Discussion of the Month – March/2016


Welcome to the first installment of a new feature on the MayDay Group website: Discussion of the Month. For the next several months, this feature of the website will reprint the collection of short articles that first appeared 10 years ago in Ecclectica. The collection was edited by Wayne Bowman, and published online by Brandon University; this particular issue explored the topic, “The Future of Music Study in Canada.”  Contributing authors to this collection represent a diverse range of music scholarship and interests. As a member of the MayDay Group Steering Committee, who decided collectively that the Ecclectica issue should be reprinted, we decided to use my contribution to that issue to get the ball rolling.

The MayDay Group has obtained permission to reprint these articles from Ecclectica and the various authors for the purpose of discussing the ways music in higher ed has changed since these articles were written ten years ago. The original publication may be viewed at http://ecclectica.brandonu.ca/issues/2006/2/

Our hope is that as you read, you will think about what has changed in the past ten years, what may not have changed at all or very much, and where there are signs of shifts in both thinking and practice. While the Ecclectica issue dealt primarily with music in higher education in Canada, the issues, we believe are universal, and this reprint seems timely given the 2014 report from the College Music Society calling for sweeping changes in the approach to undergraduate education in music. Please take a moment after you read to share your thoughts, so that we may generate the kinds of discussions that will lead to the kinds of changes the original Ecclectica authors call for.


Bradley2I’d Love to Change the World but I Don’t Know What to Do (1)

by Deborah Bradley, University of Wisconsin-Madison [editor note: retired]

Disclaimer: Any similarities between the following and every university faculty meeting of which I have ever been a part are purely coincidental. The names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.

Dreamscape: Year 2056
Event: Music Faculty Meeting Location: A Canadian University

Dean, School of Music: Okay, let’s move on to the next item on the agenda. You should all have received a copy of the rationale packet and Form #2109C, “Proposed change to course content H201: Survey, Music of the Late 20th and Early 21st Centuries,” as well as a rationale packet and Form #2110C, “Proposed new course offering – H494 – History of Hip Hop: 1976 to the Present.” Both proposals are from the Dept. of History and Culture, and both relate to a re- positioning of Hip Hop as an important musical genre within our current course offerings.

Chair, H & C: Our intention here is to provide additional emphasis to Hip Hop as a constitutive form of music making in North America and indeed, globally, beginning in the 1970s and ongoing.

Professor of Theory & Composition: I’ve read over the rationales provided but I still do not understand why Hip Hop needs to be its own course. Why not leave it where it is in the survey course (H201)?

Chair, H & C: Ah – but this is precisely the point! The proposed course change to H201 would remove Hip Hop from the survey course, where it gets one lecture in a 13-week term of 26 lectures and 13 labs, and move it to a course wherein students can delve more deeply into Hip Hop and its various conventions of scratching, sampling, and so forth over an entire semester. Also this move allows us to devote more time in H201 to the music of the Beatles—I don’t think anyone here would argue their contribution to western music, would they?

Chair, Music Ed: What about hip hop dance and related forms like krumping? How will that be covered in the course?

Chair, H & C (a little sheepishly): Well, we actually have no one on faculty here who feels qualified to teach hip hop dance, although we have made arrangements to have podcasts available for the students enrolled in the course.

Chair, Music Ed: Podcasts! I thought that technology went out decades ago! I heard that at the Berklee College of Music they use transporter technology so that students can actually study musical events in person . . .

Dean: Okay, let’s not get off-track here. We’re talking about what we can do in our own calendar given our current budget.

Professor of Music Ed: When I read over the two rationales under discussion, I don’t see any indication that the “culture” issues of hip hop will be addressed—it seems to be focused entirely on technical aspects like dubbing.

Chair, H & C (sounding a little offended): Well of course culture will be addressed—and dubbing is part of the culture! But, we’re also in preliminary negotiations with Sony-Galactica to provide additional cultural perspective through the eyes of several of their best-selling artists, who will lecture about how hip-hop changed their lives . . .

Chair, Music Ed: What?!!!! This conversation is making me really uncomfortable . . . Sounds like we’re trying to save the world with hip hop . . .

Dean (interrupting): I think the potential collaboration with Sony may open up a wealth of resources for us here in the School of Music.

Chair, H & C: Yes! Yes! In fact, in our early discussions, they have offered to provide the lectures free of charge. All we have to do is purchase enough of the pod-casting equipment to ensure that all students enrolled in the course have access. And we probably will have to pay royalties on the pod-casts themselves since they aren’t yet considered public domain.

Chair, Music Ed: Uhm . . . I can see why Sony is interested, but how does this benefit the students?

Dean: I can see where this is going. Let’s not get into a contentious debate here on post-globalization or any of those issues. If it weren’t for corporate collaborations, tuitions would be $50,000 per year instead of the $30,000 they already are!

(Murmurs in the background): I’d like to see some research on those numbers . . .

Chair, Music Ed: What about the fact that hip-hop is being removed from the 2nd year required survey course – that’s one of the few that all students in the building must take! This is a major concern for music education because . . .

Chair, H & C (interrupting): That’s true, but this way the number of students who engage at a deeper level with hip-hop will increase – the ones who are really interested, that is. I mean, does hip-hop have a place in school music? Why should this change be a concern for the music education division?

Chair, Music Ed: But its place in the timetable will conflict with Secondary Band Methods—we still require all prospective school music teachers to take that course! But we also want music ed students to study popular music like hip-hop, don’t we?

Dean: The Music Ed department might want to look into requiring H494 if they feel that strongly about it. After all, what’s one more course? (Aside to Music Ed Chair: Although I guess at some point we will need to address the concern that it takes most students about 7 years to get through the teacher certification program, won’t we? . . .) Okay now, are we ready for a vote? Would someone like to make a motion?


