Saturday, September 28, 2013

Music Lessons

by Bonnie Gordon

This week Mark Oppenheimer of the New Republic wrote a provocative essay called “Stop Forcing Your Kids to Learn a Musical Instrument” that asks why we, by which I think he means affluent, educated, and usually white parents, make our kids study classical violin, piano, and ballet. He meant to say making your kids play musical instruments as part of “some upper middle-class acculturation plan” is a problem. The article, I admit, made me, and as far as I can tell many others who play or teach classical music, mad. But he asks good questions. Why should these kids learn violin and not guitar, which they can learn quickly and sing at a campfire? How many people who studied the violin or piano as a child still play? And why do "we"—the affluent, mostly white bourgeoisie—cling to a tradition with roots in nineteenth-century European parlors?

That kids who learn instruments may not continue to play them is not unique. Many things people do as kids they do not do in their adult lives: long division, experiments with Bunsen burners, sentence diagramming. Sports don’t last either. When middle-aged people reclaim their team sport prowess in soccer, football, or basketball, they often end up injured and facing surgeries or time- consuming, expensive PT. But none of this really matters. The point is not, as Oppenheimer says, that music or ballet gives you lifelong skills. The point is not that those who play music will enjoy listening to it more and thus help prevent the seemingly imminent death of classical music audiences. (I mean that literally. Those audiences are old.)

Oppenheimer reminds us that kids can learn to make musics other than classical music. But other kinds of music take hard work, too. The campfire guitar thing notwithstanding, good guitar players practice as hard and with as much orthodoxy as any violin player. Virtuosic guitar solos quote Vivaldi, Paganini, and even Kreutzer etudes. And the point is not, as Paul Berman says in an articulate response, that classical music sounds  somehow bigger and more sublime than other kinds of music. For him, the Mendelssohn violin concerto stands as “one of those nineteenth-century violin pieces that manages to express a combination of the plaintive, the grand, and the mathematical. If you are listening to the performance of the Mendelssohn in the right spirit or God knows if you are yourself a performer, you will find yourself in the presence of a majestic something or other that is beyond all something or others. … Feelings of triumph will swell in your heart.” To me that concerto brings back bad memories of listening to young violinists saw away at that tune. Some classical tunes do feel sublime to me, and I know the feeling he articulates. For me it’s the Brahms Requiem. But that’s me—a forty-something viola player. It’s not universal. My jazz colleagues would argue that jazz comes with the kind of sublime potential that Berman hears in classical music. Jazz, a music that comes not from the nineteenth-century parlor but from African American traditions, requires intense technical and theoretical chops that remain elusive to many of the world’s best classical musicians. Hip hop, often held up as the most relevant to the most diverse group of kids, takes immense skill. Kids who learn to do that well need as much discipline and training as a good cello player.

But none of this is the point either. And whether or not Oppenheimer and I make our kids take violin lessons is also not the point. In the interest of full disclosure, I do make all three of my kids take music lessons. The real question is why more kids don't have access to violin lessons, to ballet, to hip hop, and to guitar—all of which have the potential to lead to a life-long creative practice. These endeavors do much more than build self-confidence and perseverance. Engagement with the arts transforms the ways in which students experience their environments. Exposure and experience with the arts gives kids a chance to develop their own creative impulses. Furthermore, the arts facilitate the development of impulse control, problem solving, executive functioning, and resiliency.

Sure, it’s wrong to assume that classical music speaks to every child, and it’s ridiculous at some level to assume that all middle-class kids need to play an instrument. But it’s also wrong to assume that since classical music doesn’t speak to some kinds of children, they shouldn’t get the opportunity to do it. Educational studies demonstrate correlations between arts activity among under-resourced youth and subsequent levels of academic performance and civic engagement. The achievement gap is a well-known problem, but there also exists a very real artistic gap, which does just as much damage. As the cultural gap widens between children living in poverty and affluent kids, those growing up in poverty feel progressively more alienated, first from their public schools and later from their universities.

