Posted on

Why Music Education is no longer about Music

On the Nature of Music

There are three impor­tant char­ac­ter­is­tics of music, which I think most peo­ple would agree with.

  1. Music is for the ear. We do not eat music, nor smell music, nor see music. In our mod­ern age we call what we see on paper, “music,” but it is not. What is on paper is in part a sym­bol of music, but it is a sym­bol of only the gram­mar of music. There are no sym­bols on the paper for feel­ing or emo­tions, which is the real role of music.
  2. Music exists only in live per­for­mance before a lis­ten­er. A record­ing is not music. The record­ing bears the same rela­tion­ship to music as does a pho­to­graph to a real per­son.
  3. The pur­pose of music is to under­stand and com­mu­ni­cate emo­tions. While every­one under­stood this for thou­sands of years, it became clear with the mod­ern clin­i­cal find­ings on our bicam­er­al brain. The right brain, where the exper­i­men­tal and per­son­al emo­tions lie, is mute.1 It can­not make a sen­tence. The left brain, a depos­i­to­ry of sec­ondary data, includes lan­guage, but when it comes to talk­ing about music or writ­ing about music, as is clear­ly also true with the emo­tions of love, the left brain is tasked with writ­ing about some­thing it knows noth­ing about. Thus the impor­tance of music—a lan­guage of feel­ing which can be heard and under­stood by all.

In addi­tion there are genet­ic parts of music which are as old as man. All philol­o­gists believe that “music” was present before speech, in the form of sim­ple emo­tions expressed through vow­el like sounds, much like the sounds a dog makes today. This is the rea­son that we find these right hemi­sphere of the brain five vow­el sounds as an inher­ent part of every lan­guage on earth, for they are as old as man. No progress toward a syn­tac­ti­cal lan­guage was pos­si­ble until the cre­ation of con­so­nants. Even then, this had no impact on music until the age of nota­tion, as the read­er will see below.

All three of the above char­ac­ter­is­tics of music must have been clear and present for as long as there was some form of music, per­haps a mil­lion years if one con­sid­ers the voice and also how easy it is to con­struct a flute like instru­ment from a bone or a piece of bam­boo and per­cus­sion sounds from var­i­ous objects such as tur­tle shells. It is quite inter­est­ing to note that a flute made from a bone which is dat­ed thou­sands of years in age has holes made which form a dia­ton­ic scale. This doc­u­ments anoth­er nat­ur­al part of music, so old that it must have long ago passed into the genet­ic nature of man. These holes reflect the over­tone struc­ture, a nat­ur­al law of physics, which was already in place as long as any crea­ture had ears to hear.

I first began to give seri­ous thought to these very ancient char­ac­ter­is­tics of music dur­ing 1966 when my wife, Giselle, and I were pre­sent­ing recitals through­out South Amer­i­ca in coop­er­a­tion with the US State Depart­ment. Arriv­ing in La Paz, Bolivia, we were advised to take a week or so to accli­mate our­selves to the alti­tude, the air­port being at 14,000 feet! Sure enough, it was at first very dif­fi­cult to inhale enough air to per­form Strauss, Hin­demith, etc. While wait­ing we were, of course, con­stant­ly enter­tained in the South Amer­i­can tra­di­tion and in the course of this I was often advised to go down­town to a new cof­fee house to hear native musi­cians from the high Andes. I was told the own­er went out peri­od­i­cal­ly by heli­copter and cap­tured native musi­cians and brought them back to play in his cof­fee shop. After a few days in La Paz, of course, these natives made a 5,000 year leap in civ­i­liza­tion and so the own­er would let them go and return to the high Andes to find some more.

When I final­ly went to hear these musi­cians, hav­ing refused for some time on prin­ci­ple, I was treat­ed to an amaz­ing per­for­mance. These musi­cians were as musi­cal as musi­cians any­where, with tech­ni­cal dis­play equiv­a­lent to any mod­ern play­er. It was very musi­cal! What real­ly struck me, how­ev­er, was that I was in the pres­ence of a very rare oppor­tu­ni­ty, an oppor­tu­ni­ty to hear musi­cians who had nev­er heard of nor seen music nota­tion. They under­stood music, and learned music only by ear. If I were to show them a page of my Strauss Con­cer­to, they would not have rec­og­nized that what they saw had any­thing to do with what they were doing. They would have sim­ply thought they were see­ing a piece of paper with sym­bols of some for­eign lan­guage. Which is, of course, what music nota­tion is.

This expe­ri­ence caused me recall for how many gen­er­a­tions there was impor­tant music mak­ing before nota­tion.  The great musi­cal tra­di­tions of ancient Greece were made with­out nota­tion.2 At the time of Pla­to there were not even names for the indi­vid­ual notes. Before that we have the Egypt­ian peri­od from which Greek tra­di­tions came, Pla­to him­self hav­ing stud­ied there at length. There on the famous tomb-paint­ings we see musi­cians play­ing all kinds of func­tion­al per­for­mances and also some con­certs in pri­vate homes, but there was no nota­tion. There are con­duc­tors pic­tured, but what they are doing is in ques­tion.3

It seems clear that in ancient Egypt music edu­ca­tion, with­out the ben­e­fit of nota­tion, was orga­nized and pro­tect­ed against change by the gov­ern­ment. Pla­to says this estab­lished music edu­ca­tion had been in place for 10,000 years. This would take us back to the peri­od of the cave paint­ings of Spain and France and, in fact, we know musi­cal instru­ments have been found in some of those caves.

It is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant to under­stand that just because there was no nota­tion it did not mean there was no knowl­edge. In fact, with­out writ­ten nota­tion and writ­ten edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als these ear­ly musi­cians prob­a­bly had one advan­tage over us in that they were more close­ly attuned to Nature.

On the Physiology of Listening to Music

Jean Philippe Rameau, 1683–1764, the first to under­stand the “the­o­ry” of music in a mod­ern sense, was par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in this sub­ject. In fact, he com­plained,

In music the ear obeys only Nature. It takes account of nei­ther mea­sure nor range. Instinct alone leads it.4

While today lis­ten­ing to music, apart from the anato­my of the ear, has its focus on learned data, hear­ing chords, rhythm, form, etc. But Rameau was think­ing of some­thing more fun­da­men­tal, what Nature con­tributes. Do we have built into us through genet­ics cer­tain phys­i­o­log­i­cal con­structs which influ­ence how we hear music?

What Rameau observed was that a per­son who is asked to sing a ran­dom note, will always sing a note in the mid­dle of his reg­is­ter. Fur­ther, when asked to sing some oth­er note, he will nev­er sing a half-step, but rather, as is also the case if asked to impro­vise, sing an “ever ascend­ing per­fect chord made up of the over­tones.”

After twen­ty-five years, Rameau was still amazed at what he had noticed. He men­tions that these kinds of rela­tion­ships between sounds were known to the ancient philoso­phers, and dis­cussed much by them, but that every “rea­son they were able to advance for them evap­o­rat­ed like a wisp of smoke.” “Why,” he asks, “has it nev­er occurred to any­one to seek the rea­son why, despite our­selves, we should be com­pelled to pre­fer cer­tain inter­vals to oth­ers, espe­cial­ly after the first sound?”

Rameau clear­ly seems to have been under the impres­sion that this pref­er­ence in choice of inter­vals was dic­tat­ed by Nature some­how. Indeed, there are some researchers today, notably Diana Deutsch at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San Diego, who believe that per­haps we all have an innate built in over­tone series. After mil­lions of years of the influ­ence of the over­tone series upon all liv­ing crea­tures, one can­not dis­count this pos­si­bil­i­ty. Are we made in some key?5

My wife, Giselle, a cer­ti­fied music ther­a­pist who did pro­fes­sion­al work in hos­pi­tals in Los Ange­les, shared with me a dis­cov­ery which she came upon through exper­i­men­ta­tion which does seem to sug­gest some inter­nal tun­ing sys­tem. I urge the read­er to try this with anoth­er per­son. First demon­strate this ini­tial step and then ask the per­son to speak a short syl­la­ble “Lu” at a good medi­um-strong dynam­ic lev­el. Then ask the per­son to do the same thing but with a slight­ly longer sound (about like a dot­ted quar­ter-note, which you can demon­strate to the per­son by hold­ing your fin­gers about an inch apart before their face). Final­ly, ask the per­son to do the same thing but with a long sus­tained sound. If you lis­ten very care­ful­ly you will now hear an added insta­bil­i­ty as the brain appears to “tune” the longer pitch! But tune to what? As you will find this hap­pens with every­one you exper­i­ment with, it does sug­gest to me that there is some inter­nal pitch tem­plate. Once when I was guest con­duct­ing in Korea, Giselle at the same time gave a pre-natal lec­ture to a group of 400 nurs­es at a train­ing hos­pi­tal. I asked her in advance to try this exper­i­ment with the large group. What I heard was real­ly astound­ing. A room in which a ran­dom sound quick­ly became octaves and per­fect fifths!

What hap­pens here is a con­fir­ma­tion of some­thing noticed in Dr. Sperry’s ear­ly work with split-brain patients. It appeared that, giv­en the sep­a­rate char­ac­ter of the sep­a­rate hemi­spheres of the brain, when a prob­lem was posed by plac­ing a card with a ques­tion before the per­son, both hemi­spheres began a kind of race to solve the prob­lem and the side best equipped to do so always won the race. In the case of a sim­ple math ques­tion, the left hemi­sphere con­tin­ued to func­tion while the right hemi­sphere actu­al­ly shut down, the brain waves went into a state of rest.

In Giselle’s dis­cov­ery, when the syl­la­ble “Lu” is pro­nounced in short dura­tion the brain con­cludes this is lan­guage and the left hemi­sphere is posed to con­tin­ue. But when the syl­la­ble is extend­ed to a longer tone, the brain seems to say, “Oh, this must be music,” and the right hemi­sphere then tunes that giv­en pitch to some oth­er pitch of its own.

Anoth­er exper­i­ment in the phys­i­ol­o­gy of how we hear music in the brain is one I dis­cov­ered which the read­er can exper­i­ment with by him­self. I had been study­ing and think­ing about some evi­dence that in ear­ly music what we call the “stac­ca­to dot” over a note did not refer at all to the length of the note, as we are taught, but rather was intend­ed to call for the small­est of the kinds of accents. It is in fact rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Giselle’s dis­cov­ery, but going in the oppo­site direc­tion. Sing the syl­la­ble “Lu” as sus­tained quar­ter-notes at a tem­po of about quar­ter-note = 60. You will notice that when you sing slow sus­tained notes in this way the ear seems to con­cen­trate on the last half of the note. Now do the same thing, but sing these quar­ter-notes as the stac­ca­to we learned in school, that is the note’s length is reduced by one-half. Of course the reduc­tion must be tak­en off the back half of the note because if it were tak­en off the front half it would change the rhythm. Now you will hear that in singing “Lu” as resul­tant eighth-notes at the same tem­po the brain will now focus on the front of the note, not the back side. Fur­ther­more you will hear the effect of an accent on the ini­tial sound and noth­ing you can do will pre­vent you from hear­ing this accent. You can say to your­self I will pur­pose­ly sing “Lu” in such a way that there is no accent, but you will still hear one!