My disclaimer probably should also have warned the reader that my “dreams” sometimes have nightmarish qualities . . . Less a prediction of the future than a critique of the present, the dreamscape provides a vehicle through which to address some present-day issues in university music studies that may prevent us from moving toward the future on light feet that dance to many kinds of music.

The imaginary faculty meeting raises several questions that I believe are important to the future of university music studies, particularly as they impact upon teacher education programs. For example, how (and when) might university music programs become more responsive to the cultures surrounding them? While many universities have attempted to “get with it” in the present day by adding courses in specific world music practices, or courses on the Beatles, rock n’ roll, and so forth, this additive approach leaves in place the assumption that everything that has gone before needs to remain. Thus the predominant emphasis in Canadian university music studies continues to be European classical music.

While I would not deny anyone who desires it the opportunity to study Bach, Beethoven, and the boys, it seems to me that Canadian universities recognition of most of the world’s “other” musics remains peripheral. Although ethnomusicology provides opportunity for immersion in one musical practice (or a related group of practices), this approach does little to help those who choose other avenues of music study. I’d like to see programs encourage greater cross-over between and among music disciplines: between music education and performance courses in world music, for example. This, of course, requires some careful attention to scheduling, to ensure that students from one music discipline are able to take advantage of offerings in other programs of study.

The continuing predominance of Western classical music in university music studies points to the racial and gendered politics of curriculum in Canadian universities. The question, “Which music?” is always also the question, “Whose music?” This takes on deep significance for Canada. As an officially multi-cultural nation whose population is the most ethnically diverse in the world, why do our universities—as centres of cultural production and reproduction—remain focused on the music of a past European aristocracy? What is the effect of this narrow focus on our ability to attract students whose interests and expertise lie in one or more of the world’s other musical practices? Should we be concerned that our audition and admissions processes automatically exclude most of these students? I know that I am.

The Eurocentric curriculum is related, I believe, to the slow pace of change to university programs. While I value what we do presently, our general inability to respond in a timely manner to important emerging musical genres is problematic. Yes, it is possible now to find isolated courses relating to hip hop in some Canadian universities, but not usually in the music faculties! In some respects hip hop seems to be replicating jazz’s history in academia. The University of North Texas offered jazz studies as early as 1947,2 but only, of course, after jazz “moved” into the white mainstream, beyond its original designation as a form of “black music” associated with “deviant behaviour.” It was almost another 30 years before a Canadian university offered a jazz major.3 I worry how our universities can provide prospective music teachers with meaningful experiences in diverse musical practices including hip hop, both now and in the future, so that they may respond thoughtfully and ethically to the needs of the students in diverse Canadian classrooms and communities.

Granted, no one university can cover the broad range of musics that could potentially be studied. This leads me to ponder the place of technology—the connectivity afforded by video conferencing, webcasting, and as yet unimagined innovations— to provide alternatives to the way music study is understood and undertaken.

By this I mean moving beyond offering courses “about” music, online, to something (perhaps not yet developed) that is truly interactive, grounded in music’s sociality. I can imagine a future where Canadian universities each declare a “specialty area,” and music students across the country enroll through technology in courses at other institutions that meet their particular needs and interests. A student in one location where the specialty is, for example, First Nations drumming, could via technology also study West African drumming and dance, North Indian classical music, or Western classical music at schools around the country or the world. Far fetched? Perhaps, but I would like to see us seriously re-imagine how to meaningfully include the plural musical cultures found within and beyond Canada’s borders. Of course questions arise: Would such an approach undermine or enhance a university’s place in the local community? Since music both reflects and produces the local culture of which it is a part, is such a scheme even possible without serious degradation of music’s sociality—or—does technology provide opportunities to connect differently, yet meaningfully to people around the globe?

I want to reiterate that I believe there is much more that is valuable about what universities do than not. The concerns raised in my “dreamscape” derive from the growing gap I see between what we teach in university music programs, and what students discover they need for careers in “the real world,” post- graduation, as musicians and educators. Fortunately, most music students are creative, adaptable people and find ways to bridge the gap. This is, of course, a good thing, and no doubt a result, at least in part, of their university experiences. But what might the potential be for these students if somehow, someday, the universities in which they study were similarly creative and adaptive? That’s a future I’d love to be a part of.

1 With Apologies to Ten Years After

2 http://www.jazz.unt.edu/

3 http://www.encyclopediecanadienne.ca/index.cfm? PgNm=TCE&Params=U1ARTU0003753

2 thoughts on “Discussion of the Month – March/2016

  1. Two quick reactions:
    First, the decontextualized nature of university music is integral to establishing expertise. If regular people can do it without a university education, then why do we need a university education? Much of the resistance to change on the part of university faculty, in other words, is about job preservation.
    Second, the notion of a network of music schools together teaching a variety of musics from around the world to students around the world via the world wide web, makes me uncomfortable. I don’t feel that music education ought to be a globalizing force. Yes, globalization is a fact of modern life, but that doesn’t mean music educators have to embrace it. Instead, we could nurture local traditions and musical practices that strengthen local communities.

    1. Thanks for these thoughts, Vince! While I agree with you that music education should not be used as a globalizing force (in that corporate or economic sense of globalization), keep in mind that technology does bring with it benefits that in many ways bring people in far-flung places closer together. Isn’t there some way for music education to make use of those benefits, perhaps as a way to generate resistance to the negative effects of globalization?

      Resistance to change, I believe, goes deeper than fear of job loss. I think fear of change is very common across humanity; for someone who has devoted a lifetime studying a particular form of music–a subset of the broader Western classical category–the fear of change lingers even as those scholars approach retirement, or after they retire. Each generation experiences this; the elders struggle with the way the next generation chooses to do things . . .

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