The responses to Oppenheimer's article (and his heartfelt reply) suggest that this issue touches a chord. We all write from our own experience and passions. I am a classical musician and a music professor at the University of Virginia, a hold-out for bourgeois education; huge numbers of our students participate in fine arts. My children all begged for music lessons, but some weeks I have to make them do it, just as some nights I have to make them brush their teeth. Often they’d rather play outside, fight with each other, or even, dare I admit it?, play computer games. But some days they love it. I don’t care if they play their instruments in twenty years, but I do care that they have the option. I also run an arts community engagement program that pairs U. Va. students with children from under-resourced communities. The kids mostly come from African American families in which they will be the first to attend college. Mostly they have not been to live arts events of any kind outside of school.

Our two best events last year were a step show and a classical chamber music festival featuring a movement of the Brahms Serenade. One of my favorite moments in this program involved a ten-year-old fourth-grader who comes from a very tough situation asking the professional flautist, “Hey, have you ever heard of The Magic Flute?” He did this in a hall where fifty years ago African Americans would not have been able to sit and listen. I have no idea and do not care all that much whether he or any of the other kids we work with will play musical instruments, pursue fine arts, join a step team, perform spoken work, or any other kind of art. But they need to have that option. I certainly hope that they do something creative, and I certainly hope that they feel comfortable in a variety of artistic environments. The fact that they don’t reminds me that whether or not I make my kids come in from outside to play classical music instruments constitutes a kind of first-world problem that I am very lucky to have.


Bonnie Gordon is Associate Professor of Music and Director of Graduate Studies in Music at the University of Virginia.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Horses

The “grand carrousel du roia pageant-like affair with horses, music, and fireworkspresented in the Place Royale (Place des Vosges, Paris) during the first week of April 1612, celebrated the engagement of Louis XIII to Anne of Austria, royal princess of Spain. He was 11; she (a lifelong equestrian), 10. The event was commissioned by his mother, Marie de' Medici and, naturally, described by observers in detail.

     The Place Royale and the Carrousel in 1612
     Musée Carnavalet, Paris


The ballet à cheval, or horse ballet segment, was performed to music by Robert Ballard, royal printer of music, with choreography by the king's riding teacher, Antoine de Pluvinel.

the 2000 reconstruction
Walnut Creek, CA
A video feature on Kate van Orden's reconstruction of the ballet, as presented at the Berkeley Festival 2000 and revived in 2002, is linked HERE (m4v; takes time to download) and on her new Harvard University webpage. The project formed a portion of the research she presented in Music, Discipline, and Arms (University of Chicago Press, 2005).



Van Orden, who continues to appear as a Baroque bassoonist, will write further on these kinds of entertainments—texts, she says, of virtue, power, and redefining chivalry—in a blog post next month.

                                                                                —DKH

Friday, September 20, 2013

George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition

by Mark Clague

An aesthetic that spotlights the spontaneity of performance and invites infinite arrangement might seem strange territory for a scholarly edition. The music of George and Ira Gershwin finds inspiration, for example, at the intersections of jazz, blues, Tin Pan Alley, and the Broadway stage. While George’s forays into the concert hall invite the rigors of critical editing, the many versions of Gershwin works already in circulation speak to the sheer incongruity of the notion of a single, authoritative text. What would an edition of Rhapsody in Blue, “I Got Rhythm,” Of Thee I Sing, or Porgy and Bess look like? What might it accomplish? I’m pleased to report that we will soon find out.