Again, when the tone is long the right hemi­sphere must hear it as music. But when the sound is short, the left hemi­sphere con­cludes it must be lan­guage and then the left hemi­sphere con­cen­trates on the ini­tial con­so­nant, the essen­tial role of the left hemi­sphere in the devel­op­ment of lan­guage, one of the prop­er­ties of that hemi­sphere. It is this focus of the left hemi­sphere on the ini­tial con­so­nant which pro­duces the illu­sion of an accent. And thus, as the ear­li­er com­posers must have dis­cov­ered, to cre­ate a small accent you add the stac­ca­to dot.

The pur­pose of this intro­duc­to­ry sec­tion has been to remind us of what Rameau con­clud­ed, as quot­ed above,

In music the ear obeys only Nature. It takes account of nei­ther mea­sure nor range. Instinct alone leads it.

There was a very long peri­od when Music was under­stood by musi­cians and lis­ten­ers alike as being some­thing which was Nat­ur­al, part of Nature. Before the advent of musi­cal nota­tion there could be no oth­er con­clu­sion.

But the cre­ation of musi­cal nota­tion changed every­thing. For the first time the eye became part of the prepa­ra­tion of music. More impor­tant, Music, which had hith­er­to been a verb, now became a noun!

How Western Notation Changed our Perception of Music

The music nota­tion sys­tem the West­ern World uses today was cre­at­ed by Roman Church math­e­mati­cians dur­ing the late Mid­dle Ages. It is very impor­tant to under­stand the Church per­spec­tive which pro­duced this nota­tion which for­ev­er changed the very con­cept of what Music is.

With the vic­to­ry of the Roman Church over the Roman Empire in the 4th–5th cen­turies, the Church set out to recre­ate the Roman cit­i­zen. Fore­most among the Church’s goals was the elim­i­na­tion of Emo­tion from the lives of the new faith­ful, for in their view the Emo­tions were the first step toward sin. The Church Fathers repeat­ed­ly warned against going to the the­ater, to music events and sport­ing events because of the pres­ence of Emo­tions. St. Basil even con­tend­ed that a good Chris­t­ian should not even laugh, because laugh­ter is a form of Emo­tion.

As part of this effort to recre­ate the Roman cit­i­zen, the Church closed schools and attempt­ed to destroy the books of the Pagans (Pla­to, Aris­to­tle, etc.). When schools were reopened there was strong pres­sure from some Church­men to include Music, which had been so much a part of the edu­ca­tion of the ancient world. But Music is a vehi­cle for the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of Emo­tions! The offi­cial solu­tion to this conun­drum was to make Music part of math­e­mat­ics! Music, the Church Fathers said, was the part of arith­metic that you can hear! This kind of rea­son­ing must have had lit­tle res­o­nance even among the Church offi­cials for by the sixth cen­tu­ry a new strat­e­gy was set forth: Music was now divid­ed into two cat­e­gories: the Spec­u­la­tive and the Prac­ti­cal. The Church said, We will teach the Spec­u­la­tive (the­o­ry, math­e­mat­ics based com­po­si­tion, crit­i­cism, etc.) and we will leave the Prac­ti­cal (per­for­mance) to be learned from the musi­cians out in the street. This became the for­mat of high­er edu­ca­tion in music for sev­er­al cen­turies and some read­ers will per­haps per­ceive the echoes of this phi­los­o­phy in uni­ver­si­ty music depart­ments even today.

The grow­ing size of the Church by the late mid­dle ages began to cre­ate a need for the faster pro­duc­tion of boys (ladies not allowed) who could sing in the choir; rote learn­ing was prov­ing too slow. The West­ern nota­tion we now use was first cre­at­ed in order to teach these boys to read music faster. The nota­tion was cre­at­ed by Church ser­vants who may have been involved in music, but were first and fore­most math­e­mati­cians. Hence we have an arith­meti­cal nota­tion­al sys­tem: two of these is the same as one of those, etc. It is clear that the Church, still very much con­cerned with the Emo­tions, laid down an order that there be no sym­bols for feel­ing or the Emo­tions. And so today, one thou­sand years lat­er, we have not a sin­gle sym­bol what­so­ev­er for feel­ings or emo­tion, even though that is the very pur­pose of music!

Our nota­tion­al sys­tem for music is able to notate only the gram­mar of music, not music itself. There is no music on the page, as Mahler was care­ful to point out, “The impor­tant part of music is not found in the notes.” Let us restate that: the nota­tion­al sys­tem can only doc­u­ment gram­mar, but gram­mar is not music! Since the very nature of music gram­mar is con­cep­tu­al, the eye now becomes the crit­i­cal cen­tral point in the learn­ing of music, not the ear. This leads to very sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems in music edu­ca­tion.

  1. In mak­ing gram­mar (a ratio­nal musi­cal lan­guage) the focal point of music edu­ca­tion, the left hemi­sphere now becomes impor­tant for the first time in the his­to­ry of mankind. As a con­se­quence, the very pur­pose of music is lost for there is noth­ing about gram­mar which com­mu­ni­cates feel­ings and emo­tions.
  2. The stu­dent of music edu­ca­tion inevitably begins to think of music as some­thing for the eye. Indeed, it intrudes upon our very lan­guage, as we say “Now, watch the into­na­tion at let­ter B,” while it is hear­ing the into­na­tion at let­ter B which mat­ters. The fun­da­men­tal issue here is that our five sens­es tend to occu­py our mind only one at a time; they do not ordi­nar­i­ly work togeth­er. Thus the eye, by far the most dom­i­nant of our sens­es, tends to shut down the ear thus destroy­ing the very foun­da­tion of music.

    Aside from shut­ting down the ear, a con­sid­er­able con­fu­sion aris­es. We now begin to have three forms of a score. In the case of the con­duc­tor there is one on his music stand that he reads with his eyes, one in the room (which can be quite dif­fer­ent from the one he sees) that he hears with his ears and one in his mind which is the result of his study. One can wit­ness this con­fu­sion by watch­ing any con­duc­tor in rehearsal. If his head is up and he is con­duct­ing while look­ing at the ensem­ble he will have ade­quate facial expres­sion, sup­plied by the right hemi­sphere of his brain. But when he looks down at the score for some rea­son while the ensem­ble con­tin­ues to play you will invari­ably notice an imme­di­ate loss of all facial expres­sion, because the eye is now con­cerned with left hemi­sphere data. The face is the only major part of the body that either hemi­sphere can oper­ate, thus this strik­ing illus­tra­tion, a win­dow into his brain func­tion.

  3. The new empha­sis of left hemi­sphere teach­ing of music, togeth­er with its depen­dence on lan­guage and not music, leads to the cre­ation of arti­fi­cial new descrip­tions of music. This includes entire­ly use­less forms of knowl­edge, such as the way we teach forms in the typ­i­cal “Form and Analy­sis” class. The teacher will go to the black­board and in the cen­ter, at the top, he writes, “Sonata.” Under this he draws a brack­et with three new columns which are enti­tled “Expo­si­tion,” “Devel­op­ment” and “Reca­pit­u­la­tion.” Under­neath the first col­umn he now makes a new list, “first theme, episode, sec­ond theme and clos­ing theme,” etc. It looks like someone’s fam­i­ly tree.

    I call this “use­less infor­ma­tion” because nev­er again will either the play­er, com­pos­er or lis­ten­er ever use this infor­ma­tion. No one ever stands at the side of a barn, so to speak, to per­ceive the form of a com­po­si­tion. If form is to have an infor­ma­tion­al val­ue it must pre­sent­ed in a way that the stu­dent per­ceives it as if he were stand­ing at the left side of the black board look­ing though to the right side, that is per­ceive the music from the begin­ning to the end. One will nev­er use the infor­ma­tion about the sonata form as it is taught unless one some­time teach­es a class in “Form and Analy­sis”!

  4. The teach­ing of har­mo­ny is much the same. Chords are writ­ten on the black­board (for the eye) and described in numer­i­cal lan­guage. I doubt you will ever hear an instruc­tor in a begin­ning har­mo­ny class use the word “pain,” but that is the kind of thing chords describe. In fact, dur­ing my school days har­mo­ny was taught for the eye, but test­ed for the ear. No won­der it was dif­fi­cult.

I would pro­pose that there is noth­ing which the eye and the left hemi­sphere sees which has any­thing at all to do with real music, even though all of this becomes the sub­ject of musi­cal analy­sis in edu­ca­tion. Deryck Cooke, in his won­der­ful book, The Lan­guage of Music, finds it most strange that Music is the only art form in which we ana­lyze the gram­mar and not the con­tent.

If man is ever to ful­fill the mis­sion he under­took at the very start—when he first began to phi­los­o­phize, as a Greek, and evolved the slo­gan, ‘Know thyself’—he will have to under­stand his uncon­scious self; and the most artic­u­late lan­guage of the uncon­scious is music. But we as musi­cians, instead of try­ing to under­stand this lan­guage, preach the virtues of refus­ing to con­sid­er it a lan­guage at all; when we should be attempt­ing, as lit­er­ary crit­ics do, to expound and inter­pret the great mas­ter­pieces of our art for the ben­e­fit of human­i­ty at large, we con­cern our­selves more and more with parochial affairs—technical analy­ses and musi­co­log­i­cal minu­ti­ae—and pride our­selves on our detached, de-human­ized approach.6

Early American Music Education

Ear­ly music edu­ca­tion in Amer­i­ca, as in Europe, was often for func­tion­al pur­pos­es, in par­tic­u­lar for the needs of church music or civic cel­e­bra­tions. But at the same time there were small schools, or even just pri­vate teach­ing, by artists, where the focus was on art music, the high­est form of aes­thet­ic music.7 I am think­ing of the music schools found­ed by Schu­mann and Mendelssohn and the numer­ous pri­vate stu­dents of Chopin and Liszt.

After World War I, when Ger­many found itself in des­per­ate eco­nom­ic con­di­tions, many Ger­man musi­cians came to the US to teach. Piano and vio­lin stu­dents became very numer­ous and their study was accom­pa­nied by nation­al mag­a­zines, such as the Etude, which car­ried arti­cles by artists on the inter­pre­ta­tion of spe­cif­ic pieces of reper­toire. These old arti­cles make won­der­ful read­ing today, in our world of the MENC Jour­nal, which in my opin­ion appears to exist pri­mar­i­ly for the pur­pose of com­mer­cial sales pitch­es.

These for­eign artists brought to our shores an ancient tra­di­tion of indi­vid­ual music edu­ca­tion con­sist­ing of the pure, non-func­tion­al, lev­el, and I am a ben­e­fi­cia­ry of this tra­di­tion. My moth­er went to col­lege in the 1920s at Philips Uni­ver­si­ty, a very small pri­vate school locat­ed in a very small vil­lege in the mid­dle of nowhere, Enid, Okla­homa. A Dutch vio­lin­ist, by the name of Dyk­ster­huius, and a pianist who had stud­ied in Leipzig lived in Enid and taught at this small col­lege. I might add that I find it amaz­ing that inter­na­tion­al tours of impor­tant Euro­pean artists includ­ed Enid. My moth­er heard recitals by Gal­li-Cur­ci, Mme. Schu­man-Heink, Anna Pavlowa and a piano recital by Per­cy Grainger!

