MUSIC EDUCATION IN OUR MULTIMUSICAL CULTURE
Over the past several decades, music educators have attempted to grapple with issues relating to the existence in American culture of musics from all over the world. Particularly since the Tanglewood Symposium of 1967, our consciousness has been raised about our obligation to take those musics seriously and include them in our school programs in ways that give them the respect they deserve. Thousands if not millions of words have been written on the subject. Yet the complexities are so great that we must continue to address them in our search for solutions that are philosophically, sociologically, musically, and educationally valid.
The complexities stem, ironically, from present-day America's musical abundance. What does it mean to be musically literate in a culture such as ours where music in its multitudinous manifestations is now so easily accessible that our problem, unique in human history until only the latter part of the twentieth century, is not musical deprivation, which had always been the case for the great masses of people in Western culture, but musical inundation? What is the role of music education in a musical culture of overwhelming plenitude?
Diversity and Quality
Answering such questions requires us to address two very important educational issues. The first has to do with the diversity of musical experience--the horizontal issue. The second has to do with the quality of musical experience--the vertical issue. Music education in a culture such as ours is obligated to try to achieve for all citizens the most effective possible interrelation of the horizontal with the vertical, that is, of breadth or diversity with depth or quality. We have made our most serious errors when we have allowed the balance we need to achieve between the two to get out of whack. We have most often allowed that to happen by sacrificing breadth to a limited concept of depth. Major challenges facing music education in the next decades are to achieve a better understanding of what musical breadth and musical depth might validly mean, and to improve our programs to better exemplify the balances between the two that are relevant to the culture we exist to serve.
In the matter of the horizontal (diversity), music educators are likely to agree that we want every member of American culture to have the capacity to share the heterogeneous musical treasures afforded by this perhaps most bounteous of all cultures. Would we be willing to consider people musically literate in our culture if they had no idea of what was going on at, say, a Fourth-of-July band concert? Or had no notion o what was transpiring at a jazz festival? Or were so bewildered by computer-generated music as to have no idea of how to begin to process it? Or had no awareness of musical traditions other than those in the West? We might say that these people are literate, but only about whatever particular music they happen to know how to experience. Are we willing to settle for this as a viable definition of literacy and as a viable expectation for music education outcomes? Most of us are not likely to settle for this definition and would adopt a broader view as to what reasonably constitutes musical literacy in a multimusical culture such as ours.
The term "multimusical culture" describes what actually exists in modern America more accurately than the more common term "multicultural music." The term "multicultural music" glosses over the fact that there exists an identifiable American culture, rooted in Western traditions yet enhanced by all the many world traditions that give the particular flavor and distinctiveness to this nation. We are a culture--a very special culture with identifiable characteristics. We have many musics within our culture-we are a multimusical culture. How, then, do we help our citizens achieve the kind of musical literacy relevant to full membership in our unique culture? Musical literacy in this case means the ability to share the many types of musical experience available in our multimusical culture-the ability to understand them and engage appropriately with them so that we can enjoy and cherish them.
It would be easy to help everyone achieve such literacy if we were a "unimusical" culture (there are very few of those left in the world) or if we were a culture heavily dominated by one particular music (there are somewhat more about those). The unique factor in American culture, and therefore the unique challenge for American music education, is that there are so many musics in our culture that it would be impossible to begin to do justice to all of them even if we were given the time for music instruction that we feel we should have.
Three Musical Needs
We need some principle here, some way to break through the dilemma we face in having to satisfy three equally urgent musical needs. First, we need to honor, preserve, and propagate for everyone in America the musical traditions of the Western world--the culture in which the United States exists and in which it has its historical roots. To minimize or abandon those traditions would be to minimize or abandon our own cultural identification as a nation. We would not dream of suggesting to nations outside the West that they should minimize or deemphasize their historical musical cultures. In fact, we worry terribly, or should worry terribly, that some third-world countries might be doing just that in their attempts to "modernize," which is, in our world, a euphemism for "Westernize." Equally, we should not dream of de-emphasizing our own history and its musical achievements.
But that brings us squarely against the second urgent musical need--to honor and preserve the varieties of musics of the many cultural subgroups in America. The peculiarly American cultural reality is precisely captured by these two musical needs--that we are a culture with a particular identification and also a culture with multitudinous identifications, each aspect requiring our respect, devotion, and loving protection. The uniqueness of the American experience as a whole is its need to keep in balanced tension (a nice oxymoron) a devotion to national unity and also a devotion to subcultural, personal associations. Music must do the same.
