Discussion of the Month – May/2016

MDGlogoWelcome to the third 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. The first installment was an article by Deborah Bradley; this contribution is from Beverley Diamond of Memorial University, Newfoundland. The MayDay Group 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 common to higher music studies in other parts of the world, 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.

There’s No Going Back

Beverley Diamond, Memorial University of NewfoundlandScreen Shot 2016-04-30 at 9.48.14 AM

Dr. Bowman’s invitation to contemplate the future 
of music study in Canada initially evoked one 
question that remained central as I wrote this short
piece: what were the implications of the enormous
 shifts in music training and musical practices that had occurred in Canada over the last 25 years? European classical music remains vibrant but it is clearly now one of many global and glocal (i.e. local, but conditioned by the global) traditions that people need in their lives and that students seek to learn about when they approach an institution to study music. Furthermore, with exciting developments in popular music studies, the so-called (and badly named) “new musicology,” and (equally badly named) ethnomusicology, it is clear that we can no longer train students NOT to think about music in/as society, however inadvertent that training may be. Trying to figure out how people make something as abstract as music meaningful is just too interesting and too significant.

I think that the future of music might best be addressed with a series of questions rather than prognoses. If I do slip an observation or two into the following paragraphs, I intend merely to provoke one from you in response.

My questions/ideas about music study gravitate around five different topics: curriculum, clientele, social position/stage of study, inter-relationships among institutions associated with music learning, and underlying ideologies. My thinking about these topics is always “in progress.” Ten years ago, for instance, I thought (and regretted) that Canadian institutions were heading towards more separation of the artistic training and the thinking functions of musicians. I knew my European colleagues were comfortable with such a separation but I was invested in the “whole” of music study. Nonetheless, I saw that there was not enough money for sufficient one-on-one instruction. There were insufficient financial means, it seemed, to expand types of training, the diversity of the faculty, or the range of course offerings. The real energy for the study of music lay outside the university, I thought, in contexts as diverse as Native American gatherings, festival workshops, or Irish sessions.

Now, however, I see much more media savvy generally. I find more interest in the qualitative dimensions of sounds, images, movement, and space among people with backgrounds as divergent as economics, nursing, or engineering. I note the obvious explosion of musical collaborations across ethnocultural and genre boundaries. I share with my students a delight in the new means to access music in cyberspace. Yes, I love my iPod. But simultaneously, I see a larger reliance on institutions of higher learning to respond to these trends. Arguably, the easy movement of people and information in recent decades has made the Fine Arts more central than ever before and universities in particular are seen to have the resources to enable training, thinking, and research.

Lest it seems that I am just feeling “rosier” today than I was ten years ago, I want to acknowledge that the new “centrality” and “multiplicity” to which I refer has never been easily won, and sometimes not won at all. Here I turn to my own field of ethnomusicology. In her recent critique of “Ethnomusicology and Difference,” for instance, Deborah Wong (2006) uses terms such as guerilla warfare and work in the trenches to describe the experience of ethnomusicologists since the 1990s. Her interviews with several senior female ethnomusicologists reveal the toll in human well-being that accumulates after a decade of struggle to see our pedagogy reflect the socially urgent issues of our research and, more importantly, of human lives. Unlike me, a person with the privilege of “whiteness” and now a relatively senior position, professors who are multiply marginalized as visible minorities and/or women and/or junior faculty teaching “new” subjects have been particularly stressed. The progress toward change in the music academy has been slow. I agree with her assessment that:

We have tended to rely on cultural relativism in its most simplistic form, and in a way that is heavily reliant on liberal humanism. That is, we tend to resort to fairly basic relativist arguments about equal worth, when the strongest arguments focus on the political economies of uneven access to resources and the intervention of education (and performance) into those economies. At this level, we have fallen far behind; discussions around issues of canon formation and control that have gone on in English departments for twenty years, often at a level of critical sophistication that music departments only gesture towards. (2006: 263)

With Wong’s observations in mind, my first group of hard questions concerns the shape of the current Canadian music academy. The gender balance of Canadian music schools has shifted dramatically in the past few decades. The ethnocultural diversity of music departments, on the other hand, has been much slower to change. I think it would be interesting to inquire how much of the new course development has fallen on the shoulders of women or “visible minority” colleagues (who are already stigmatized by that label), how progression through the ranks has worked, and whether tenure battles have been more difficult if one has risked teaching new areas of inquiry. Similarly, it would be interesting to see if diverse role models have actually impacted on the student body. Are there more women taking technology-oriented courses or doing jazz than a decade or two ago? Are we recruiting more Aboriginal students if they have an Aboriginal professor to talk to? Are we admitting students because they have good training in a specific type of music and exceptional achievements already or enabling those with a good skill set and potential for training? The answers to these questions will tell us whether we are invested in maintaining old patterns or creating new opportunities for access and future achievement.

A strange, and particularly Canadian anomaly among music schools is the regional patterning. Since moving to Atlantic Canada, I am struck by the fact that resources flow to us in very ways different from Ontario, for instance—to name the other province whose academy I know best. There are four Canada Research Chairs in Folklore in Canada, all of them east of Quebec City. There are very few CRCs in the sciences in Atlantic Canada, however. The strange historical reluctance of Atlantic Canadian universities to include ethnomusicology in their curricula has an ironic logic. To be taken seriously within the national scene of the late 20th century, many within the universities of Eastern Canada felt they had to demonstrate the strengths of the central urban metropoli and downplay the very aspects of local culture that were unique and vibrant. That pattern is rapidly changing and I am delighted to be enabling a small bit of that change. What do we think about regional diversification? Who is served or marginalized? To whom is access denied or enabled?