As I was grow­ing up my moth­er always car­ried a large load of pri­vate piano stu­dents which she taught in the home. To the stu­dents she passed on the fun­da­men­tal goal of her Euro­pean teach­ers, to inter­pret the emo­tions of the music. Her word for this was “expres­sion,” which also clar­i­fies that it was the feel­ings of the stu­dent with which she was con­cerned, not so much the inter­pre­ta­tion of some for­mer artist. Her stu­dents would play their lit­tle instruc­tion­al pieces and she would lean in toward them and plea “more expres­sion!”

I am remind­ed of a pri­vate piano teacher in Moor­park, CA, a for­mer grad­u­ate stu­dent of mine, Joan Thomp­son. She also taught in her home, small chil­dren sit­ting at an upright piano. On the wall above the piano she had hung a col­lec­tion of pho­tographs which she had col­lect­ed from mag­a­zines. They were all faces, one smil­ing, one laugh­ing, one sad, one cry­ing, etc. Her lit­tle stu­dent would play his instruc­tion­al pieces and when fin­ished Joan would stand up and point to a pic­ture. “Now play it again so it sounds like this face,” she would request. And it was amaz­ing, and most infor­ma­tive to me, how imme­di­ate­ly and accu­rate­ly the lit­tle inter­pre­ta­tions would change. It cer­tain­ly demon­strat­ed to me how effec­tive right hemi­sphere pri­vate edu­ca­tion can be at any age.

I should also add that the ear­ly part of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry was an era of radio and includ­ed many Clas­si­cal con­certs. The week­ly con­certs by the NBC Sym­pho­ny with Toscani­ni were reg­u­lar­ly lis­tened to by entire fam­i­lies gath­ered in the liv­ing room around a small radio. Let us not over­look the sig­nif­i­cance of this: expo­sure of the finest music, to ordi­nary lis­ten­ers by ear!

This was also the peri­od of the nation­al music con­tests, which played a basic role in the expan­sion of pub­lic schools. Unfor­tu­nate­ly they also began a cer­tain reg­i­men­ta­tion in instru­men­ta­tion and the empha­sis of left hemi­sphere val­ues, which will be dis­cussed below.

American Music Education Panics

On Octo­ber 4, 1957, an event occurred which changed the world, the launch­ing of Sput­nik I, the first man-made satel­lite, by the Sovi­et Union. You could see this object with the naked eye after dark and a radio sig­nal allowed every­one to hear it beep­ing. I can vivid­ly recall the nation­al-wide hys­te­ria this caused, com­ing as it did dur­ing some of the dark­est days of the Cold War. The aver­age Amer­i­can was at a loss of words, “We won the war, we invent­ed the auto­mo­bile, the air­plane, the radio, tele­phones, movies…how could some­one else do this?” Not all of the fore­go­ing was true, of course, but nev­er­the­less it set the stage for wide spread fear. Peo­ple imag­ined Rus­sia bomb­ing us from the sky while we were defense­less.

The imme­di­ate result in Amer­i­ca was a demand for more mon­ey for sci­ence and math­e­mat­ics. I remem­ber my music edu­ca­tion teach­ers at Michi­gan at that moment imme­di­ate­ly fear­ful that this sud­den change in nation­al pri­or­i­ties would result in the loss of nation­al sup­port for music edu­ca­tion.

The music edu­ca­tors’ response was a move­ment to change the direc­tion of music edu­ca­tion, to make music more a part of the core cur­ricu­lum. A won­der­ful goal, espe­cial­ly if they could empha­size the right hemi­sphere edu­ca­tion that music edu­ca­tion brings to soci­ety which noth­ing else does. But in an echo of the pan­ic of the Church one thou­sand years ear­li­er, the choice they made was to destroy the very nature of music edu­ca­tion. Mov­ing in the oppo­site direc­tion, lit­er­al­ly from right hemi­sphere to left hemi­sphere of the brain, a move­ment began to make music more like oth­er aca­d­e­m­ic sub­jects, empha­siz­ing the study of com­po­si­tion, music the­o­ry, music lit­er­a­ture and the Con­cep­tu­al Approach to Music Edu­ca­tion became the rage. Need­less to say, text­book pub­lish­ers were delight­ed for waves and waves of new books could be sold.

Anoth­er even more fun­da­men­tal change of direc­tion caused by the pan­ic of the music edu­ca­tion estab­lish­ment was the ques­tion of account­abil­i­ty. How can you estab­lish valid­i­ty of any art in the right hemi­sphere, where every thing must be judged on an indi­vid­ual basis? The imme­di­ate response, as the read­er will see below, was to move music edu­ca­tion into the domain of the left hemi­sphere, a world com­plete­ly for­eign to any art form but a move they hoped would align them­selves with math and sci­ence.

So broad was this atmos­phere of edu­ca­tion­al pan­ic that oth­er intel­lec­tu­als beyond music edu­ca­tors began hold­ing con­fer­ences. In 1959 the Amer­i­can Coun­cil of Learned Soci­eties and the Amer­i­can Musi­co­log­i­cal Soci­ety formed com­mit­tees to improve music edu­ca­tion. Noth­ing much was accom­plished by either effort.

At this time the Nation­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion set up a meet­ing in New York City to see if some­thing could be done to help music edu­ca­tion in the pub­lic schools. The NSF had no funds to sup­port such a study, so the US Office of Edu­ca­tion came for­ward with a large grant to spon­sor a Yale Sem­i­nar on Music Edu­ca­tion in 1963.

The pur­pose of the Yale Sem­i­nar was to ana­lyze school music and to pro­pose improve­ments. The Sem­i­nar, held for 12 days in June and July, 1963, had its empha­sis on musi­cal­i­ty, stim­u­lat­ing cre­ativ­i­ty, com­po­si­tion and per­for­mance. Per­for­mance activ­i­ties should be bal­anced among all groups and reper­toire should be more con­tem­po­rary, includ­ing jazz and non-West­ern music. The most inter­est­ing thing about this Sem­i­nar of con­cerned intel­lec­tu­als, com­posers, musi­col­o­gists and crit­ics was that no music edu­ca­tors were invit­ed to par­tic­i­pate! The Yale Sem­i­nar did not pro­duce any tan­gi­ble results, but it did gain pub­lic­i­ty and put the empha­sis on music itself, rather than being occu­pied with teach­ing meth­ods as an end result.

With respect to the fun­da­men­tal changes in music edu­ca­tion in the sec­ond half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, the most impor­tant Sem­i­nar was one which fol­lowed the Yale Sem­i­nar. The birth of this one, the Tan­gle­wood Sym­po­sium of 1967, was frankly due to pure anger. The music edu­ca­tion pro­fes­sion­als were angered by the Yale Sem­i­nar, that they were not invit­ed to par­tic­i­pate in and that rec­om­men­da­tions for alter­ing the nature of music edu­ca­tion were being pro­posed by com­posers and musi­col­o­gists and not by music edu­ca­tors. In order to dis­tance them­selves as much as pos­si­ble they named their con­fer­ence a Sym­po­sium, rather than a Sem­i­nar. It was with this Tan­gle­wood Sym­po­sium that the Music Edu­ca­tors Nation­al Con­fer­ence (MENC) began to become the spokes­men for Amer­i­can music edu­ca­tion in gen­er­al, where­as pre­vi­ous­ly it had been an orga­ni­za­tion con­cerned pri­mar­i­ly with the ele­men­tary school lev­el and teach­ers of gen­er­al music edu­ca­tion.9

Fol­low­ing the Tan­gle­wood Sym­po­sium, the MENC began a long series of host­ing fur­ther com­mis­sions and sem­i­nars, each result­ing in for­mal objec­tives and goals. For the reader’s back­ground I will list the most impor­tant of these below, includ­ing the dec­la­ra­tions of the 1967 Sym­po­sium itself. Before list­ing these, how­ev­er, I want to beg the reader’s care­ful atten­tion in look­ing at each of these and to ask him­self the ques­tion, “Is this real­ly about Music?” or “Is this real­ly about the bureau­cra­cy of music edu­ca­tion?” Or, “Are the edu­ca­tion author­i­ties more con­cerned about pol­i­tics?”

The reader’s answers to these ques­tions will per­haps help him under­stand the decline of MENC itself, the decline of qual­i­ty music edu­ca­tion in the schools and the dra­mat­ic changes in the qual­i­ty and use of music itself in our soci­ety. The MENC con­fer­ences are a case in point. I recall attend­ing them in the 1950s when there was a strong empha­sis on per­for­mance. Today you go, you see a clin­ic in the sched­ule for “Aids in Tun­ing” and go attend expect­ing some fine artist will have valu­able advice. But when you find the room, there is no fine musi­cian there but rather a sales­man for a pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny. I would like to ask the per­ma­nent staff of the MENC what the word “Music” in their title means.

In order to illus­trate the impor­tance of the read­er con­tem­plat­ing these var­i­ous goals and objec­tives, let me take one of these projects as an exam­ple. This is the Ford Foundation’s fund­ing of one of the Con­tem­po­rary Music Project’s pro­grams, the Young Com­posers Project in which real com­posers spent peri­ods of time in a par­tic­u­lar school and in many cas­es actu­al­ly com­pos­ing a work for the stu­dents of that school. Laud­able as this project was, it was not ipso fac­to “music edu­ca­tion.” I remind the read­er of the def­i­n­i­tions at the begin­ning of this paper: “music” means only “live per­for­mance before a lis­ten­er” and that the pur­pose of music is the under­stand­ing of and abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate feel­ings and emo­tions, thus must be of the right hemi­sphere domain. Hav­ing the com­pos­er present is not in and of itself, there­fore, music edu­ca­tion. Hav­ing the com­pos­er talk to the stu­dents about his approach to com­po­si­tion, his use of har­mo­ny, etc. is not music edu­ca­tion, it is edu­ca­tion­al infor­ma­tion about the gram­mar of music. It is exact­ly the same as would be the case if your inter­est were in the study of Ham­let, but you were giv­en only lec­tures on the gram­mar used by Shake­speare. The com­pos­er pro­duc­ing a new work for the school is not music edu­ca­tion, it is sim­ply a gift. How­ev­er, if the com­pos­er sits down with the stu­dents and ask them to think about and dis­cuss what they were feel­ing as a direct response to some por­tion of the com­po­si­tion, or speaks of the spe­cif­ic emo­tions he was try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate and have the stu­dents dis­cuss whether they did or did not feel this com­mu­ni­ca­tion, then we have entered the realm of music edu­ca­tion.

With my cau­tion to the read­er to con­sid­er for him­self the rela­tion­ship of real music edu­ca­tion and the var­i­ous goals and edu­ca­tion­al objec­tives of the var­i­ous stud­ies of the sec­ond half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, I will return now to the 1967 Tan­gle­wood Sym­po­sium. The imme­di­ate result of this Tan­gle­wood Sym­po­sium was “The Tan­gle­wood Dec­la­ra­tion,” writ­ten by Allen Brit­ton, from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan fac­ul­ty, Arnold Broi­do, the head of Theodore Press­er Music Pub­lish­ers and Charles Gary, exec­u­tive sec­re­tary of MENC. In their pref­ace they call for music to be a core part of the school cur­ricu­lum because of music’s “con­tri­bu­tion to the art of liv­ing, the build­ing of per­son­al iden­ti­ty, and nur­tur­ing cre­ativ­i­ty.” Then a fine com­ment about the arts in gen­er­al,

The arts afford a con­ti­nu­ity with the aes­thet­ic tra­di­tion in man’s his­to­ry. Music and oth­er fine arts, large­ly non-ver­bal in nature, reach close to the social, psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­o­log­i­cal roots of man in his search for iden­ti­ty and self-real­iza­tion.