The third urgent musical need reflects another essential characteristic of our culture--that each citizen, in addition to having the right to share America's Western heritage and the right to identify with a particular cultural heritage, also has the right to share freely in all the cultural diversity of an open society. It is not enough to say that musical literacy for each person would consist of an understanding of two musics--the European tradition and that person's particular ethnic tradition. Full American citizenship implies free access to, and respectful, delightful sharing of, the many subcultures out of which our nation is made. The opportunity to live a life simultaneously at three cultural levels--the national level that all citizens share, the particular level that being a member of a subgroup provides, and the cross-cultural level that allows one to share freely in the cultural particularities of subgroups other than one's own--is the great cultural gift of being an American. Surely the diversity these three levels provide makes our country particularly wealthy with cultural goods, and we should be grateful for such wealth. To make the musical dimension of that wealth fully available to all our citizens is to provide effective musical literacy for all our citizens.
General and Specific Programs
The general music program in grades K through 12 is that segment of music education responsible for providing the broadest, most relevant musical literacy for all our citizens. That is why general music should be required for all children in schools. One cannot be a literate American if one is illiterate regarding the nation's music. Are our general music programs uniformly and effectively devoted to producing the kind of comprehensive musical literacy relevant to the multimusical realities of present-day American culture and what this culture is becoming?
The special music program is that segment of music education responsible for providing elective opportunities for those students who choose to engage in them. We cannot require such electives because each of them caters to a special interest that only some students have. Think, for a moment, of the staggering diversity of what such special interests might be, given the variety of musics represented in our culture, the different ways each of them can be approached (whether through composing, improvising, performing, or listening), and the countless particular subdivisions of each music (both in the broad Western tradition and in each specific cultural tradition, many of which include styles from the most broadly popular to the most narrowly esoteric). Suppose some students in schools were interested in learning, in an intensive way, about some special dimension of this incredibly diverse array of musical engagements. Are our available elective music programs uniformly and effectively devoted to providing opportunities for intensive study relevant to the multitudinous musical realities of American culture as it exists today and as it is changing each day?
In far too many cases, both our general music programs and our elective programs continue to be based on models haying little to do with the multimusical nature of the culture in which we now live. That is why "school music" has so often been regarded both by the general public and by active adult musicians as something that happens only in schools-something quite separate from music as it actually takes place outside of schools. School music has seemed to too many people to have its own literature, its own styles and genres, its own special interests seldom found to be interesting by people when they go home from school and immerse themselves in the music that exists all around them in the nonschool world.
There is a great deal that is very good about school music and very important about school music. It's just that there is also a great deal more than that in the world of music.
The past thirty or so years have brought some significant changes to music education in the direction of a better fit between music in schools and music after school. The aesthetic education movement and the comprehensive musicianship movement were mutually reinforcing attempts to open up music education--to open up the music literature included in school programs, the ways to engage students with music, and the ways to study music beyond step-by-step skill building. So we have begun the journey toward a broader understanding of what music education might be and what musical literacy might consist of in the world of music in modern America. How do we continue that journey in directions that will allow us to make the best possible contributions to America's musical culture and to the young people we are preparing to be able to fully share in it?
We are responsible for enhancing both the breadth, or diversity, and the depth, or quality, with which our young people can participate in music. We have to introduce all students to more different musics than they would otherwise be likely to encounter, and we have to do so in ways that deepen their ability to experience all those musics with discernment and understanding. In addition, of course, we have to provide special opportunities for some students to explore particular musical involvements such as performing, composing, improvising, or studying different styles and types of music they might find compelling.
What might guide us toward achieving the kind of broad and deep cultural applicability we have already begun to seek? Is there a principle that can serve to unify and give direction to the many specific efforts we'll have to make as we work toward improving the musicial significance and relevance of our offerings?
I would like to suggest a principle that might serve this purpose: Everything we teach should exemplify the tripartite nature of music. First, all music is, in certain respects, like all other music. Second, all music is, in certain other respects, like some other music. And third, all music is, in still other respects, like no other music. This paradoxical nature of music--that it is at one and the same time a universal phenomenon, a culturebound phenomenon, and a unique phenomenon--can, if we use it as an organizing principle, keep us focused on what our students need to know in order to share fully in the special character of American musical culture.