Marc Gershwin, nephew of George and Ira Gershwin, announces the
U-M George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition, 15 September in Ann Arbor.
Photo
Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography



The families of George and Ira Gershwin have initiated a long-term collaboration with the American Music Institute at the University of Michigan to create the first-ever George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition. Anticipated to include all of the brothers’ artistic collaborations, plus George Gershwin’s concert works as well as their individual collaborations with others (as need dictates and opportunity permits), the entire project is expected to take three or four decades to complete. It will include orchestral works, piano and chamber music, individual songs, complete musicals, film scores, and—of course—the opera Porgy and Bess. The opera edition, in fact, is already underway and is being edited by musicologist Wayne Shirley, formerly of the Library of Congress. It is expected to be among the first volumes published. Many factors combine to make a critical edition of the works of George and Ira Gershwin both imperative and opportune:
  1. George’s early and unanticipated death at age 38 from a brain tumor meant that few of his works were published in his lifetime and under his supervision.
  2. George’s frequently compressed creative process—often for his most iconic works—resulted in portions being realized for performance before his effort was complete. This fragmentation creates multiple versions and competing editions. The vocal score to Porgy and Bess offers a good example, as it was realized from a pre-orchestrated sketch that the composer changed throughout the realization of the full score. The creative process of Rhapsody in Blue may be even more nuanced.
  3. No single music publisher had expertise in all the genres in which the Gershwins worked, introducing errors (say, when a typesetter did not understand Broadway notation conventions). Even today many of their works continue to circulate in original, often substandard editions with numerous errors and in poor-quality reproductions. This situation, or more exactly, complex of situations, has prevented a single, authoritative edition until now. 
  4. Many—often well intentioned—arrangers, editors, and publishers have “fixed” Gershwin scores to make them more practical to perform or to resolve notational discrepancies. These fixes may incorporate anachronistic distortions that, for example, introduce the gestures of 1940s swing jazz or restore cuts Gershwin himself had decided to make. 
  5. The vast majority of Gershwin sources has finally been consolidated in the Gershwin Collection at the Library of Congress, and the Gershwin family is now determined to see a scholarly edition through to completion.   

Top of Rhapsody in Blue autograph showing original notation of the clarinet "glissando."
Library of Congress
A critical edition of George and Ira Gershwin’s work cannot resolve every ambiguity or clarify beyond doubt or criticism what the composer or lyricist intended, any more than it can realize the works which George would have written had he lived to a ripe old age. Yet, this remarkable invitation to scholars from the George and Ira Gershwin families opens the doors to what is certain to be an incredible opportunity to reconsider and refresh a powerful body of creative work. Discoveries will be made, certainly, about the brothers’ working methods as well as meanings of their work. We’ll trace, for example, the development of Gershwin’s much criticized but in fact formidable skill as an orchestrator in exhaustive detail. We’ll also come to appreciate the guidance of Ira himself in the form of the many handwritten notes he left among George’s papers to explain the inspiration and circumstances of specific works.

Most importantly, the works of George and Ira Gershwin will for the first time and at long last be available in pristine, authoritative editions that will allow musicians to focus on interpretation rather than on note identification, leading to informed performances and continued enjoyment by audiences everywhere. 

Mark Clague is Associate Professor of Music, American Culture, and African American Studies at the University of Michigan, and editor-in-chief of the Gershwin Critical Edition.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

AMS Plenary Lecture:
Richard Crawford on Gershwin

by Christopher Reynolds

The American Musicological Society is pleased to announce an endowed plenary lecture to take place at its annual national meetings in November. The President's Endowed Plenary Lecture will be given each year by a music scholar of particular distinction. First recipient of this honor is Richard Crawford, the Hans T. David Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Musicology at the University of Michigan, who will speak on “Mr. Gershwin's Catfish Row Spirituals.” The lecture takes place Thursday, November 7, 2013, from 5:30 to 6:30 pm at the Wyndham Grand Hotel Pittsburgh Downtown, 600 Commonwealth Place, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The public is invited.