The three authors then tell us “Music edu­ca­tors at Tan­gle­wood agreed on the fol­low­ing:”

  1. Music serves best when its integri­ty as an art is main­tained.
  2. Music of all peri­ods, styles, forms and cul­tures belongs in the cur­ricu­lum. The musi­cal reper­to­ry should be expand­ed to involve music of our time in its rich vari­ety, includ­ing cur­rent­ly pop­u­lar teenage music and avant-garde music, Amer­i­can folk music and the music of oth­er cul­tures.
  3. Schools and col­leges should pro­vide ade­quate time for music in pro­grams rang­ing from preschool through adult or con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion.
  4. Instruc­tion in the arts should be a gen­er­al and impor­tant part of edu­ca­tion in the senior high school.
  5. Devel­op­ments in edu­ca­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy, edu­ca­tion­al tele­vi­sion, pro­grammed instruc­tion, and com­put­er-assist­ed instruc­tion should be applied to music study and research.
  6. Greater empha­sis should be placed on help­ing the indi­vid­ual stu­dent to ful­fill his needs, goals and poten­tials.
  7. The music edu­ca­tion pro­fes­sion must con­tribute its skills, pro­fi­cien­cies, and insights toward assist­ing in the solu­tion of urgent social prob­lems as in the “inner city” or oth­er areas with cul­tur­al­ly deprived indi­vid­u­als.
  8. Pro­grams of teacher edu­ca­tion must be expand­ed and improved to pro­vide music teach­ers who are spe­cial­ly equipped to teach high school cours­es in the his­to­ry and lit­er­a­ture of music, cours­es in the human­i­ties and relat­ed arts, as well as teach­ers equipped to work with the very young, with adults, with dis­ad­van­taged, and with emo­tion­al­ly dis­turbed.

Well you don’t see the word “per­for­mance” there so I, at least, have to won­der where “music” fit into their think­ing. To me this sounds not so much a com­ment on what music edu­ca­tion should be as it does a kind of sur­vey of the cul­tur­al needs of the nation.

I also want to make a per­son­al obser­va­tion here. These Tan­gle­wood “Dec­la­ra­tions,” as well as the fol­low­ing thir­ty-five goals and objec­tives which were a result of var­i­ous com­mit­tee reports at the Sym­po­sium, do not reflect at all what I per­son­al­ly heard at the time. I vivid­ly recall that the strongest feel­ing among the del­e­gates, indeed the very goal of many of them, was a desire to min­i­mize the impor­tance of per­for­mance in music edu­ca­tion. The spe­cif­ic ral­ly­ing cry was the “peak expe­ri­ence,” which meant the school con­cert. By this they meant music edu­ca­tion should not be cen­tered and have mean­ing in a two-hour “grand moment,” but rather in the day by day learn­ing expe­ri­ence. This was, in my opin­ion, the focal point of the main response by the post-Sput­nik pan­ic in music edu­ca­tion. Con­duc­tors like Rev­el­li, Fen­nell and James Niel­son moved with great celebri­ty through the nation giv­ing won­der­ful con­certs. But what about the thou­sands of oth­er music teach­ers who could not be great con­duc­tors, nor even thought of them­selves as artists? What is left for them; how do they fit in? They can talk about Music and the MENC sym­bol­i­cal­ly award­ed them account­abil­i­ty for it.

After all the com­mit­tee reports were con­densed, Paul Lehman, an old school friend of mine and future pres­i­dent of MENC, draft­ed the pro­posed “MENC goals and objec­tives.” These thir­ty-five objec­tives were approved offi­cial­ly by MENC in Octo­ber, 1970. Again, I beg the read­er to con­sid­er if these reflect actu­al con­cern for the nature and qual­i­ty of music edu­ca­tion for the child, or if this is just a left hemi­sphere talk­ing to oth­er left hemi­spheres.

  1. Lead in efforts to devel­op pro­grams of music instruc­tion chal­leng­ing to all stu­dents, what­ev­er their socio­cul­tur­al con­di­tion, and direct­ed toward the needs of cit­i­zens in a plu­ral­ist soci­ety.
  2. Lead in the devel­op­ment of pro­grams of study that cor­re­late per­form­ing, cre­at­ing, and lis­ten­ing to music and encom­pass a diver­si­ty of musi­cal behav­iors.
  3. Assist teach­ers in the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of musi­cal behav­iors rel­e­vant to the needs of their stu­dents.
  4. Advance the teach­ing of music of all peri­ods, styles, forms and cul­tures.
  5. Pro­mote the devel­op­ment of instruc­tion­al pro­grams in aes­thet­ic edu­ca­tion.
  6. Advo­cate the expan­sion of music edu­ca­tion to include preschool chil­dren.
  7. Lead in efforts to ensure that every school sys­tem requires music from kinder­garten through grade six and for a min­i­mum of two years beyond that lev­el.
  8. Lead in efforts to ensure that every sec­ondary school offers an array of music cours­es to meet of all youth.
  9. Pro­mote chal­leng­ing cours­es in music for the gen­er­al col­lege stu­dent.
  10. Advo­cate the expan­sion of music edu­ca­tion for adults both in and out of school.
  11. Devel­op stan­dards to ensure that all music instruc­tion is pro­vid­ed by teach­ers well pre­pared in music.
  12. Encour­age the improve­ment and con­tin­u­ous updat­ing of pre­ser­vice and inser­vice edu­ca­tion pro­gram for all per­sons who teach music pro­grams and in the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of music teach­ers.
  13. Expand its pro­grams to secure greater involve­ment and com­mit­ment of stu­dent mem­bers.
  14. Assist grad­u­ate schools in devel­op­ing cur­ric­u­la espe­cial­ly designed for the prepa­ra­tion of teach­ers.
  15. Devel­op and rec­om­mend accred­i­ta­tion cri­te­ria for the use of rec­og­nized agen­cies in the approval of school and col­lege music.
  16. Sup­port the expan­sion of teacher edu­ca­tion pro­grams to include spe­cial­iza­tions designed to meet cur­rent needs.
  17. Assume lead­er­ship in the appli­ca­tion of sig­nif­i­cant new devel­op­ments in cur­ricu­lum, teach­ing-learn­ing tech­niques and tech­nol­o­gy, instruc­tion­al and staffing pat­terns, eval­u­a­tion, and relat­ed top­ics to every area and lev­el of music teach­ing.
  18. Assume lead­er­ship in the devel­op­ment of resources for music teach­ing and learn­ing.
  19. Coop­er­ate in the devel­op­ment of exem­plary mod­els of desir­able pro­grams and prac­tices in the teach­ing of music.
  20. Encour­age max­i­mum use of com­mu­ni­ty music resources to enhance edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams.
  21. Lead in efforts to ensure that every school sys­tem allo­cates suf­fi­cient staff, time, and funds to sup­port a com­pre­hen­sive and excel­lent music pro­gram.
  22. Pro­vide advi­so­ry assis­tance where music pro­grams are threat­ened by leg­isla­tive, admin­is­tra­tive, or oth­er action.
  23. Con­duct pub­lic rela­tions pro­grams to build com­mu­ni­ty sup­port for music edu­ca­tion.
  24. Pro­mote the con­duct of research and research-relat­ed activ­i­ties in music edu­ca­tion.
  25. Dis­sem­i­nate news of research in order that research find­ings may be applied prompt­ly and effec­tive­ly.
  26. Deter­mine the most urgent needs for infor­ma­tion in music edu­ca­tion.
  27. Gath­er and dis­sem­i­nate infor­ma­tion about music and edu­ca­tion.
  28. Encour­age oth­er orga­ni­za­tions, agen­cies, and com­mu­ni­ca­tions media to gath­er and dis­sem­i­nate infor­ma­tion about music and edu­ca­tion.
  29. Ini­ti­ate efforts to estab­lish infor­ma­tion retrieval sys­tems in music and edu­ca­tion, and to devel­op data bases for sub­se­quent incor­po­ra­tion into such sys­tems.
  30. Pur­sue effec­tive work­ing rela­tion­ships with orga­ni­za­tions and groups hav­ing mutu­al inter­ests.
  31. Strength­en the rela­tion­ships between the con­fer­ence and its fed­er­at­ed, asso­ci­at­ed, and aux­il­iary orga­ni­za­tions.
  32. Estab­lish pro­ce­dures for its orga­ni­za­tion­al pro­gram plan­ning and pol­i­cy.
  33. Seek to expand its mem­ber­ship to include all per­sons who, in any capac­i­ty, teach music.
  34. Peri­od­i­cal­ly eval­u­ate the effec­tive­ness of its poli­cies and pro­grams.
  35. Ensure sys­tem­at­ic inter­ac­tion with its mem­ber­ship con­cern­ing the goals and objec­tives of the con­fer­ence.

Dur­ing the sub­se­quent ten years the MENC through a vari­ety of pub­li­ca­tions attempt­ed to act on these thir­ty-five objec­tives. A spokesman, how­ev­er, admit­ted that “some were not attain­able because many fac­tors are beyond the con­trol of MENC.”

MENC played a new role in 1954 when it began the process of pro­fes­sion­al philo­soph­i­cal intro­spec­tion by appoint­ing its Com­mis­sion on Basic Con­cepts, which rep­re­sent­ed music edu­ca­tion, psy­chol­o­gy, soci­ol­o­gy and phi­los­o­phy.

The pub­li­ca­tion of Foun­da­tions and Prin­ci­ples of Music Edu­ca­tion (1959) by Charles Leon­hard and Robert House pro­vid­ed the frame­work for the devel­op­ment of an aes­thet­ic phi­los­o­phy of music, encour­ag­ing music edu­ca­tors to teach music for its own val­ue, rather than for its extra-musi­cal, or ancil­lary, ben­e­fits. Some must have found this rather old-fash­ioned!

Dur­ing the 1950s and 1960s the Orff and Kodá­ly meth­ods from Europe began to appear, accord­ing to one spokesman “because they were con­so­nant with con­cep­tu­al learn­ing prin­ci­ples.”10 I can say from per­son­al expe­ri­ence in Europe that this descrip­tion would have been a great sur­prise to Orff, whose sys­tem taught pure music-mak­ing for a con­sid­er­able time before chil­dren were even intro­duced to nota­tion.

MENC cospon­sored the Ann Arbor Sym­po­sium from 1978 to 1980 to explore the rela­tion­ship between research in behav­ioral psy­chol­o­gy and in music edu­ca­tion psy­chol­o­gy.

These kinds of mas­sive efforts by MENC con­tin­ued and include the empha­sis on Nation­al Stan­dards famil­iar to most peo­ple today.

