Robert S. Freeman
Two or three hundred years ago, audiences for concert music comprised people who were musically trained. The crowned heads of Europe normally had a decent musical education, adequate to the point that, when they hired composers, they were able to discriminate between music they liked and music they did not like. Such a person could tell whether a string quartet played in tune or not, or could perform as the extra violist in a quintet. But once the aristocracy was eliminated and concert halls seating 2,500 people were opened, it became important to persuade many uneducated in music that it is worth one's while to listen to the unfolding of events that take place in time.
We were speaking in my office over lunch a little while ago about where the teaching of listening began. My colleagues and I decided that in American colleges the starting point was in the 1920's, that the radio was involved, and that the growing availability of recordings was also important. As you may know, I have been preoccupied with the fiscal problems of the nation's principal performing institutions: the orchestras, the opera houses, the performing arts centers, the chamber music societies, NEA, et al. Rudolf Serkin once proposed to me 10 years ago that, with foundation support, he might take a fine pianist each from Eastman, from Juilliard, from Curtis, and from Indiana to bring performance skills to a higher plateau that would grace musical life in Vermont by sending each of these people to play Schubert and Beethoven sonatas in the cities and towns of that beautiful state. I responded that I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for any young person to study with Mr. Serkin, a great artist and teacher. I thought, however, that the musical life of Vermont probably would not be put ahead to any great degree by several performances in each of half a dozen towns. In fact what I believe we really need is someone who is going to live in each of those towns for at least six months, while teaching (and performing) Beethoven and Schubert. I added that I thought the vast majority of rural Americans had probably not heard of Beethoven or Schubert, or if they had, could care less.
This colloquium concerns teaching music to non-music majors in a liberal arts setting. We are speaking in early 1990, and in light of the current state of preparation of music students in the public schools of America. My colleagues in the Eastman Department of Music Education are well represented here this afternoon, and we all look forward to a day when better preliminary work will have been accomplished with primary and secondary school students. The purpose today is not a quest for a proper method to teach music to liberal arts students. I take it for granted that there will be lots of different ideas that will come from the panel this afternoon, as well as from the audience.