Many scholarly societies have such events, either as lectures or as sessions that bring together two or more distinguished speakers. To name just two, the American Council of Learned Societies has a long tradition of Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lectures, a series named after the first chairman of ACLS. The chosen speakers—among them the composer Milton Babbitt (1991) and, soon, the ethnomusicologist Bruno Nettl (2014)—are asked “to reflect on a lifetime of work as a scholar and an institution builder, on the motives, the chance determinations, the satisfactions (and dissatisfactions) of the life of learning, to explore through one’s own life the larger, institutional life of scholarship.”

And the American Association for the Advancement of Science proclaims that their AAAS Plenary Lectures “provide an opportunity for meeting attendees to hear from world renowned speakers who have a passion for science and technology.”

Although the American Musicological Society co-sponsors lectures at the Library of Congress and at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, it had done nothing of this sort since the early 1990s, when there was a tradition of an annual presidential address that took place at the society's business meeting. The Board of Directors, as part of an enhanced mission of "public musicology," welcomed the idea of a new plenary session—that is, one addressed to the membership at large. It was made possible by the philanthropic altruism of former AMS president Elaine Sisman (Columbia University) and her husband Martin Fridson.

Plenary lecturer Richard Crawford is not only a scholar whose books and articles have shaped our view of American musical history, but his decades long stewardship of the MUSA series of editions (Music of the United States of America)—remarkably now in its 25th year—is helping to establish a diverse canon of American music made available in scholarly editions. An article on Crawford and the lecture appears in the August issue of the AMS Newsletter, page 8.

The intent of our new plenary lecture is to provide an occasion that brings together as many members of the Society as possible for a moment that is at once intellectually stimulating and socially festive. For those who are unable to be there in person, we intend to film the lecture and make it available on our web site.

Come one, come all … but come early, because this will take place in a room that only seats 750 or so.

Editor's Note: our own recap of the lecture is available here

Christopher Reynolds is President of the American Musicological Society.  He is Professor of Music at the University of California, Davis.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Debussy at 150

by Jann Pasler

Debussy by Nadar
On the 150th anniversary of Debussy’s birth, new perspectives on his life and music continue to emerge, as well as new questions. From his contracts with his publisher, we wonder if Debussy’s need for money had impact on his artistic creation. From new editions of unfinished works, we puzzle over his intentions. Certainly Debussy was a pioneer of modernism, influencing composers from Olivier Messiaen to Hugues Dufourt in France, and others as far away as the USA, Japan, Brazil, and Mexico. He was also deeply rooted in his times, his reputation linked to the discourses that helped to construct it, including our concerns today with race, politics, and popular culture. In original and provocative ways, scholars have plumbed the depths of individual pieces and techniques.

What is needed next is the long view. Over the years, did Debussy’s concepts of genre, tonality, timbre, and time change and evolve? How has his influence on other composers affected how we hear his music as well as theirs? And what are we missing by insisting on Debussy’s exceptionalism?
from “Debussy the Man, His Music, and His Legacy: An Overview of Current Research,” Notes  69/2 (December 2012): 197–216. 


Jann Pasler is Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego, and editor of the series AMS Studies in Musicology. She is author of the blockbuster pair of recent books, Writing through Music: Essays on Music, Culture, and Politics (Oxford UP, 2008) and Composing the Citizen: Music as Public Utility in Third Republic France (University of California Press, 2009).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Englands green & pleasant Land

To judge from video footage of Last Night of the Proms, 2013, the “dark Satanic Mills” that William Blake references in Jerusalem—Britain's other national anthem (Hubert Parry, 1916)—were on the minds of exactly nobody. 

There on the podium stood the American conductor Marin Alsop, the first woman to conduct what is doubtless the world's most famous annual concert but for New Year's in Vienna. You really wanted to think this wasn't such a big deal anymore: Alsop herself has been around, and high profile, for almost a generation. I was a fan of Sarah Caldwell 50 years ago. 




But in fact Alsop's evening was a Very Big Deal. As she noted in her eight-minute address from the podium, “I have to say I'm still quite shocked that it could be 2013 and there could be firsts for women.” (“Here's to the seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths, hundredths,” she went on when the applause died down.) 