I am con­fi­dent the read­er can see from the fore­go­ing, that MENC took Music, the dom­i­nant voice of the expe­ri­en­tial right hemi­sphere of our brain and delib­er­ate­ly turned it into a left hemi­sphere con­cep­tu­al descrip­tion of music in an effort to gain account­abil­i­ty in the post-Sput­nik edu­ca­tion­al world. But Music, both as I define it, and as clin­i­cal research as estab­lished, has noth­ing at all to do with the left hemi­sphere of the brain, except for nota­tion. Nei­ther, in fact, can the left hemi­sphere form con­cep­tu­al lan­guage to describe the expe­ri­en­tial nature of Music in the right hemi­sphere. The left hemi­sphere can only form con­cep­tu­al lan­guage to describe things about the gram­mar of music.

There is also point of view that MENC, for all its efforts, has had lit­tle impact on music edu­ca­tion because it is not an orga­ni­za­tion that can make things hap­pen or change so much as do indi­vid­u­als.

There is anoth­er point of view. In an era where school chil­dren want music, to hear music, to make music and to per­form music, MENC has dis­cour­aged this and attempt­ed to replace it with left hemi­sphere lit­er­ary con­cepts which are of very lit­tle inter­est to school chil­dren. And so today the chil­dren go home and teach them­selves to play instru­ments, to sing and to com­pose.

Final­ly, one can­not hon­est­ly eval­u­ate the results of the shift to con­cep­tu­al music teach­ing made by the 1967 Tan­gle­wood Sym­po­sium with­out con­sid­er­ing the fol­low­ing facts:

Dur­ing the 1970s the par­tic­i­pa­tion of high school stu­dents in music cours­es declined from 25.1 to 21.6 per­cent, and fell even more dur­ing the 1980s.
[The Amer­i­can School Board Jour­nal, Decem­ber, 1988, page 15]

A 1985 sur­vey by the Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts found:
61% of adults do not attend one cul­tur­al event per year.
80% of adults have nev­er had a music appre­ci­a­tion course, yet
25% [57 mil­lion!!] of adults played an instru­ment

A 1991 Report of the Nation­al Com­mis­sion on Music Edu­ca­tion (Reston: MENC, 1991) found,
In stu­dent-teacher ratio in music, South Dako­ta ranked best at 151:1 and Cal­i­for­nia last at 1,535:1
Only 15% of Cal­i­for­nia music class­es were taught by a qual­i­fied music teacher.

The MENC itself has seen its for­tunes fall dra­mat­i­cal­ly in recent years. No longer does MENC spon­sor divi­sion­al con­fer­ences or a nation­al con­fer­ence per se. I know influ­en­tial music edu­ca­tion pro­fes­sion­als who believe MENC can­not long sur­vive.

Per­haps, then, it is time to take a clos­er look at the price have we paid for turn­ing the per­for­mance of music in the schools into con­cep­tu­al data.

What is the Price we have Paid for Creating Conceptual Music Education?

Noth­ing is more futile than the­o­riz­ing about music.
Hein­rich Heine, 1837

Noth­ing is more dif­fi­cult than to speak about music.
Saint-Saëns, 1903

A Loss of Credibility

When the pro­fes­sion­al music edu­ca­tors of MENC elect­ed to min­i­mize the teach­ing of music through per­for­mance and replace it with Con­cep­tu­al Music Edu­ca­tion, they unwit­ting­ly vio­lat­ed phys­i­o­log­i­cal process­es of the mind which should be at the very foun­da­tions of human edu­ca­tion. First, mov­ing from the Nat­ur­al orga­ni­za­tion­al char­ac­ter­is­tics of the right hemi­sphere and going to that of the left hemi­sphere, meant mov­ing from the expe­ri­en­tial under­stand­ing of the indi­vid­ual to the left hemi­sphere where every­thing which is stored there is the expe­ri­ence of some­one else. The stu­dent is told that two plus two is four and he must mem­o­rize that as a fact, but not from the find­ings of his own expe­ri­ence. The impli­ca­tion of this is that the infor­ma­tion of the left hemi­sphere must be true. It then fol­lows that the music edu­ca­tor falls into the trap of say­ing things which are sim­ply not true.

For exam­ple, by hav­ing the stu­dent mem­o­rize the rules of the gram­mar of music the stu­dent is led to under­stand that these rules are what pro­duces suc­cess­ful music. But this is not true. As Voltaire once point­ed out, “Lul­ly and the very worst com­posers both worked by the same rules.”11 And Mahler added,

It is a pecu­liar­i­ty of the inter­pre­ta­tion of works of art that the ratio­nal ele­ment in them is almost nev­er their true real­i­ty.12

The music educator’s very nomen­cla­ture becomes an illu­sion.

We say we are teach­ing rhythm, but we are teach­ing arith­metic and it is no won­der the stu­dent has dif­fi­cul­ty feel­ing rhythm when it is taught for the eye.

We say we are teach­ing music when we teach har­mo­ny, but we are actu­al­ly teach­ing how to read and under­stand a graph­ic for­eign lan­guage. Har­mo­ny is not music.

All uni­ver­si­ties have a course in music his­to­ry, but few teach the course as a music course. For exam­ple in music his­to­ry baroque music is not a prod­uct of the Baroque Era, rather the Baroque Era is the result of baroque music.

Speak­ing of the con­fu­sion in lan­guage, what do we mean by “music edu­ca­tion” with respect to the instru­men­tal rehearsal? One fre­quent­ly observes a school instru­men­tal rehearsal which pro­ceeds as fol­lows. The ensem­ble begins to play. They stop and the con­duc­tor speaks about what he hears. The ensem­ble begins to play, they stop and the con­duc­tor talks; play, talk, play, talk, etc. It seems most curi­ous to me that all of what we teach this con­duc­tor about his role as a music edu­ca­tor is focused only on the inter­vals where there is no music.

The stud­ies of the indi­vid­ual musi­cian in the uni­ver­si­ty are cen­tered in tech­nique. At the end of each semes­ter he must per­form for the fac­ul­ty, which usu­al­ly hold an adju­di­ca­tion form with places for com­ments on left hemi­sphere gram­mar, such as tone, tech­nique, rhythm, etc. But Pla­to said that the test of a music stu­dent was whether he could move the emo­tions of the lis­ten­er. Imag­ine if this were the sole cri­te­ria for the semes­ter juries. How would it change instruc­tion? How would it change the atti­tude of the stu­dent toward his instru­ment if he found that it was pri­mar­i­ly a vehi­cle to express him­self?

Accountability becomes Conformation

Even more unset­tling to me about the music edu­ca­tors mov­ing music edu­ca­tion from the right hemi­sphere of the brain to the left hemi­sphere in order to cre­ate their new design of Con­cep­tu­al Music Edu­ca­tion is that in the world of the left hemi­sphere con­for­mi­ty is the rule. There can be no indi­vid­u­al­i­ty in the left hemi­sphere. Two plus two is, and must be, the same for every­one on earth. Now account­abil­i­ty must lie with the per­fect una­nim­i­ty of the group and not the indi­vid­ual.

Let take as an illus­tra­tion the high school band con­test, usu­al­ly called a “fes­ti­val” to dis­guise the fact that there are win­ners and losers. First, in order to have an adju­di­ca­tion con­test there must be total agree­ment among teach­ers and adju­di­ca­tors on exact­ly what is to be adju­di­cat­ed. Since indi­vid­ual reac­tions to musi­cal­i­ty by the adju­di­ca­tors is not per­mis­si­ble, and usu­al­ly a cap­tion such as “Was it musi­cal?” is nev­er found on the adju­di­ca­tion form, the fac­tors to be adju­di­cat­ed are there­fore only mat­ters of musi­cal tech­nique and gram­mar, such as tone, into­na­tion, tech­ni­cal accu­ra­cy, etc. Even the con­duc­tor must strict­ly con­form to the left hemi­sphere data of the adju­di­ca­tion sheet; he is not free to engage his own musi­cal judg­ment, through ruba­to for exam­ple. Most detri­men­tal to music edu­ca­tion of all is the fact that qual­i­ty of the reper­toire per­formed does not mat­ter. It is not what you per­form, but how you per­form.

The impor­tant bot­tom line is that the con­test is one in which only mat­ters capa­ble of adju­di­ca­tion by the left hemi­sphere of the adju­di­ca­tor are judged while the actu­al event per­tains only to his right hemi­sphere. There is one more lit­tle secret cred­i­bil­i­ty issue here. Any­one who has ever adju­di­cat­ed one of the con­tests and hears fif­teen or twen­ty bands one after the oth­er quick­ly real­izes that he is not grad­ing the band, as the results tes­ti­fy, but he is real­ly judg­ing the con­duc­tor.

Though indi­vid­u­als cre­ate the per­for­mance, the grade is only a group grade. Thus the aim of indi­vid­ual instruc­tion is lost and every­thing is focused on the con­for­mi­ty of the group. Over a num­ber of years this has caused the empha­sis to be on the activ­i­ty, not the musi­cal edu­ca­tion of the indi­vid­ual.

Conceptual Education opens the door for Commercial Influence

If music edu­ca­tion were entire­ly cen­tered in the right hemi­sphere of the brain, except for some basic teach­ing aids, there would be no com­mer­cial inter­est in this form of edu­ca­tion. The com­mer­cial indus­try requires the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the left hemi­sphere to sell and the large num­bers achieved by con­for­mi­ty to earn prof­its.

Does the com­mer­cial world influ­ence music edu­ca­tion? Obtain a copy of the MENC Jour­nal and look through it. The ads will tell you more about the state of music edu­ca­tion than the arti­cles.

Conceptual Music Education has caused a loss of Public Support

Admin­is­tra­tors and par­ents of par­tic­i­pat­ing young musi­cians are equipped by Nature, by genet­ic aspects of music giv­en them at birth, to judge whether a musi­cal per­for­mance is good or bad. And what should par­tic­u­lar­ly engage the atten­tion of the school con­duc­tor is the fact that there seems to be no mid­dle ground in this deci­sion. No adult has ever said, “It was almost a good con­cert.”

The music edu­ca­tion pro­fes­sion does not help save the day because the admin­is­tra­tor and the par­ent know noth­ing about the gram­mar of music, nor would they care if they did.

Richard Wag­n­er, who in addi­tion to hav­ing been one of our great com­posers, was a philoso­pher, was a great intel­lec­tu­al and a keen observ­er of music edu­ca­tion. His con­cerns were sim­i­lar to sev­er­al of the above, includ­ing the rela­tion­ship with the pub­lic, and he addressed them in com­ments which some may find most famil­iar today.