Music as Universal
Knowing Why. At the broadest level of the paradox, our students need to understand, through our efforts to help them understand, that music is a "panhuman constant." All humans, throughout all of history and in every culture, have had some sort of music. No matter when it existed or where it exists, we can recognize, when we are presented with an instance of it, that what we are confronting is music. We can recognize it as music because it has several characteristics nothing else has. It always uses sounds, and the sounds are always organized in some way or other by human choices. This organization of sounds is always experienced as meaningful, significant, compelling, and important. The sounds always intensify human experience. They capture a sense of human knowing at a level including inner subjectivities; that is, musical sounds always engage human feelings. They also always engage the human imagination, both in creating those sounds and in responding imaginatively to the musical sounds created by others.
Music always calls for craftsmanship and sensitivity, both in creating it and responding to it. Music has always used the capacity of the body to generate sounds, as in singing, and it has also always used the capacity of the inventive mind to create sound-makers beyond what the body can produce. The organization of musical sounds always includes some degree or mixture of repetition and change, in which forces are activated, propelled, and finally brought to closure. All pieces of music and all performances of music in any culture or setting can be assessed according to pertinent musical and cultural criteria, and these criteria can be learned and applied by anyone hoping to be musically literate in that culture.
On and on goes the list. The point is that all students, regardless of age, need to be helped to develop the understanding that music is a human phenomenon that is, in all these respects and others far too numerous to be mentioned here, transcultural and transpersonal. All cultural subgroups in America have music-because all of those subgroups are made up of human beings.
All the knowings relating to the universal level of the nature of music may be termed "knowing why." They are knowings largely associated with the fields of musical aesthetics and music criticism. Knowing why is an essential way we know music, and we must spend far more time in teaching it if our citizenry is to be educated about, or literate about, music. But knowing why is not sufficient, and if it is too dominant it can lead to a music program that is too abstract. We must also include the second level of the nature of music--the level of particular cultural contexts.
Music as Culture-Bound
Knowing About. At this level, the characteristics of all music become embedded in the particularities of this and that specific music. We need to help our students understand what it is that causes every type and style of music to have identifiable qualities by immersing them in the many differences (and also the many similarities) among different musics. They need to know that every culture has its way of construing what music is. They need to learn about the specifics of many of these different cultural manifestations--how the universal use of basic musical characteristics becomes particularized to be recognizably, say, Native American or Tennessee Mountain or Chicano or Central African or Balinese. At this level we are teaching each music as it exists in its particular context--as it exists like some other music. What this suggests is that to be musically literate one must not only know what music is like as a generality; one must also know that each kind of music is a manifestation of a particular cultural belief system about how sounds should properly be made into music.
The kind of knowings relating to this level (particular cultural contexts) may be termed "knowing about." They are knowings associated with musical analysis in the context of music history and music sociology and anthropology. These are a second essential aspect of music education to which we are going to have to pay more attention than we have in the past. Our education to prepare us to be music teachers included, typically, a reasonably detailed study of the cultural contexts of Western classical music from Baroque through the present (if we were lucky, that is). But that is only one segment of present-day American musical culture, important though it is. There are so many other musics about which we know too little, causing us to stick too close to that one tradition on which our own training was likely to have focused. That tradition is, indeed, a fundamental one for our culture, so it must continue to play an important role. But we need to go beyond it, and therefore we need to broaden the music literatures studied by teachers in training and to continue the musical education of teachers in service.
The latter suggestion may seem a bit unreasonable given the kinds of lives that working music teachers lead. But we must remember that many other professionals who work very hard also have to scramble continually to keep up with new developments in their fields. Our increasing knowledge about more of the many musics existing in our culture will allow us to help our students know more about those musics so that they can gain access to them more freely and intelligently.
But just as knowing why, by itself, is not sufficient and can be overemphasized, knowing about is also not sufficient and, if overused, can misdirect the music program by making it too much like a social studies program. This is a real danger we have to guard against, and it leads directly to the third level of the nature of music--the level at which every musical encounter is, in an important sense, unique.
Music as Unique
Knowing Within and Knowing How. Music comes finally to its resting place within us when it includes our sense of its universality as a phenomenon, includes our understanding of its particular cultural setting, and transcends both. It then becomes a unique experience, combining the uniqueness of these particular sounds and the uniqueness of who we are as particular persons experiencing these sounds. This inner interaction, of these sounds with this person at this moment in time, is where the reality of music ultimately exists.