“Girl's can't do that” came up “just last week,” she reminded us—this of course an allusion to Vasily Petrenko's appalling remarks to the Oslo Aftenposten to the effect that “musicians react better when they have a man in front of them;” “a cute girl on a podium means that the musicians think about other things.” “When they are faced with a man there are less erotic distractions, and with less sexual energy the musicians can focus on the music.” He went on, too, about the demands of motherhood, and his eventual backpedaling after a well-warranted international hue-and-cry—”I meant to be describing the situation in Russia”—didn't help his case much.

Alsop was right to suggest that Henry Wood and the founders would have been pleased by this late but obvious next-step: the series established in Queen's Hall in 1895 along the lines of the old pleasure-garden concerts in England and on the continent was specifically meant to create “a public for classical and modern music” “in easy stages.”

Just earlier in the second half, another American, Joyce diDonato (born in Prairie Village, Kansas, no less), topped her two sets with a matchless “Over the Rainbow.”

This, too, was messaged (again, toward Russia): her “signature tune,” she said in advance, was offered to the LGBT community: “In the last few months [the song] has become particularly pertinent given what’s going on in Russia. This is particularly something I want to do for those over there who don’t have a voice.” Her lengthier written statement was posted on her website.

Overt political statements are theoretically forbidden at the Proms, though the meanings at issue were as obvious as Nigel Kennedy's Aston Villa football shirt. There was also, as noted in the press, a palpable sense of best behavior—and Alsop's dignified aplomb through the hubub (above all in Kennedy's bizarre Czárdás, unfunny and on the whole unpleasant) said as much about her achievement as the first-rate music she made. It was, in a word, historic.

                                                                                —DKH

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Bellini alla Malibran

by Hilary Poriss

In the autumn of 1832, when Maria Malibran (1808–36) was at the height of her fame—recognized widely as one of the most accomplished and exciting prima donnas touring the international operatic circuit—she arrived at Bologna’s Teatro Comunale where she took on the trousers role of Romeo in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi (Venice, 1830) for the first time. No different from other celebrated singers of her era, Malibran was accustomed to approaching unfamiliar scores with a sense of freedom, making use of aria insertions when necessary. What she and her co-star Giuliettas did with the final scene of I Capuleti e i Montecchi, the “tomb scene,” however, was extraordinary: they eliminated all of Bellini’s music and replaced it with the corresponding scene from the older, but still popular, Giulietta e Romeo by Nicola Vaccai (Milan, 1825). 
 
Like many other substitutions that occurred within the bel canto repertory, this one did not disappear when the final curtain of the season was drawn. Following the Bologna production, Malibran played Romeo on at least five other occasions, each time trading in Bellini’s music for Vaccai’s. What is more, beginning as early as 1833 other divas began to follow her lead, performing the opera “alla Malibran.” Librettos reveal that nearly two thirds of all productions between 1833 and 1857 featured the Vaccai ending. The practice of replacing Bellini’s music with Vaccai’s had become so common, in fact, that a piano-vocal score published by Ricordi includes Vaccai’s scene in an appendix. A note prefacing it reads: “To be substituted, if desired, as is generally done, for the last scene of Bellini’s opera.”

A resounding testament to the fascination that this version continues to exert is the recent publication of two new scholarly explorations of the topic: the first, an expansive article by Michael Collins sketching out the production history of I Capuleti e i Montecchi; the second, by Claudio Toscani, a detailed exploration of the reception of the tomb-scene alteration throughout European centers during the nineteenth century. (Toscani’s essay was written in conjunction with his work as editor of the critical edition of I Capuleti e i Montecchi.)* Collins and Toscani introduce a pair of important, and overlapping, details: the startling discovery, for one thing, that Maria Malibran was not, in fact, the first singer in the role of Romeo to perform Vaccai’s tomb scene in place of Bellini’s. Whether or not Malibran was the first to change the tomb scene, however, that version was soon widely known as the “pasticcio alla Malibran.” It was she who generated the fashion.