That the accep­tance of the emp­ty for the sound is cre­tinis­ing every­thing we pos­sess in the way of schools, tuition, acad­e­mies and so on, by ruin­ing the most nat­ur­al feel­ings and mis­guid­ing the fac­ul­ties of the ris­ing gen­er­a­tion, we may take as pun­ish­ment for the sloth and lethar­gy we so much love. But that we should pay for all this, and have noth­ing left when we come to our sens­es, this, to be frank, is abom­inable!13

Putting Music back into Music Education

The notion that you can edu­cate a child musi­cal­ly by any oth­er means
what­so­ev­er except than of hav­ing beau­ti­ful music fine­ly per­formed
with­in its hear­ing, is a notion which I feel con­strained to denounce.
George Bernard Shaw, Music in Lon­don, 1890–1894

Noth­ing is more futile than the­o­riz­ing about music.
No doubt there are laws, math­e­mat­i­cal­ly strict laws,
but these laws are not music; they are only its con­di­tions…
The essence of music is rev­e­la­tion; it does not admit of exact reck­on­ing.
Hein­rich Heine, Let­ters on the French Stage, 1837

By putting music back into Music Edu­ca­tion, we mean per­for­mance and a return to the ages old prac­tice of iden­ti­fy­ing Music with the right hemi­sphere of the brain. Of course it has only been recent clin­i­cal brain research which has iden­ti­fied the loca­tion, but all ear­li­er philoso­phers, writ­ers of all kinds, teach­ers and musi­cians, whether they used words like feel­ing, heart, instinct or intu­ition, all agreed that the essence and pur­pose of Music had noth­ing to do with con­cep­tu­al data.

I believe it is impor­tant here to offer read­ers some reas­sur­ance about the right hemi­sphere. Ear­ly philoso­phers always said that Rea­son should rule man. Although they had no med­ical knowl­edge of the bicam­er­al brain, nor the fact that the hemi­spheres con­trol oppo­site sides of the body, this ancient dog­ma has been reflect­ed by writ­ers who speak in favor of the right hand (Rea­son and the left hemi­sphere) and with prej­u­dice towards the left hand. The favored one sits at the right hand of the king; one denounces the left-hand­ed com­pli­ments, etc. In fact, it is aston­ish­ing how fre­quent­ly this appears in the lit­er­a­ture of the past 2,000 years. The notion takes on even more weight when found in reli­gious books. Con­sid­er the fol­low­ing:

A wise man’s heart inclines him toward the right,
But a fool’s heart toward the left.
Eccle­si­astes 10:2

In the Book of John, 21:14, Jesus finds his Dis­ci­ples fish­ing all night on the left side of the boat, but hav­ing caught noth­ing. “Cast your net on the right side of the boat,” says Jesus, “and you will find some.” They do and sud­den­ly there so many fish they could not haul in the nets. And who would not be alarmed by read­ing in Matthew 25:31–46,

When the Son of man comes in his glo­ry, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glo­ri­ous throne…Then the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inher­it the king­dom pre­pared for you from the foun­da­tion of the world…”

Then he will say to those at his left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eter­nal fire pre­pared for the dev­il and his angels.”

I would sup­pose this ancient prej­u­dice was some­how con­nect­ed to the sim­ple fact that the great major­i­ty of peo­ple are right-hand­ed. But mod­ern clin­i­cal research has found more. In tri­als the left hemi­sphere, the only side that can talk or write, attempts by var­i­ous actions to imply that it does not even know the right hemi­sphere exists, or that it is wrong. One can see how it fol­lows that the edu­ca­tion­al world for the most part only edu­cates half a brain; we are all sent into the world as half-wits.

Well, let’s be hon­est, we all know we are not inclined to fol­low Rea­son; we fol­low our feel­ings. If you are look­ing for a used car you can do hours of research, and have the sales­man fol­low you down the line of cars, but sud­den­ly you find, “I want that one!” and all the research is for noth­ing. Recent clin­i­cal brain research has now con­firmed that in fact all major deci­sions are made by our emo­tions which deter­mine our choic­es and not left hemi­sphere ratio­nal data. This is true whether we are buy­ing a car, a house or choos­ing a wife.

And the fact that we make impor­tant deci­sions in the right hemi­sphere, even though it can­not speak14 or write, doc­u­ments how impor­tant it is to the indi­vid­ual life. And the left hemi­sphere, don’t for­get, con­tains only oth­er people’s opin­ions. So let us have no fear about engag­ing in music edu­ca­tion in the right hemi­sphere of the brain – it is Nat­ur­al.

The Unique Educational Opportunities in the Right Hemisphere

Because the right hemi­sphere is the side which deals with per­son­al expe­ri­ence, con­sid­er the fol­low­ing four edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties not avail­able in left brain tra­di­tion­al edu­ca­tion.

  1. It is in the right hemi­sphere that we can expe­ri­ence the goal often men­tioned by ear­li­er philoso­phers of edu­ca­tion regard­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty of our being in touch with great minds. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly true of Music more than oth­er fields. When study­ing geom­e­try one does not feel in touch with Euclid. But in play­ing a Beethoven Sonata one can feel very con­nect­ed with the com­pos­er. One can­not dis­miss the oppor­tu­ni­ty in such a case for impor­tant insights. It is here that the issue of per­form­ing high qual­i­ty reper­toire becomes impor­tant. Philoso­phers since the ancient Greek Peri­od, as well as great com­posers, have empha­sized expos­ing the stu­dent to only the high­est qual­i­ty music. Aristo­phanes, 450–366 BC, in his play, The Clouds, writes of the edu­ca­tion of boys to be pro­fes­sion­al lyre play­ers,

    Their lyres were strung
    Not to igno­ble melodies, for they were taught
    A lofti­er key.

    Robert Schu­mann wrote,

    No chil­dren can be brought to healthy man­hood on can­dy and pas­try. Spir­i­tu­al like bod­i­ly nour­ish­ment must be sol­id. The mas­ters have pro­vid­ed it; cleave to them.

    The point is wor­thy of con­sid­er­a­tion. If your school chil­dren are going to be exposed to the minds of oth­er men, do you want to offer them some vio­lent rap­per?

  2. In the same way, the right hemi­sphere helps the stu­dent become aware of the uni­ver­sal­i­ty of time. The stu­dent dis­cov­ers that the emo­tions of hap­py or sad were the same for Mozart as for him­self.
  3. The expe­ri­en­tial nature of the right hemi­sphere per­mits the stu­dent a con­nec­tion with great men and events of the past. The stu­dent per­form­ing the orig­i­nal band com­po­si­tion, Siegess­in­fonie by Beethoven, can feel a real con­nec­tion with Beethoven and Napoleon. His­tor­i­cal writ­ings addressed to the left hemi­sphere of the brain will always seem like dis­tant data to the mod­ern stu­dent.
  4. It is in the right hemi­sphere where the stu­dent can learn and under­stand per­for­mance styles and idioms of ear­li­er peri­ods. This is what Wag­n­er meant, in his plans for a music school in Munich, when he con­tend­ed,

    The invis­i­ble bond, unit­ing the var­i­ous branch­es of study, will always have to be per­for­mance.15

Fol­low­ing are sev­er­al char­ac­ter­is­tic fea­tures of the right hemi­sphere which are unique­ly dif­fer­ent from the left hemi­sphere. I believe there is sig­nif­i­cant oppor­tu­ni­ty here for a cre­ative music teacher to dis­cov­er and cre­ate rich expe­ri­ences for his stu­dents.

1. The right hemi­sphere finds a spe­cial joy in going back­ward in time. It is here that we are so moved to see an old town we have seen in many years, or an old friend’s face after some long time (his name we may for­get, for as lan­guage it is stored in a dif­fer­ent computer—the left hemi­sphere).

It is this spe­cial loca­tion of enjoy­ment which gives us sat­is­fac­tion in hear­ing a reca­pit­u­la­tion or da capo, “here we are back home again.” It seems obvi­ous as well that this was the ori­gin of these so-called archi­tec­tur­al forms, such as ABA, begin­ning in the Baroque.

There is noth­ing what­so­ev­er like this in the left hemi­sphere. We would find no enjoy­ment when com­ing to the end of a nov­el to read, “go back and read the first five chap­ters.” And num­bers con­sist in a lin­ear pro­gres­sion which begins 1, 2, 3, 4 and nev­er ever returns to 1.

2. The right hemi­sphere also has cer­tain prop­er­ties, unique unto itself, which gov­ern our per­cep­tions of Time. Every­one, if you stop to think about it, knows that the expe­ri­ence of Time can be quite dif­fer­ent from clock Time. One famil­iar exam­ple lies in the fact that it seems to con­tain “soft­ware” for con­dens­ing Time, so that today seems longer to us than all of the pre­vi­ous month in our mem­o­ry. This fea­ture has been known for a very long time and it is rea­son why we do not take repeats in the da capo of the min­uet form, for exam­ple. After hav­ing heard this music with repeats, by the time the da capo comes this mate­r­i­al will have shrunk in our mem­o­ry to about half its orig­i­nal per­ceived length. So a per­for­mance now with­out repeats seems to us to bal­ance what we remem­ber of the orig­i­nal, which with repeats was actu­al­ly twice as long.

Anoth­er exam­ple of the right hemisphere’s gov­er­nance of our per­cep­tion of Time is the abil­i­ty to see, with all rela­tion­ships intact in the mind, a long move­ment of music at one time from the begin­ning mea­sure to the end, a skill almost nev­er required in nor­mal dai­ly life.16 I was priv­i­leged to wit­ness a remark­able demon­stra­tion of this one week dur­ing the time I was study­ing with Eugene Ormandy. The Philadel­phia Orches­tra at that time had a very strict time lim­it for the num­ber of min­utes which lim­it­ed the dura­tion of a con­cert. I can no longer recall the exact time, some­thing like an hour and a half, which includ­ed time between move­ments, etc., but not the time musi­cians were warm­ing up on the stage before the first down beat. If the time lim­it were exceed­ed, then very large finan­cial results were imposed by the union. Among oth­er things, it meant that usu­al­ly the orches­tra could not play encores. To con­trol this fac­tor Ormandy kept a note­book in which the assis­tant con­duc­tor entered the dura­tions of per­for­mance time for every­thing the orches­tra played, live or in record­ing ses­sions. So, when the con­duc­tor was plan­ning the reper­toire for the sea­son he had at hand a pret­ty good indi­ca­tion of which com­po­si­tions could be grouped togeth­er on a par­tic­u­lar con­cert with­out exceed­ing the allowed time lim­it.17

There came a con­cert when, due to the orches­tras’ arrange­ments with Colum­bia Artists, they were to have a vio­lin soloist for the Mendelssohn Con­cer­to. The per­for­mance dura­tion of the famil­iar con­cer­to was pre­dictable and so Ormandy decid­ed to com­bine it with the Fourth Sym­pho­ny of Bruck­n­er. Each day, all week, I was fas­ci­nat­ed to hear Ormandy cre­ate a beau­ti­ful inter­pre­ta­tion of the Bruck­n­er, the kind of reper­toire he was best at. The vio­lin soloist appeared only at the last rehearsal, a Fri­day morn­ing before the first con­cert of that week­end on Fri­day after­noon. It was a lady from Siberia, unknown to any­one, and she appeared on stage, shook hands with Ormandy and they began, there obvi­ous­ly hav­ing had been no pri­or dis­cus­sion between con­duc­tor and soloist. To the utter amaze­ment of us all, she played a very slow inter­pre­ta­tion, so slow one won­dered if she had nev­er heard any oth­er inter­pre­ta­tion. The con­cert time lim­it was obvi­ous­ly endan­gered!

