Thursday, April 19, 2007

Teaching musicianship and world music

I was recently forwarded a notice for an Institute on the Pedagogies of World Music Theories University of Colorado (Boulder, Colorado) May 29 - June 2, 2007 (link here).

This is very interesting stuff to me -- I once taught an introductory theory and musicianship class at Wesleyan, and in the context of the University's World Music program, I made some tentative steps in the direction of applying techniques from the world and experimental music traditions there. It was definitely the right idea, but not yet the right time to do it -- it was important at that moment for the individual musical traditions to assert some autonomy, there had been some bad experiences with naively throwing different musics together and hoping that they would complement one another, and the logistics of doing it right -- scheduling, especially -- were not simple. But the idea is the right one, and the way in which, for example, chamber musicans at Wesleyan practiced complicated rhythms with the assistance of South Indian Solkattu, was exciting, musical and not naive.

About the same time, I took part in discussions about the design of a core music curriculum and the committee came to agree on a few ideas that still strike me as very reasonable: teach repertoire, theory, and musicianship in parallel, expect students to explore at least one music tradition in addition to their native or chosen tradition, take a course in acoustics and music perception, keep the divides between the disciplines of performance, improvisation, and composition fuzzy, and to introduce a core sequence of four semester-long courses: melody and rhythm, modal counterpoint, tonal harmony, and 20th century techniques. Critical to this sequence was choosing a specific -- and fairly narrow -- historical repertoire as a source of examples (at Wesleyan, the counterpoint course would have definitely used 15th century counterpoint as its point of departure -- the local preference was for Josquin over Palestrina, and this kept some questions of major-minor tonality on hold until the third semester; on the other hand, there was never any consensus about the reference repertoire of the fourth course). This curriculum was never implemented, but I still haven't heard of a better idea.

1 comment:

jim said...

I teach musicianship at the Walden School, a summer program for young (11-18 yo) musicians. The most unique thing about the Walden School method is that, as you suggest, we "keep the divides between performance, improvisation, and composition fuzzy." We build harmonic and melodic language sequentially, as the intervals occur in the harmonic series. First we learn octaves, then fifths, then fourths, then major thirds, and then minor thirds. By "learn" them, I mean that we use the paradigm, "discover, drill, create." Discovery just means that we lead the students through a dialog to discover the intervals on their own. We then drill together, singing (using both note names and solfege), playing piano, and writing with notation. We then create new music using the intervals, by improvising and composing with the material.
My personal preference would be to continue our way up the harmonic series, and have our kids learn the sounds of harmonies with the 7th and 11th partials, as we move away from the piano and use electronics and non-fretted string instruments, and attack notes from the Harmonic Experience approach, combining Carnatic music with western Just Intonation practices. I'd love it if we taught pitch-based musicianship starting with Just Intonation, and bringing in temperment only as it is necessitated by the content, with distant modulations and alternate resolutions of augmented sixth chords and such...