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A New Model for Music, Music in the Liberal Arts



A New Model for Music, Music in the Liberal Arts

A Guest Post by Pavoh.org




The music scene at Wesleyan University has been the subject of books and countless news articles, all while capturing the attention of young artists and musicians around the country. And why not? Recent graduates, including Santigold, Himanshu Suri and Victor Vazquez of Das Racist, Dylan Rau and Ted Feldman of Bear Hands, as well as Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT, have been fixtures of the indie music scene of the past decade. Even aside from the musical success of its recent graduates, the university boasts a popular music department with ensembles ranging from an Early Music Collegium to a renowned gamelan.

“Empirically, Wesleyan is unique,” says Professor of Music Mark Slobin. “Our department and music scene is bigger and more diverse than any other school of its size.” At the heart of Wesleyan’s musical culture, both in and outside of the classroom, is a vision that redefines how we view music academically and culturally. “Our program’s philosophy is simple: all musics deserve study, all musics are equal. That concept has guided our department for the last fifty years.”

Wesleyan is by no means alone in redefining how today’s musicians should think about music. Enter Music 151, an intermediate music theory course at Bowdoin College. Rather than analyzing Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms to learn the basics of how to write and arrange music, students cut their teeth on a more familiar musical role model- the Beatles.

“How do we bring students to us?” asks Bowdoin Music Department Chair Robby Greenlee, “We connect what we teach to what they listen to. We want our students to leave our department being able to engage with all kinds of music thoughtfully and, for our majors, to be in a position to pursue graduate degrees in performance, composition, or musicology. In order to do this, we need to meet students where they’re coming from.”

In interviews with faculty members from Wesleyan, Bowdoin, Bates, Williams, and Amherst, it became clear that academics are now looking at a different teaching model, because the musical backgrounds and interests of students have drastically shifted over the last few decades. While many majors, minors, and participants have received training in European Classical music, professors report that more and more of their students have grown up in jazz, popular, and world musics with little to no instruction in Classical theory and performance.

The New Model

In adopting a new model to address the changing nature of music in our culture, academic departments have redesigned their curriculums and focused on bringing in new faculty who can speak to the interests of a new generation of musicians. “We want to stay abreast of changes in the disciplinary scene, the educational philosophy. In many ways, we want to lead that academic change. Our must recent hire, Tracy McMullen, has a background in jazz and popular music. Right now, she’s teaching a course on Hip Hop. She has the ability to go into the central musical lives of students, and then she can expand their understanding of that music,” says Greenlee.

Like Bowdoin, Amherst College has worked on redesigning their curriculum and augmenting their faculty to connect to student interests. “Our last full time faculty hires have been in ethnomusicology and popular music/jazz. We want to be able to teach the music of the Middle Ages right up through the music of the present,” says chair of the Music Department Eric Sawyer. Out of a department of five to six full-time music faculty at Amherst, having two professors with non-Classical background represents a significant commitment to broadening the idea of ‘significant’ music.

Aside from hiring faculty whose primary research is in popular or world musics, departments have also added an array of courses to their curriculum. “We offer multiple courses in Asian and African music and have two ensembles devoted to African musical traditions,” says Professor W. Anthony Sheppard of Williams College. “Starting next year, our majors will be required to take at least one course in world music/ethnomusicology.  We have recently begun offering lessons in the singer/songwriter tradition and we also offer courses in popular music, including rock and global popular musics.”

Perhaps the best illustration of student interest meeting faculty demand exists in what tends to be the most popular concentration of music students at these liberal arts institutions: composition. “Our student composers’ pieces really highlight the diversity of the department,” says Associate Professor of Music at Bates College Dale Chapman. “I’ve heard string quartets, minimalist electronic compositions, a rock/pop oratorio, original jazz compositions, as well as film and multimedia projects by students. It’s a very inclusive list, and you really get the sense of bringing in the whole gamut of creative impulses.”