After hav­ing per­formed the entire con­cer­to, Ormandy gave the orches­tra a break and came down into the hall where I was sit­ting with the assis­tant con­duc­tor, Bill Smith. Ormandy asked, “How much over is it?” Smith replied, “Five min­utes, mae­stro. What are you going to do?” Ormandy thought for sev­er­al moments and then said, “I will take five min­utes off the Bruck­n­er.” One can imag­ine, my being young and ide­al­is­tic, how stunned I was to hear this. I remained to hear that Fri­day after­noon con­cert and sit­ting in Ormandy’s box with my score and a stop-watch I was anx­ious to hear where he would “speed up” to make a short­er per­for­mance time. The amaz­ing thing was, con­sid­er­ing I knew in advance what was going to hap­pen and had been present all week at rehearsals, I could at no time feel that any­thing had changed! Ormandy was able to take off such very small ele­ments of time spread over an hour long time-frame that noth­ing seemed faster. The orches­tra, who of course knew none of this, I am sure also did not notice.

It was for me evi­dence of the rarest of all gifts which the great­est artists have, to be able to see in their mind a work so per­fect­ly over a long time span that all of the inter­nal rela­tion­ships were in per­fect per­spec­tive. It was at the same time, of course, a demon­stra­tion of the right hemisphere’s unique per­cep­tion of Time.

3. The right hemi­sphere also is its own judge of per­cep­tion of many things. Sup­pose you are con­duct­ing a very large hon­or band which has fif­teen tubas, but one pic­co­lo. You will in some places seem to need even more bass, but that one pic­co­lo play­er is always so loud that it is very dis­tract­ing. The acousti­cal engi­neer comes along with his left hemi­sphere deci­bel mea­sur­ing machine and says, “But I can prove to you that the fif­teen tubas cre­ate more sound than the one pic­co­lo play­er!” We say, “go away and leave us alone!”

4. It should also be not­ed that the right hemi­sphere has its own appre­ci­a­tion of humor. An exam­ple of pure­ly left brain humor would be one based on lan­guage, such as a pun. I might also men­tion that Mozart would some­times make humor­ous nota­tions in his auto­graph scores, intend­ed only for the play­er and not the lis­ten­ers. There is the first move­ment of one of his piano con­cer­ti where, at the end of the expo­si­tion sec­tion, instead of the expect­ed large brack­et indi­cat­ing a repeat, Mozart instead drew sev­er­al faces in pro­file, each look­ing to the viewer’s left, as if the fig­ure were look­ing back to the begin­ning.

As in the case of left hemi­sphere humor, the right hemi­sphere also includes humor only for those with musi­cal knowl­edge as well as for the gen­er­al audi­ence. An exam­ple of the lat­ter might be the famous unex­pect­ed loud chord in Haydn’s “Sur­prise” Sym­pho­ny. Anoth­er exam­ple is found in Haydn’s Sym­pho­ny Nr. 60, where, in the final move­ment, the orches­tra sud­den­ly stops play­ing and begins to retune, includ­ing a slow rise in a uni­son vio­lin pitch reflect­ing the tight­en­ing of the tun­ing knob. Hav­ing done this, the music con­tin­ues.

An exam­ple of right hemi­sphere which requires some pre­vi­ous musi­cal knowl­edge is the “min­uet” move­ment of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Sym­pho­ny. Here, while care­ful­ly pre­serv­ing the min­uet form of the Clas­si­cal Peri­od, Tchaikovsky writes beau­ti­ful sweep­ing waltz style music char­ac­ter­is­tic of his own time. But one can dance nei­ther the min­uet nor the waltz to this music for it is in the meter of 5/4!

A final point which seems to me relat­ed here is the fact that in ordi­nary speech the words of the left hemi­sphere are strict­ly as in a dic­tio­nary, they have a rec­og­nized mean­ing and cor­rect pro­nun­ci­a­tion but they car­ry no expres­sion. It is the right hemi­sphere which adds the emo­tion­al char­ac­ter to the left hemi­sphere speech which actu­al­ly gives it a spe­cif­ic mean­ing. For exam­ple, if you say the words, “I love you,” in an absolute­ly flat tone, it means noth­ing, it is just words. But, accord­ing as to whether you emo­tion­al­ly empha­sis either the first or third word, a dra­mat­ic dif­fer­ence in response will return to you! This the cor­pus cal­lo­sum does for us, even though the hemi­spheres remain sep­a­rate. Musi­cal speech is the reverse. All music is cre­at­ed in the right hemi­sphere of the com­pos­er, but in order to com­mu­ni­cate it to anoth­er musi­cian (since the right hemi­sphere is mute) he must turn it into the musi­cal gram­mar of the left hemi­sphere. And there is the dif­fi­cul­ty in com­po­si­tion. The left hemi­sphere gram­mar is no more nat­u­ral­ly con­ducive to express­ing music than it is in express­ing love.

When it comes to the teacher or con­duc­tor think­ing about cre­at­ing right hemi­sphere expe­ri­ences in edu­ca­tion for his stu­dents, there are two gen­er­al modes which con­di­tion both the per­for­mance of the teach­ing strate­gies and their suc­cess.

The first was explained by Wag­n­er in the anal­o­gy of a mag­net, to which one can attach fur­ther pieces of iron and the mag­net­ism con­tin­ues to stream ahead unabat­ed. Imag­ine a fine per­for­mance on stage by an orches­tra of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Sym­pho­ny. Let us say, for exam­ple, that what is cre­at­ed on stage at some moment is the sum of the emo­tions of sad­ness of the com­pos­er, the play­ers and the con­duc­tor. But, Wag­n­er sug­gests, what leaves the stage and goes out into the audi­ence is only the quin­tes­sence of the emo­tion, a kind of pure epit­o­me of the emo­tion of sad­ness. When this reach­es the lis­ten­ers, per­haps 2,000 of them, this quin­tes­sence of sad­ness enters the ears of each lis­ten­er but is then sift­ed through the expe­ri­en­tial right hemi­sphere of each lis­ten­er, where it is trans­formed or trans­lat­ed into an indi­vid­ual under­stand­ing of sad­ness based on that individual’s own per­son­al expe­ri­ence with sad­ness. We then have 2,000 dif­fer­ent under­stand­ings of the emo­tion sad­ness, even though all 2,000 per­sons are famil­iar with the left hemi­sphere, dic­tio­nary def­i­n­i­tion of sad­ness.

This is the source of the great pow­er of music over man, for music com­mu­ni­cates both in gen­er­al and on an indi­vid­ual basis. In music edu­ca­tion it means we can still have ensem­bles and activ­i­ties but still edu­cate the indi­vid­ual, pre­sum­ing the nec­es­sary con­di­tions and val­ues are in place.

The sec­ond mode or con­di­tion which is cru­cial to right hemi­sphere music edu­ca­tion is to find ways to block the influ­ence of the left hemi­sphere. Espe­cial­ly to pre­vent the eye, our most dom­i­nant sense, from tak­ing over, as it were. But also we want to attempt to block all pre­vi­ous left hemi­sphere lan­guage-type def­i­n­i­tions which would tend to intrude. By far the most intru­sive obsta­cle in this regard is the nota­tion itself. The nota­tion of a dot­ted eighth-note fol­lowed by a six­teenth note is a very fixed and final fact of the left hemi­sphere, no more vari­able than any oth­er arith­metic for­mu­la. But in think­ing of music, the right hemi­sphere wants to con­sid­er this sym­bol in a hun­dred vari­a­tions accord­ing to tem­po, char­ac­ter of the music, meter, etc. We want the right hemi­sphere to be free to feel what the com­pos­er felt with­out being intim­i­dat­ed by the left hemi­sphere dog­ma. To say it anoth­er way, we want to see behind and beyond the nota­tion.

The prac­tice of learn­ing to see beyond the nota­tion is famous­ly illus­trat­ed by an Indi­an Sufi para­ble.

A stu­dent was walk­ing through the vil­lage of his teacher and saw him on his hands and knees, look­ing for some­thing in the grass.
The stu­dent, of course, stopped and asked, “Mas­ter what are you look­ing for in the grass?”
The teacher answered, “I have lost my house key and I am try­ing to find it. Please help me look for it.”
The stu­dent thus got on his hands and knees and began look­ing, but soon he decid­ed that there was no key there at all, that this was some kind of les­son which the teacher want­ed to illus­trate. So the stu­dent said, “OK, Mas­ter, where actu­al­ly did you lose your key?”
“I lost the key in my house some­where,” said the teacher.
“Well,” the stu­dent asked, “why are we out here look­ing in the grass?”
“Because,” said the teacher, “there is more light out here!”

In terms of “find­ing more light” and block­ing out the nota­tion, there is no tech­nique more suc­cess­ful than mem­o­riza­tion and this is why all singers, pianists and most con­duc­tors mem­o­rize their scores. By mem­o­riza­tion we do not mean mem­o­riz­ing the nota­tion, note for note, but rather mem­o­riz­ing the music. By way of exam­ple, if we ask, “Do you know Sousa’s Stars and Stripes For­ev­er March?” You would answer, “Yes.” And that is an hon­est answer, even though it does not sug­gest that you could write out from mem­o­ry the sec­ond alto sax­o­phone part. It is in this mean­ing that the old Aus­tri­an con­duct­ing teacher, Paul Fuchs, quite cor­rect­ly point­ed out that whether you elect to use a score in per­for­mance or not is not impor­tant, but you must mem­o­rize the music!18

It is in this regard that any kind of teach­ing you can do with­out books, or con­duct­ing with­out talk­ing also helps to block the left hemi­sphere. The six­teenth cen­tu­ry Flem­ish the­o­rist and teacher at Wit­ten­berg, Adri­an Cocli­co, report­ed that his own teacher, one of our great­est com­posers in his­to­ry, taught and rehearsed with­out books.

My teacher, Josquin des Près, nev­er rehearsed or wrote out any musi­cal pro­ce­dures, yet in a short time made per­fect musi­cians, since he did not hold his stu­dents back in long and friv­o­lous pre­cepts, but taught pre­cepts in a few words at the same time as singing through exer­cise and prac­tice.19

I would be remiss at this point if I did not give some exam­ples of my own right hemi­sphere teach­ing strate­gies. I have, for exam­ple, in cir­cum­stances where the com­ment is appro­pri­ate and the state of rehearsal per­fec­tion per­mits, said to an ensem­ble, “You are play­ing this beau­ti­ful­ly in all respects, but some­how I don’t hear enough pain in your per­for­mance.” Then, with­out fur­ther com­ment, I would repeat the pas­sage and the ref­or­ma­tion of the inter­pre­ta­tion would be most remark­able. The stu­dents can add some­thing like this if only asked and the results are beyond description—and, of course, more musi­cal. And how long, how many min­utes of rehearsal time, would it have tak­en to achieve this by talk­ing, by attempt­ing to describe in words what I had asked for?

Some­times where you have, let us say, a long uni­son flute melody which, giv­en the state of our nota­tion lim­i­ta­tions, has very few hints for turn­ing these notes into a beau­ti­ful melody, I will say, “This needs to be more expres­sive, please add any­thing you want in the way of melod­ic accents, crescen­do, dimin­u­en­di, etc.” The remark­able thing that always hap­pens is that the flute sec­tion will then per­form this pas­sage exact­ly as you would have want­ed it had you tak­en 30 min­utes to have them mark all kinds of things note by note on paper.

It can also be valu­able to ask from time to time a rhetor­i­cal ques­tion regard­ing some non-nota­tion­al ele­ment. “Should this have more of a sense of joy?” But do not invite actu­al answers, allow each stu­dent to look into him­self for the answer.

