January, 1992

Anne Dhu Shapiro

"Bridging the Gap" was the title of the plenary session for the five music societies that met jointly with The College Music Society in Chicago in October of 1991 (ATMI, CMBR, CMSA, IASPM, and SEM), and this phrase strikes me as the most succinct description of what The College Music Society offers as an organization—a way to bridge the gap between the various disciplines that make up a typical college department or school of music. The College Music Society is an organization that, quite simply, represents all of the musical disciplines that are taught in colleges, universities, and schools of music, giving them a forum to interact. It structures itself according to this goal, with a Board that has a representative member for composition, ethnomusicology, music education, musicology, music in general studies, performance, and theory, as well a President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer. Being on the board has been one of the best educational experiences in music I've had. I've seen intelligent people, each dedicated to the study and teaching of a particular facet of the broad discipline of music, join in a cooperative effort to bring the best ideas from these disciplines into dialogue with one another. In this issue of the Newsletter each of our board members has prepared a short summary of how that discipline relates to the whole organization. It is my task to write about the goals of the entire organization.

First let me address the question of the gaps between the disciplines. Perhaps it is there because our training at the higher levels must be so narrowly focused. For example, upon entering graduate school, I was told by my fellow students in musicology that being caught performing publicly in the first year could have dire consequences (unspecified). That this was a myth, and one which I promptly challenged without dire consequences, does not diminish the fact that its truth was felt at some level: performance and musicology are two separate disciplines, and applying oneself intensively to one might result in diminished ability or interest in the other. Though many individuals combine these two—or another two or even more fields—the specialization reflected in the splitting up of our research interests into organizations such as AMS, CBMR, IASPM, IMS, MLA, SCI, SEM, and SMT—to say nothing of societies devoted to Berg, Brahms, band music, or bouzoukis—has increased our perceived distance from one another.

Yet we all work together in institutions of higher learning; we train the same students, who must themselves figure out how to unify their musical knowledge into one whole; and we all fight battles with belt-tightening administrations who often perceive music programs as less than cost-effective.

It strikes me that there is no more useful sort of organization than one that allows us to see ourselves as part of a larger whole in this era of increasing fragmentation. And that is what The College Music Society is best at doing.

The College Music Society is first and foremost an interdisciplinary organization. Many of the sessions at CMS meetings are interdisciplinary in nature. Our journal is similarly structured, not only publishing articles in the various fields, but soliciting articles that cross disciplinary boundaries or that foster discussion of the kind suggested by the title of our journal, Symposium. We often encourage and sponsor national meetings like the one held in Chicago in October, with six societies meeting together, because they enhance the opportunities of our members to learn from people in other organizations.

Another interdisciplinary activity that we have pursued as a Society is that of learning from our surroundings—hence the emphasis in each of our national meetings on music of that region, from music of the Native Americans to all kinds of other musical groups. Through the combined efforts of musicologists, ethnomusicologists, and performers, these musical styles are represented in concerts with local groups, on field trips, or in special sessions.

The other major issue with which CMS is concerned is also a unifying factor among its members: the improvement of teaching, whether in the classroom or as librarians, performers, or writers. As teachers, many of us have been through our own voyages of self-discovery, from the first stages of being concerned with showing what we know in the classroom, to the more mature concern with how students learn—what processes benefit them. There is also a third stage, in which the teacher becomes interested in learning about students—what they hear, how they think, what they already know, what they want to know—all without completely abandoning the wish to convey knowledge and to keep the process beneficial.

This third-stage perspective brings a changed attitude to the classroom, and I would suggest that it can do the same in organizations: it can bring an attitude of respect and of genuine curiosity. We all contain multitudes: even the youngest, most provincial student has something interesting in his or her musical background. Even the oldest, driest scholar has a love for some delicious kind of music. The trick is, perhaps, to break down the formal barriers and get at that side of our students and of each other. In situations where we're trying to impress one another—like too many classrooms and conferences—we tend to build barriers of jargon, specialization, etc. One of the delightful things that happens at CMS meetings, with increasing regularity, is a session or two where the barriers are broken down, where a topic is declared and people just talk. It is this sort of communication about issues of importance to us all that CMS stands for.

We need both specialization and cross-fertilization; we need both our organizations for particular interests within the field of music and the joining together that The College Music Society represents. Bridging the gap means devoting our most serious efforts to talking to one another and to our students about the value that music has in higher education—and in life.