Professor Sawyer, resident composer at Amherst, stressed that he does try to meet his students at their points of interest, but also hopes to engage them with new ideas. “Most of my students come from a jazz or pop background. It’s what they’ve played and often what they are more interested in. However, they are open-minded. I try to balance their natural voice and comfort zone with the unencountered.”

Retaining the Old 

Given the decrease of popularity in classical music among young musicians nationwide, it comes as no surprise that music departments, which traditionally have been run by academics trained in Western Classical music, have had some difficulty in reaching students. Despite the vast resources these colleges are able to devote to bringing dynamic and talented performers to their respective campuses, classical concerts are more often attended by aging community members than students.

“Student attendance is strongest in jazz and popular concerts. Yes, the student audiences for classical performance are generally smaller, but we’re trying to counter that trend,” says Chapman of Bates. “We are always pushing students out of their comfort zone, asking them to confront the new and relook at the old.”

Even as a more inclusive vision of music takes root in the academic philosophies of these departments, they continue to stress the importance of Classical and contemporary classical music. “We want to have it all: to answer student demand for technology-related music, popular music, and world music while not wanting to throw out Western art music,” says Sawyer. Amherst, like many of these music departments, still requires a course in Western Music history and teaches music theory through the language of Western Art music.

“We embrace a wide range of global and popular traditions, but our focus remains on European classical music,” says Professor Sheppard of William’s Music program. While stressing that these departments have all made considerable efforts to modernize, Western art music, from classical through the modern repertoire, remains an important if not fundamental element of these music departments.

“Ideally, all forms of musical study are interwoven and prove mutually reinforcing for our majors,” says Sheppard of Williams. “We want to ensure that our majors pursue a broad and multifaceted approach to studying music, while also focusing on a particular area such as composition, performance, music history or theory, or ethnomusicology.  Our majors are living out the liberal arts ideal as they travel on any given day from a music history class, to a private lesson, to the library to study a score, to a rehearsal, and to experiencing live music as audience members.”

Is it possible that, by embracing gamelan, Hip-Hop, and Electronic music, we are replacing the great masters of European Classical Music? Institutions of higher learning, especially elite ones such as those mentioned in this article, have been part of the vanguard insisting on the relevance of composers as disparate as Carlo Gesualdo and and John Cage. It is difficult not to let a broadening focus on music fuel comparisons between the cello and the djembe or Stravinsky and the Beatles in an unfavorable light. These notions of high art and low art pervade our musical pedagogy, and, ultimately, ask the wrong questions about music while damaging our society’s understanding of music as an art form.

We see the changes in music departments as a paradigm for music education in our country. Our young musicians should not feel insecure regarding the music they make nor should they feel stuck within the increasingly porous boundaries of genre. We know that neither sheet music, nor harmony, scales, nor etudes are the foundations of musical expression. Rhythm and pitch are the building blocks of music. Everything else, all the magic in the disparate sounds of our world, is just a reorganization of those principles.

When we value disparate artistic expression, we musicians may continue to create. When jazz borrows from hip-hop, when classical borrows from Rock, when Hindustani borrows from marching band, then we push as artists and better understand ourselves. The inclusivity embodied by music departments that listen to all music equally allows us ever more permutations and redefinitions of sound. We believe the future of music stems from a rather simple idea: all music is equal.

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Top Music Schools Boston

 

 

This article was written by Henry Hoagland and Laura Lamere – reach them at pavohorg@gmail.com

Henry is Editor of Pavoh.org and Laura is Founder of Pavoh, Inc. – a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization advancing music education. The mission of Pavoh.org is to provide information and create a supportive network and community for young musicians in both urban and suburban New England – connecting the dots (the name Pavoh is based on a constellation) and breaking down barriers between musicians and the opportunities that await them. Our hope is to create more access and affect social change while encouraging teens to “make their music” – in whatever genre or style.

Visit Pavoh’s resource page for more information on choosing a music school that is right for you.

So You Want to Study Music:

Today’s musician has heard more music than any previous generation. You have more diverse influences and outlets than ever before-and your choice in pursuing education in music should reflect the unique way the modern musician experiences his or her craft.

