I’ve been doing a lot of work recruiting for next summer’s study abroad program over the last couple weeks, featuring a lot of face-to-face pitching in classes and at the campus-wide Study Abroad Fair. I teach a music appreciation & history course – my weapon of choice, as regularly discussed here – and my colleague teaches art appreciation & history. We enthusiastically inform all prospective students that we assume ZERO prior knowledge or experience in both subjects, as our program is open to all majors. Of the program’s many selling points, that is one of them. (I’ll not give the whole spiel here.) Most “lay-students” are a bit suspicious of or intimidated by a month-long study abroad in Europe focused on art and music (especially opera), so we always make sure to stress our start-from-scratch approach.
This got me thinking about not only the recruiting I’ve been doing the last couple weeks, but the meta-recruiting that is Music Appreciation.
Without beating a dead horse, I maintain my frustration with most colleagues who view the subject as an obligation, or a stepping stone to another, more specialized course. I agree that most of the textbooks on the subject are pretty horrid and occasionally insulting/condescending. But that’s no excuse for the professor or subject to follow suit. Because what’s so quickly forgotten by most instructors is that the students aren’t musicians! Not even a tiny bit (for the most part). And the student certainly won’t have the decade+ of intense training and work under their belt. Therefore concepts will be “watered down.” After all, we should be trying to convey a basic understanding and appreciation of music in general, not a deeply intellectual regard for “concert music” (or whatever the teacher’s specialty may be). As I tell my students each semester: I don’t care if they like any of the styles covered throughout the course by the end of the semester, but if they walk away with a 1) a better understanding of these new styles and 2) a deeper appreciation for the music they already like, then I’ve done my job.
Talk to any classical- or jazz-orienteted musician for more than five minutes, and you’ll likely hear a complaint or two (or six or eight) about how their art is no longer appreciated or respected by the masses. I agree; it’s true that such styles are becoming (as some already are) museum exhibits of styles long since passed. However if you don’t put in the work to help someone understand the intricacies of a five-minute pop song, how do you expect him/her to willingly thrust him/herself into a 45-minute symphony? Or three-hour opera? (Besides, I stand by my assertion that a pop song can be – and often is! – every bit as intricate as a classical work or jazz improvisation.) Furthermore, there are so many connections between all the various styles that it’s downright offensive to not tie everything together. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven all used a very obvious popular device – the dance – to relate to the audience and we still consider it high art. Yet, centuries later, we’ve somehow decided to surpass the popular aspect, that which can pull in – recruit – new listeners, altogether in favor of a bitter with-us-or-against-us, all-or-nothing approach.
So, to all of my sour colleagues teaching this particular subject, please remember that your course is an academic method of recruiting new generations of listeners (not necessarily “fans” of X- or Y-music). Always keep in mind that we should be doing this to promote the art (music), not to settle the artist’s score. Perhaps if you made the material a little more user-friendly, you’d find that eventually there’ll be more users to choose from.