Mark Hijleh Mark.Hijleh at houghton.edu
Wed Mar 25 06:50:01 PDT 2009

Daniel makes many excellent points. We are in my school attempting to integrate composition (other than for composition majors) into the regular theory curriculum from the very first through the very last course, rather than cordoning it off as a separate course. The best milieu for success seems to be one in which a much wider variety of musical materials and repertoires are included from the very outset (otherwise, as has been noted, "composition" consists only of stylistic imitation in Western tonal idioms - and it ought to include some of that, just not all). In effect this means a somewhat different approach to theory than the most traditional one. And the aim is therefore, it seems, more generalist.

Mark Hijleh, Professor
Houghton College (NY)

-----Original Message-----
From: smt-talk-bounces at societymusictheory.org [mailto:smt-talk-bounces at societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of Daniel Wolf
Sent: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 3:43 AM
To: Society for Music Theory
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] COMPOSITION PEDAGOGY

It is interesting — but perhaps not surprising on a music theory list —
that the assumption in this thread appears to be that the subject of a
Composition course is tonal music, with some tendency towards model
composition.  Composition today, as an activity, clearly embraces more
than that and the range of compositional pedagogy reflects this, with some
teachers and institutions indeed offering essentially an equivalent to the
Kapellmeister training of the past, others specializing in one or another
repertoire, style or genre with appropriate technical focus, and still
others construing their instruction as a broader aesthetic training
without necessarily having specific repertoire associations.   I am also
aware of some compositional instruction at beginning levels, whether in
schools or universities, in which the approach is explicitly experimental,
rather than repertoire-driven, beginning with an exploration of the
properties of sound and perception.  This was the case in the
Silver-Burdett elementary school textbook series in the US in the 1970s,
the "creative music activities" of Lászlo Sáry in Hungary, and in the
introductory music course at UCSD which was initially designed by
composers Will Ogdon and Robert Erickson.  (John Cage's Experimental Music
course at the New School, well-documented in the published notebooks of
George Brecht, is another example).

The content of the composition course that a young musician will encounter
is both highly variable and, from the student's point of view, often
arbitrary.   I have observed a great number of professional composing
colleagues who had great frustration in their student years.  Some of the
frustration came in institutions in which student composition was ignored
if not actively discouraged when not done in the context of instruction,
and for others, a mismatch between their own interests and those of their
teachers created the frustration.  A good example of this was during the
early 1980's, when young composers at Juilliard and other conservatories
complained about not being "allowed" to write the minimal and tonal music
they wanted to write, while their instructors (I heard it from Elliot
Carter) were complaining that their students only wanted to write minimal
or tonal music.  While one does have to recognize that there will always
be a small masochistic faction which thrives only in conflict-full
student-teacher relationships, those young composers who seek out such
conflicts will probably always be a small number.   In many cases, is is
the locality or price or the perceived prestige of the institution was
drawing students into less-than-ideal mentoring relationships, but the
solution — go elsewhere — seems obvious, and with information about
prospective composition teachers more readily available today, there is
little excuse for students and teachers not making better informed
decisions before entering into a formal teaching relationship.

The other aspect of this thread which deserves more attention concerns the
relationship between theory and composition.  Is composition the "advanced
topics" course at the end of a series of theory courses or are composition
and theory parallel enterprises?   Is a theory or composition course best
or even necessarily associated with a specific repertoire?  Is theory
instruction best left only to theorists and composition left to to
composers, or is there some "charge" possible when these job descriptions
are loosened up a bit more?  Are experiments in sound and music, or
investigations into non-western and non-canonically-classical repertoire
more appropriate to the beginning or the end of such a sequence, or should
they be carried out continuously?  Theory instruction is clearly a
"service" to performers, composers, and scholars  alike, but why not
composition?   Ultimately, I suspect that the issue here is one of
mission: is the interest in training specialists or generalists (the
so-called "complete musician") and the problem of that mission is, for
music theory instruction, perhaps most acute at that juncture between the
last course in the undergraduate theory sequence and the course which
follows, the point in which theory has to confront praxis head-on.

Dr. Daniel Wolf

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