Your world should not be limited to ‘go to a Conservatory or  - stop playing.’ While music conservatories continue to be excellent places for performers and composers, it is entirely possible that the conservatory is not right for you. Maybe you are a classically trained pianist who would love to keep studying music, but you aren’t committed to becoming a professional musician. Maybe you are interested in being a jazz bassist AND pursuing a higher degree in mathematics. Perhaps you are a singer-songwriter who wants to know more music as it relates to the world around you.

You should start thinking about what sort of program fits with your interests, abilities, and personality. What do you want to continue to play or write? What do you want to learn more about? Where did musicians you admire study? How much time do you want to devote to music? What sorts of venues, teachers, and ensembles will enrich your experience as a musician? These questions can help refine what you’re looking for from your education and will help you choose the right program.

Do some research. We have provided here a short list of conservatories, universities, and liberal arts colleges with strong music programs, but keep looking on your own. Look at curriculums; contact music departments, college counselors, or alumni; and find out how you can best keep your music in your life. Connect: Send us your questions and we’ll do our best to help! Apply for a scholarship, or compete in a music contest! You’ll find it here on Pavoh.org.

NEW In-depth Report by Pavoh Writers: New Music, New Model – Music Education at New England Colleges

The music scene at Wesleyan University has been the subject of books and countless news articles, all while capturing the attention of young artists and musicians around the country. And why not? Recent graduates, including Santigold, Himanshu Suri and Victor Vazquez of Das Racist, Dylan Rau and Ted Feldman of Bear Hands, as well as Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT, have been fixtures of the indie music scene of the past decade. Even aside from the musical success of its recent graduates, the university boasts a popular music department with ensembles ranging from an Early Music Collegium to a renowned gamelan.

“Empirically, Wesleyan is unique,” says Professor of Music Mark Slobin. “Our department and music scene is bigger and more diverse than any other school of its size.” At the heart of Wesleyan’s musical culture, both in and outside of the classroom, is a vision that redefines how we view music academically and culturally. “Our program’s philosophy is simple: all musics deserve study, all musics are equal. That concept has guided our department for the last fifty years.”

Wesleyan is by no means alone in redefining how today’s musicians should think about music. Enter Music 151, an intermediate music theory course at Bowdoin College. Rather than analyzing Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms to learn the basics of how to write and arrange music, students cut their teeth on a more familiar musical role model- the Beatles.

NE Liberal Arts Colleges

“How do we bring students to us?” asks Bowdoin Music Department Chair Robby Greenlee, “We connect what we teach to what they listen to. We want our students to leave our department being able to engage with all kinds of music thoughtfully and, for our majors, to be in a position to pursue graduate degrees in performance, composition, or musicology. In order to do this, we need to meet students where they’re coming from.”

In interviews with faculty members from Wesleyan, Bowdoin, Bates, Williams, and Amherst, it became clear that academics are now looking at a different teaching model, because the musical backgrounds and interests of students have drastically shifted over the last few decades. While many majors, minors, and participants have received training in European Classical music, professors report that more and more of their students have grown up in jazz, popular, and world musics with little to no instruction in Classical theory and performance. CONTINUE READING…

 

High Schools:

  • Community Music Center of Boston – Intensive Study Projectan accelerated and comprehensive study program for exceptionally talented children in 7-12 grade. Entrance is gained through audition and/or recommendation from an instructor. Prepares students for advanced study at an institute of higher learning.
  • Boston Arts Academy, a pilot school within the Boston Public Schools, is charged with being “a laboratory and a beacon for artistic and academic innovation. Boston Arts Academy prepares a diverse community of aspiring artist-scholars to be successful in their college or professional careers and to be engaged members of a democratic society.”
  • Walnut Hill School: Walnut Hill School for the Arts is a top performing arts school for students in grades 9-12. Students from all over the world come to study ballet, theater, visual art, music, and creative writing at their campus in Natick, Massachusetts, near Boston. Walnut Hill offers summer programs and summer intensives for balletoperatheater, and writing.

