that makes the musician. Several years ago, Edward T. Cone pointed out that critics (musicologists) and composers were also performers, 1 in the sense that all are readers and interpreters of scores. The organ that does this reading and interpreting for all types of performers is not the hand or eye, but the "inner ear." The different courses that form the music major's core education all help him develop this inner ear. As they must, these courses teach him first to deal with what is in the score. Beyond this, musicologists, like studio teachers, also can and must convey knowledge about essential aspects of music that are not present in scores. These unwritten aspects are the sources of both the infinite variety and the vitality of our arts of sound.

1Edward T. Cone, "The Authority of Music Criticism," Journal of the American Musicological Society 34 (1981):1-18.