Monday, June 20, 2005

The Purpose of Music Education

Two stories have me pondering the purpose of music education at two different levels.

First, a high school countertenor was prevented from auditioning for the Texas All-State Choir. Mikhael Rawls had sent each of the board members of the Texas Music Educators Association a 35-page packet to make his case, including the recent resurgence of Baroque opera and the historical use of Men and Boys Choirs (not so historical, as most big Episcopal and Anglican churches still use them, including countertenors). The Board sent him back a one-page rejection, citing the traditional organization of choirs in Texas. While I find the one-page rejection to have completely failed in offering to educate the young lad (and the NPR-listening audience), I do see a reason for rejecting his petition. A standard SATB choir (Soprano-Alto-Tenor-Bass) has a very different blend of voices from a Men-n-Boys Choir, and both choirs are very different from the use of solo countertenors in Baroque (and Classical) music. The Board could have argued that the countertenor voice has a distinctively different timbre from female mezzo-soprano voices, especially youthful high school mezzo-soprano voices. Because of this large difference, it would be difficult for the choir director to effectively blend Mikhael's voice in with the rest of the mezzos. But the Board did not make this argument, neglecting their role as leaders in music education.

Second, an adjunct violin professor thinks about quitting to become a lawyer, partially because he feels guilty about recruiting students in a field that has a dearth of jobs. I used to feel that way, regarding schools of music like Indiana U. to be unethical in the production of so many performance majors. But I have a different attitude now, and no, it was not caused by me getting summer gigs at IU. It was through teaching performance majors at smaller music schools, students who were unlikely to win auditions for orchestras or opera companies, that made me rethink what the purpose of a performance degree is.

While my BM in performance was from a conservatory of music, I really ended up treating it as a liberal arts study in music. I took courses on music aesthetics, conducting, wind pedagogy and the psychology of music in addition to the traditional lessons, music theory, and music history. When I got my MM in performance, I took courses on bibliography and opera history that were not required. And now I pull on my all of experiences in performance, theory, history, psychology, etc. when teaching my students and conducting my research.

Performance majors who are not attending Eastman or Julliard are not getting a professional degree oriented only to one career choice. Instead, they are learning a discipline that teaches problem-solving, a mighty work ethic, creativity, and self-expression. These skills can be applied to just about any field, even law. So the adjunct violinist may have good personal reasons for making a career change, but he shouldn't worry about the ethics of recruiting students.
(via Steve Hicken)

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