Conservatory:

  • Berklee College of Music Boston, MA - “Berklee College of Music was founded on the revolutionary principle that the best way to prepare students for careers in music is through the study and practice of contemporary music. For more than half a century, the college has evolved to reflect the state of the art of music and the music business. With more than a dozen performance and nonperformance majors, a diverse and talented student body representing more than 70 countries, and a music industry “who’s who” of alumni, Berklee is the world’s premier learning lab for the music of today—and tomorrow.”
  • Boston Conservatory - The Boston Conservatory is internationally recognized as an innovative leader among conservatory programs, focused on elevating and celebrating every aspect of the performing arts. It weaves together distinct disciplines and curricula in music, dance and theater in order to create a unique learning experience. The students, faculty, staff and trustees of The Boston Conservatory embrace the critical role of performance throughout life. Its graduates are prepared not simply to excel in their artistic careers, but to invest themselves fully in lives of engagement and purpose.
  • Longy School of Music - Longy is a degree-granting conservatory and community-based school of preparatory and continuing studies with a curriculum rooted in the tradition of western art music. Its faculty promotes profound musical understanding and technical mastery, encourages growth of imagination, and fosters an attitude of inquiry about the role of music and the musician in the larger world.
  • New England Conservatory - New England Conservatory educates and trains musicians of all ages from around the world, drawing on the talent and deep reservoir of experience of their distinguished faculty. They are dedicated to inculcating the highest standards of excellence and nurturing individual artistic sensibility and creative growth.

Liberal Arts – Dual-Degree Programs:

  • New England Conservatory Dual-Degree Programs
    • Tufts: Students who wish to combine degree studies in music and liberal arts may apply to the NEC/Tufts University five-year double degree program, which awards the Bachelor of Music degree from NEC and the Bachelor of Arts (or Science) degree from Tufts University. Tufts offers double-degree students the opportunity to major in any area except music and engineering.
    • Harvard: The NEC/Harvard program is a joint five-year program of studies leading to a Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) at Harvard College and a Master of Music (M.M.) at New England Conservatory. The program will benefit musically and intellectually talented students who wish to pursue both a professional music education at NEC and a rigorous liberal arts education at Harvard.

Performing Arts:

  • TeenLife.com guideFinding an Acting or Musical Theatre Program: Read this e-book: ADMIT ONE - a comprehensive guide designed to help students find the Acting or Musical Theatre program that best suits them. The book takes you step by step through making the decision, choosing the degree, and getting the most out of the college experience. Link: http://admitonethebook.com/
  • Guide to Performing & Visual Arts Colleges prepared by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and TeenLife.com.



Feature: Tips on Starting Your Search

by Sarah Lovely, Director of College Counseling for The Walnut Hill School for the Arts, Natick, Massachusetts:

  • Familiarize yourself with what’s out there. Choices include: Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) or Bachelor of Music (BM). But remember that selective conservatory-style programs are more competitive than the Ivy League schools.
  • Diversify your college list and remember you don’t have to go to the ‘top’ school in order to have a successful career in the arts.
  • What comes to mind when you fantasize about college? Write down the qualities that are important to you, and start to look for schools that match your fantasies.
  • Consult resources, do online research, go to a bookstore. Some include: Princeton Review, Naviance or Ruggs Recommends.
  • GET ORGANIZED! Make a spreadsheet with all of your information: audition requirements, standardized testing requirements, essay topics, deadlines etc. AND KEEP TRACK!
  • Visit schools. Take notes on each school and see if they match your fantasies. Be open to different options and know that your preferences will change throughout the process – that’s normal!
  • If you are serious about conservatories or auditioning for schools, ask a teacher to help prepare audition materials; or ask your parents to hire a coach to help you.
  • I believe everyone should pursue the arts in college and beyond. It’s important to have a creative outlet and the extent to which you study that discipline can vary – there is no one path.
  • Take ownership of the process – it’s your process. If you plan well and keep all of your options open, it actually can be fun!

 


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