Hav­ing instru­men­tal­ists sing in rehearsal is a valu­able approach to cre­at­ing greater emo­tions, as most con­duc­tors know. Once I was attend­ing an ABA meet­ing being held in Vir­ginia in a high school build­ing. There was an announce­ment that the school’s band was begin­ning rehearsal and they would appre­ci­ate it if any­one want­ed to come and lis­ten. Assum­ing no one else would, as turned out to be the case, I went. There I saw a very large high school band, every­one in Sun­day best suits, ties, fan­cy dress­es, sit­ting very erect in per­fect pos­ture on their chairs and look­ing very seri­ous. Around the back of the room were a num­ber of par­ents who appar­ent­ly assumed this was an impor­tant event. When I entered the room they were play­ing the famil­iar march, Colonel Bogey, by Ken­neth Alford, but in a com­plete­ly flat, expres­sion­less unmu­si­cal man­ner, although, like their clothes, every detail was in place. The con­duc­tor then hand­ed me the baton as asked if I would rehearse the band. “Pleased to, of course.” As is always the case in these cir­cum­stances the reg­u­lar con­duc­tor left to make phone calls or some­thing assum­ing he had, after his long expe­ri­ence, noth­ing more to learn. So, after he had left, I laid the baton on the stand and told the kids, to their aston­ish­ment, “you all know this music, why don’t we just sing it to any syl­la­ble you wish?” They then imme­di­ate­ly, with­out fur­ther com­ment, began singing the most robust and enthu­si­as­tic per­for­mance. It was very musi­cal. Then I told them, “just play it like that.” Which they then did, with me con­duct­ing. Upon hear­ing this, the con­duc­tor came run­ning back believ­ing the Chica­go Sym­pho­ny had per­haps tak­en the seats because of the beau­ti­ful per­for­mance. He was amazed, he assumed I had some secret rehearsal tech­nique he had missed. He ques­tioned me at length for the secret, he even looked to see if I had sub­sti­tut­ed my baton, but I just con­grat­u­lat­ed him on his band. The les­son here is that singing comes from with­in the body and is nat­u­ral­ly very expres­sive. It is the act of putting a clar­inet in the hands of the stu­dent, mak­ing the music now out­side of the body, which some­how blocks his nat­ur­al musi­cal instincts.

I must men­tion here the Cooke book, The Lan­guage of Music, which I referred to above. This is the only great book I know which takes frag­ments of melod­ic lines and asso­ciates them with spe­cif­ic feel­ings or sub­jec­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics. In each case he gives exam­ples from 400 years of music by impor­tant com­posers who wrote melod­ic frag­ments which com­mu­ni­cat­ed exact­ly as he has indi­cat­ed. Cooke was a great musi­cian him­self and the research he pro­vides here on the right hemi­sphere nature of melody is remark­able.

The final char­ac­ter­is­tic of right hemi­sphere music mak­ing I wish to men­tion has to do with the sub­ject of aes­thet­ics, a branch of phi­los­o­phy found­ed by Aris­to­tle. Think of an occa­sion (in the past since movies seem to be dis­ap­pear­ing) when you went to some epic enter­tain­ment film with lots of action. You were com­plete­ly involved, you laughed, you cried but when the lights were turned on you left with your friends and imme­di­ate­ly began talk­ing about work, oth­er friends and activ­i­ties, etc. This Aris­to­tle called an enter­tain­ment event.

On some oth­er occa­sion you go to a film which is so mov­ing it seems to get inside you. It ends and you wished they would leave the hall dark for anoth­er ten min­utes so you can regain your com­po­sure. You leave with your friends and no one says a word to each oth­er. The impres­sion can last for days. Aris­to­tle calls this an aes­thet­ic event. The sig­nif­i­cance between the aes­thet­ic and the enter­tain­ment in music is very real. One recalls a com­ment by Han­del, in a let­ter to Lord Kin­noull after the first per­for­mance of his Mes­si­ah, on 23 March, 1743,

I should be sor­ry, my lord, if I have only suc­ceed­ed in enter­tain­ing them; I wished to make them bet­ter.

This hap­pens with the child in per­form­ing music. Pop­u­lar music can be vast­ly enter­tain­ing, but it just bounces off the child. He may remem­ber the words, but not the music. But if there is qual­i­ty music, aes­thet­ic music, it gets inside of the child and there the great­est con­tri­bu­tion we can make to soci­ety begins to take place. We are the only teach­ers who can, begin­ning with impor­tant music, enable the child to begin to dis­cov­er and under­stand his own per­son­al emo­tion­al tem­plate. We can help him get to know the oth­er half of him­self. No one else in school can do this; soci­ety leaves it to the child to learn emo­tions out in the street.

The read­er will see a tes­ti­mo­ni­al to this at the head of this final sec­tion, a quo­ta­tion from Hein­rich Heine in which he says “the essence of music is rev­e­la­tion,” which means get­ting to know one’s self. Wag­n­er made the same promise, “Music…lets us gaze into the inmost Essence of our­selves…20 And this is what Schu­mann meant when he con­fid­ed, “Music is to me the per­fect expres­sion of the soul.”21

The impor­tance of return­ing per­for­mance to the cen­tral role of music edu­ca­tion seems to me evi­dent in this syl­lo­gism:

The cen­tral mean­ing and pur­pose of Music is found in the right hemi­sphere.
The right hemi­sphere is the half of the brain where the real child as an
indi­vid­ual is found.
If the pur­pose of music is to edu­cate the indi­vid­ual child,
Then music edu­ca­tion must be cen­tered in the right hemi­sphere of the child.

What could be more clear?

David Whitwell
Austin, 2014


  1. Con­tin­u­ing research since Dr. Sperry’s Nobel Prize win­ning research on split-brain patients may have caused some lack of con­fi­dence in some read­ers, for it demon­strates more and more the com­plex cross wiring in the three tril­lion cells of our brain. How­ev­er the basic fact of the bicam­er­al brain remains clear, the left side designed for data and the right side for per­son­al expe­ri­en­tial under­stand­ing. []
  2. The twen­ty or so frag­ments of so-called ancient Greek nota­tion which one finds online and else­where actu­al­ly comes from the very last peri­od, the “Roman Peri­od,” of ancient Greece. It rep­re­sents the first cen­tu­ry BC and the first cen­tu­ry AD and has noth­ing to do with the Gold­en Peri­od of ancient Greece. []
  3. A Ger­man schol­ar, Hans Hick­mann, has made an attempt to read pitch­es in the conductor’s hand motions. See Musikgeschichte in Bildern, Ägypten, Leipzig, 1961, page 86. The hiero­glyphs for the con­duc­tor are an arm and the one for “to sing,” thus “the singing arm.” Nice! []
  4. Obser­va­tions sur notre instinct pour la musique et sur son principe (1734). []
  5. After lis­ten­ing to my rehearsals and a con­cert in a six­teenth cen­tu­ry hall in Graz, Aus­tria one time, I came to the con­clu­sion that the room itself was in Eb Major. []
  6. Deryck Cooke, The Lan­guage of Music (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1959), x. []
  7. The sub­ject of aes­thet­ics is entire­ly untaught in Amer­i­can schools today. I rec­om­mend my brief dis­cus­sion, found in the first two chap­ters of my Essays on Per­for­mance Prac­tice (Whitwell Books, 2013, avail­able from []
  8. Con­sid­er­ing the con­ster­na­tion of these wor­thy edu­ca­tors, one won­ders if their choice of the word “Sym­po­sium” reflect­ed to any degree the ancient orig­i­nal Greek mean­ing of “a drink­ing par­ty.” []
  9. A dis­tin­guished senior music edu­ca­tion pro­fes­sor at a major uni­ver­si­ty point­ed out to me “that the MENC was pre­ced­ed by anoth­er group of ele­men­tary and gen­er­al music teach­ers, the NEA (the old one before it became a union) which tried to stamp out march­ing bands, band con­tests and jazz edu­ca­tion to men­tion only a few.” []
  10. Michael L. Mark. []
  11. Voltaire, Let­ter to Père Porée, 1730. []
  12. Alma Mahler, Gus­tav Mahler (New York: Viking Press, 1969), 32. []
  13. Richard Wag­n­er, “On Poet­ry and Com­po­si­tion,” in Richard Wagner’s Prose Works, trans­lat­ed by William Ash­ton Ellis (New York: Broude Broth­ers, 1966), VI, 147. []
  14. Because the cor­pus cal­lo­sum which con­nects the two hemi­spheres for the pur­pose of send­ing infor­ma­tion back and forth is not ful­ly con­nect­ed until age six or sev­en, the right hemi­sphere con­tains some vocab­u­lary of a child, but it can­not make a sen­tence. For a child injured in the left hemi­sphere lan­guage region it is this depos­i­to­ry of right hemi­sphere words which is the basis of attempts to help the child recov­er speech. Once when I was lec­tur­ing on this sub­ject at a uni­ver­si­ty in Hawaii, a neu­ro­sur­geon told me that when he has such a child the first thing he tells the par­ents is that in the remain­der of this child’s life there must be no music, nei­ther play­ing nor lis­ten­ing! For music is dom­i­nant in the right hemi­sphere that it would tend to pre­vent the lan­guage process from tak­ing hold. []
  15. A Music School for Munich,” in William Ellis, Wagner’s Prose Works (New York: Broude), IV, 197. []
  16. The great pianist, Arthur Ruben­stein, also had a broad knowl­edge of orches­tral reper­toire and would some­times for enjoy­ment sit down and “turn on” in his head a per­for­mance of a favorite sym­pho­ny. He spoke once of an occa­sion at home in Paris, when he sat down to “hear” a per­for­mance of a Brahms sym­pho­ny. Short­ly after the first move­ment began the phone rang and Ruben­stein rose and walked over to answer the phone. When he returned to his seat and closed his eyes he found that he was now in the third move­ment! []
  17. The year I was present, the man­ag­er at the begin­ning of the sea­son passed out a cal­en­dar to each mem­ber of the orches­tra. But this was not a cur­rent cal­en­dar, it was one for three years in the future which gave the length, start­ing time, loca­tion and reper­toire for every rehearsal and con­cert of that sea­son. []
  18. In con­duct­ing work­shops I teach this form of mem­o­riza­tion which I learned while a stu­dent in Vien­na. It is actu­al­ly an high­ly effec­tive means of speed­ing up score study which in turn helps the stu­dent to under­stand what is impor­tant in a score and what is mere­ly gram­mar. Unfor­tu­nate­ly a longer dis­cus­sion is not pos­si­ble with­in the lim­its of this paper. I might observe that the writ­ing of this paper marks the 50th anniver­sary of my first pub­li­ca­tion in a nation­al jour­nal, an arti­cle rec­om­mend­ing con­duct­ing with­out scores in an 1964 issue of The Instru­men­tal­ist. []
  19. Adri­an Cocli­co, Musi­cal Com­pendi­um [1545], trans. Albert Seay (Col­orado Springs: Col­orado Col­lege Music Press, 1973), 16. []
  20. Ellis, Op. cit., V, 77. []
  21. Let­ter to his Moth­er, Leipzig, May 8, 1832. []