With these issues in mind, I query whether we need first to think about our clientele. No longer just would-be opera stars, orchestral players, and occasional classical virtuosi. No longer more generations of educators who are unaware of their investment in whiteness (perhaps), or middle class consumption (perhaps), or exclusive taste constructs (perhaps). No longer simply the patrons of elite arts. Who do we think we are teaching in the 21st century? There was a day when accordion players needed not apply to music schools. What about er hu players or bouzouki virtuosi? Are they welcome yet? Maybe we would find that a Chinese orchestra or an Indonesian gamelan is more relevant to the lives of our students than a concert band if we re-examined our potential clientele of performers. Our clientele of “producers” now includes studio engineers, scientists, multi-media artists, and musicians of many backgrounds who create/ perform music that their teachers may know little about. Our “clientele” of consumers is anyone who has watched an advertisement or a music video or a movie, anyone who has whistled or listened to a whale, anyone with ears basically. How does our pedagogy accommodate this diversification?

The period in which music was artificially separated from the visual will, I think, be rapidly deemed a very small blip in the history of the world. Audio recording made this possible in the 20th century, and audio devices (including my iPod of course) remain central to our lives. But increasingly, these devices offer image and sound together. This is not a replication of live experience, of course, since image and sound are schizophonically separated, to use R. Murray Schafer’s widely accepted metaphor. Image and sound are now regularly separated from their sources but recombined, refiltered, and recontextualized. This is a huge experiential shift, as Baudrillard and others have discussed. How have our interpretive devices changed to engage processes such as schizophonia?

The next two topics I have listed are inter-related: Stages of study and the range of institutions that offer music study are more complexly intertwined than we currently acknowledge. It seems increasingly clear that a wider range of professional training institutions are already in the making. On one hand, this is a pattern that could reify the problems of access to resources. Will technology schools get all the dollars? Will undergraduate programs that agree to introduce a diverse range of music professions fare as well as the ones that specialize? On the other hand, the arts—arguably unlike the sciences—have always had fine systems of training within the community. Would we as a university allow that the best “specialist” training might be as a community apprenticeship or as a student in another country while the historical and sociological essentials were university based? Or vice versa? Would we look at an interlocking system of accreditation so that students could pursue what was strong within a specific university without giving up or thinking less of what was strong within their community or within a different community/country/ university? My guess is that the most successful strategies of the future will involve inter-institutional arrangements, probably more dialogue between science and the arts, inevitably more serious collaboration between artists and scholars, and a whole lot of community-university linkages. It will take us time to learn how best to build productive relationships with the communities we live in and with other institutions that overlap in their mandates. The questions will be how to design these arrangements most effectively. How to create relatively seamless opportunities for moving from one level of training to the next, from practice to theory, from art to science and back? How to create a system that guides students effectively without taking away their agency to find new directions for themselves?

Our answers to these questions will require a new ideology that drives the study of music. At one time, university music schools hoped to create an elite knowledgeable about, skilled at doing, and convinced of the superiority of European classical music (in a construct that often conflated the local and national differences as well as the many vernacular interactions within that construct of “Europe”). Perhaps our new ideology will be to create a different elite. Universities cannot do it. It will have to involve a training network. My personal hope is that we aim to produce musicians with no less knowledge and skill in one or more of the world’s thousands of musical practices; but also musicians capable of understanding/engaging critical issues across genres, disciplines, cultures, and classes; and committed to mobilizing resources for projects that enable the circulation rather than the consolidation of privilege.


Wong, Deborah (2006). “Ethnomusicology and Difference.”

Ethnomusicology 50/2: 259-279.

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

  1. I find it interesting that Beverley Diamond’s article, written 10 years ago, raises many of the same issues which the 2014 College Music Society Task Force on Undergraduate Music Education addressed. And at least some of her predictions have been given some life in today’s world (such as inter-institutional arrangements, which do exist among some schools, although not yet a widespread practice and one which seems to be tightly regulated by the schools involved). Her final statement–that university music studies might produce musicians capable of mobilizing and organizing projects that circulate rather than consolidate privilege, becomes ever more important in today’s world, where those with privilege increasingly have economic resources at levels previously unknown.

  2. It’s indeed strange that more ethnomusicological attention is not spent west of Quebec City. But, I leave that to Canada to resolve.

    On the music education issues raised by Beverley Diamond’s article and Deborah Bradley’s response, I’d add this: Most music educators emerge from their pre-service years as multi-musical people, relatively expert in more than one musical tradition. Much of that asset base was developed outside their tertiary educational experience, but it’s there nonetheless.

    What’s missing is the foregrounding and validation for teaching of a set of approaches for a) leading others to access the existing personal musical assets of the teacher, and b) leading the teacher to access the existing musical assets of their communities, including their students. Ms. Diamond touched on these issues, but to bring change will require us to emphsize methods of access, and abandon our hangups with filling our students with skill- and knowledge-building “buckets” of facts and techniques. Access to live musical traditions is the key—the fact building and technical growth will take care of themselves. Ethnomusicology at its core is a method, not merely a repository of knowledge.

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