This reality can and often does go beyond one's own cultural identification. We cannot suddenly be members of a foreign culture, experiencing music as natives of that culture can, but we can share something of what they are experiencing while at the same time retaining our own reality as persons. We cannot suddenly live in the culture in which Bach lived because that culture is gone. No one alive today can possibly be what those alive in Bach's time were. Yet we can share something of what they were while still being who we are. That is true for all the many musics with which we come into contact and with which we bring our students into contact. In all cases, what they know of the "why" of music and what they know "about" music will be transformed by their own personhood into what may be termed "knowing within" music--the unique internalization of this special musical event by this special and unique human being at this particular moment in .which the experience is taking place.
This internalization occurs in two basic ways--by creating music (composing, performing, improvising) and by listening to the music other people have created. No matter what else we do as music educators, listening and creating must remain the foundation of our programs. The knowings why and knowings about must serve the greater end of knowing within, and that knowing, despite its being a universal kind of knowing and despite its being a culturally embedded kind of knowing, is also, ultimately, a singular and unique phenomenon every time it occurs.
The quality of that phenomenon depends in part on the person's understanding of what music is like at the universal level and in part on his or her understanding of the context of that particular music. But it also depends on the perceptual and affective depth with which a person can engage musical sounds. That depth is directly affected by attentive, perceptive composing; attentive, perceptive performing; attentive, perceptive improvising; and attentive, perceptive listening. So at the core of music education, giving it its life and its ultimate reason for being, is how we affect the depth and quality of personal musical experience--an individual's knowing within music by creating it and listening to it.
Creating music requires a knowing in addition to knowing why, knowing about, and knowing within. In order to create music, a great many skills are required and a particular way of knowing is essential, one that combines musical imagination with musical action. Such knowing may be termed "knowing how." It builds on the other three musical knowings and adds the dimension of bringing meaningful sounds into being through composing, performing, or improvising. Knowing how puts one into the position of being able to create for oneself, and others, the knowing within that one is experiencing.
But the skills needed to accomplish this--to create music--are not limited to the skills associated with any one particular know-how, such as the know-how to play in a band or orchestra or to sing in a chorus. We have tended to make the error of assuming that these particular know-hows are the essential ones for any musical creating, which is simply not true. They are essential for that particular kind of creating, and that is and will remain, we would all profoundly hope, an important kind of creating. But musical creativity, is broader than band, orchestra, or chorus and includes performing, improvising, and composing in musical traditions requiring many know-hows different from the ones we have so relentlessly focused upon. So we will have to expand the ways we engage our students in opportunities to be musically creative; those opportunities will have to reflect more fully the diverse musical creativities--the diverse musical know-hows--existing in our culture.
While all students must learn to know how as an essential component of their general music education and while some students will take special opportunities to learn to know how and will achieve high degrees of proficiency through elective study, all students will continue to experience music beyond that which they can create for themselves, by listening to music. We ourselves do this. So in both general music classes and elective offerings we must assist all students to know within more broadly than their own creating can accomplish. We must help them develop the perceptiveness, imaginativeness, and informed understanding that active, creative listening requires. We have too often underestimated the musical intelligence that perceptive listening calls for and have, therefore, underplayed its importance. Giving listening the attention it deserves in all aspects of the music program would get us closer to the way most people in our culture experience music, especially in light of the extreme heterogeneity of such experiences so readily available in our culture through listening.
We need to be more in touch with the realities of American musical culture. As educators, we need to affect how our students can get to know that culture more extensively and more discerningly. We need to help students internalize the four kinds of knowing relating to music--the four aspects of musical cognition. Knowing within and knowing how are basic; they constitute musical experience itself. Knowing about and knowing why are contributory; they affect the breadth and depth of the other two. Our agenda now is to achieve better balances of the four aspects of musical cognition, recognizing that different balances are needed for each aspect of the music program: general music, performance, improvisation, and composition. As we broaden our repertoire of programmatic balances, our repertoire of musics we include as valid for study, and our perspectives on the universality of music, the cultural connectedness of music, and the uniqueness of musical experiences, we will be better able to bring music and people closer together in our multimusical culture.
PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE):Drummer displaying his talent to a young girl.
PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE):A lady and child playing musical instruments.
PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE):Steel pan music
Urgent Musical Needs
Dimensions of Musical Cognition
- to make America's Western musical heritage available to all citizens
- to honor and preserve the music of cultural subgroups in America
- to provide citizens access to music of subgroups other than their own
Music is at one and the same time universal, culture-bound, and unique. Students need to be helped to develop:
- knowing why
- knowing about
- knowing within
- knowing how
By Bennett Reimer
Bennett Reimer discusses the challenges faced by music educators in a multimusical culture.
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