Tuesday, July 03, 2007
What to teach?
A few months ago my friend and colleague, Carlos Carrillo, put together a microfestival of new music, including two nights of concerts sandwiching a microsymposium with himself and yours truly. I posted about the preparations for it here and here. During the small but lively discussion, a student asked whether we should change the standard theory curriculum to reflect changes in performance opportunities in the "real world." We had been discussing the success of new music ensembles such as eighth blackbird (who will be visiting artists here at DePauw next year), Alarm Will Sound, Bang on a Can (who will also be performing here), and ICE. This student figured that if he and his peers would be more likely to perform contemporary music after college, the theory and musicianship sequences should perhaps be more heavily weighted to contemporary music. Currently we have 3.5 semesters of tonal theory and musicianship, .5 semesters of 20th-21st century theory and musicianship, and one 1/2 credit course on the history and theory of 20th century music. Instead of immediately agreeing with this student, I have been pondering what background in tonal theory is necessary to understand atonal theory, and likewise for musicianship. It is no secret that students are coming in knowing less and less of the classic music literature of all periods, so that is a deficiency that must be addressed in the history and theory curricula. But should so much time be devoted to the theory and analysis of tonal music? Certainly it should not be abolished, as plenty of our students will be performing common practice music as band directors, wedding musicians, etc. But what balance do you think is right? (I'm attempting to more directly engage my readers this week, which is probably bad timing with the holidays (Happy belated Canada Day to my northern readers)).