Stephanie Friedman as Romeo in
I Capuleti e i Montecchi

For another: substituting the Vaccai ending was not the only alteration that Malibran and her Giuliettas made. On the occasion of her initial appearance as Romeo in Bologna, she and Sofia Schoberlechner eliminated the Act I scena e duetto, “Sì, fuggire: a noi non resta,” in favor of a new duet: “Tremante, palpitante,” composed by Filippo Celli for his little known and little performed opera Ezio (Rome, 1824). This was well received: the critic for Teatri arti e letteratura commented that “the duet by Cavalier Celli from Ezio, which possesses many good qualities, above all in the Largo, was performed with the most exquisite perfection that it would be absolutely impossible to surpass it, and even one might say, to equal it.” Yet there is no evidence that any Romeo-and-Giulietta sang it in Bellini’s opera ever again.

By contrast, for every production in which Malibran participated, she and her co-star (either Schoberlechner or Giuseppina Ruiz-Garcia) interpolated Mercadante’s “Vanne: se alberghi in petto” from Andronico (Venice, 1821)—this time replacing none of Bellini’s music. Mercadante’s duet had a long-lasting impact on the performance history of I Capuleti e i Montecchi that—like the tomb-scene alteration—was also tied to Malibran’s unique biographical story, or rather, to one of its most interesting facets: her premature death following a violent horse riding accident in 1836 at the tragically young age of twenty-eight.
—Adapted from Maria Malibran, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, and a Tale of Suicide, ch. 4 of Changing the Score: Arias, Prima Donnas, and the Authority of Performance, AMS Studies in Music (Oxford UP, 2009).

*See Michael Collins, “Bellini and the Pasticcio alla Malibran: A Performance History of I Capuleti e i Montecchi,Note su note 9–10 (2002): 109–52; and Claudio Toscani, “Bellini e Vaccaj: peripezie di un finale,” in Vincenzo Bellini nel secondo centenario della nascita, ed. Graziella Seminara and Anna Tedesco (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 2004), 535-67; also Toscani's edition: Vincenzo Bellini, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, ed. Claudio Toscani, in Edizione critica delle opere di Vincenzo Bellini, vol. 6 (Milan: Ricordi, 2003), xi–xxix. In addition, Philip Gossett discusses this alteration and its aftermath in Divas and Scholars (University of Chicago Press, 2006), 211–12.


Hilary Poriss is Associate Professor of Music at Northeastern University in Boston.  She is editor, with Roberta Montemorra Marvin, of Fashions and Legacies of Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera (Cambridge UP, 2009); and, with Rachel Cowgill, The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century (Oxford UP, 2012).

Monday, September 2, 2013

The H word

Humanities. A summer of glossy manifestos and thoroughgoing press response kicked off when Harvard published its treatise on the future of arts and humanities there. In mid June the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released its report on the status of humanities and social sciences in the nation: The Heart of the Matter. And the first repercussions from Stephen Pinker's piece in the New Republic of 6 August, "Science is Not Your Enemy" (and its in-your-face subtitle: “an impassioned plea to neglected novelists, embattled professors, and tenure-less historians”), are still being felt. Oh, and the House Appropriations Committee proposed to cut NEH funding by 49%.

Musicology and musicologists are at the table: for instance Anne C. Shreffler, a scholar of the 20th-century avant-garde, is among the signers of the Harvard piece, and former AMS president Elaine Sisman represented the AMS at the launch of The Heart of the Matter in Washington DC. (We expect to offer, in due course, her thoughts on what is missing from The Heart.)

A selection, then, of summer reading in case you missed it:

Harvard's report, 31 May 2013


American Academy of Arts and Sciences: report of the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences

Steven Pinker in The New Republic 
  • Steven Pinker, “Science is Not Your Enemy,” New Republic, 6 August 2013 
  • Concerning the pushback from Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic posted on YouTube, in Jerry A. Coyne's blog Why Evolution is True, 8 August 2013
  • Massimo Pigliucci's take, “Bad Move, I Think,” from his blog Rationally Speaking, 12 August 2013
etc. etc. etc.


Still More (those pesky numbers)
                                                                              DKH


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Pedagogically Speaking

by Stephen C. Meyer

At the forthcoming annual meeting of the American Musicological Society in Pittsburgh I will conclude my three-year term on the AMS Teaching Fund Committee by presenting this year's award. The various applications that I read in the course of these three years provided a kind of window—albeit a very limited one—onto the pedagogical landscape of our discipline. It's not surprising that this landscape should be dominated by the discussion of new digital technologies. A teaching fund application that did not in some way reference these technologies was almost as rare as a colon-less title for an AMS conference paper. It's no exaggeration to say that all of us who teach music history are thinking about how and when to use these technologies, and how they might enhance or detract from the teaching and learning experience. What struck me most was not the diversity of responses that we have to these new technologies (this, I think, goes without saying), but rather the way in which they have come to dominate thinking about music history pedagogy.

I found myself ruminating about the history of our discipline, and wondering how a similar set of applications might have looked a generation ago (well before the teaching fund was established). My guess is that the majority of applications would have been concerned with course content, rather than with issues of content delivery. I could imagine proposals to develop new courses, for example, on women and music, on various aspects of popular music, on film music, or on the intersection of music and politics. Of course, the curricular transformation of the late twentieth century—the “pedagogical turn” of the 80s and 90s—was rooted in larger discussions (or debates) about value; about the intersection of music and gender or race, about canon formation and cultural hegemony: in short, about all of the ways in which music is bound up with the messy world of individual and social identity. These kinds of discussions had little or no bearing on the teaching fund applications of our own day. We have witnessed another pedagogical turn, but one of a distinctly different kind.

It is fairly easy to discern the links between the “pedagogical turn” of the 1980s or 90s and the “new musicology” of a slightly earlier time period. The connections between the pedagogical turn of our own day and analogous trends however, are more difficult to see. Many of the applications that I read were rooted in some newer research into learning strategies and pedagogical effectiveness, and one might even draw further connections to the relatively new fields of music and cognition or music and neuroscience. From my perspective, however, the most important context for the pedagogical turn of our time is not these scholarly developments, but rather the uneasy awareness of fundamental shifts in higher education, and in our society at large. There are deep fears that our pedagogical practices are not keeping pace with those of sister disciplines such as art history or textual studies. There are concerns about continuing decline in the numbers of humanities majors; about the viability of graduate programs in an era in which higher education is seen as nothing more than a training ground for a well-paying job; about the general financial health of the institutions in which we work. Digital technologies are changing the ways in which our students learn and process information, and many of us fear that these changes are not all for the good. The rise of MOOCs causes many of us to wonder about the future of our profession: to imagine a potentially impoverished future in which music history pedagogy would essentially be the province of a highly specialized and elite corps of master teachers.

I share all of these fears (and more besides), and I wonder sometimes if the professionalization of music history teaching—its place as a discipline of higher education—will appear to future generations as the relic of a strange or anomalous historical period. But if my involvement with the Journal of Music History Pedagogy and my brief stint on the AMS Teaching Fund Committee has not eliminated these fears, it has at least given me a different perspective. I've been deeply impressed by the diverse ways in which colleagues are responding to new digital technologies; I've been heartened to see our discipline turning to pedagogical issues with seriousness and intentionality. And I wonder if perhaps our position as practitioners of music history (as opposed to some other kind) gives us a unique voice in the larger discussion about the role of the humanities in higher education, and more generally about the intersection of learning and technology.


Stephen C. Meyer is Associate Professor of Music at Syracuse University and assistant editor of the Journal of Music History Pedagogy, published online by the American Musicological Society.