[Smt-talk] Expanded vs. Reduced Music Theory

art samplaski agsvtp at hotmail.com
Wed Feb 22 12:56:19 PST 2012

Dear Dimitar, and listers:

> I can see the concern of some colleagues, and I leave this issues
> to those specialists who know how to reduce a curriculum to fit
> particular needs.

I understand your concern both for this and for your "expanded"
palette. However, the continued drive to make people "do more
[material] with less [time]" affects both. Funding for higher
education in the U.S. is increasing under attack in all disciplines,
save professions lucrative enough to have high-donating alumni keep
those programs self-sustaining (i.e., business and law schools)--
and I mean this for subjects fundamental to our society's ability
to function as a democracy in a technical world, not just music.

This is not a forum for anyone to rant about economics and
politics. (I can't remember where I saw the quote, but it went,
"It is no coincidence that economics and politics rhyme--and in
more languages than just English.") For bad or worse, we're trapped
having to figure out how to cover an ever-growing amount of basic
material in ever-less contact hours because of economic pressures
from school administrations. There is simply no time in any
undergraduate program for doing the more detailed kinds of study
you mention and won't be for the foreseeable future, with the
possible exception of schools like Eastman.

> ...it is about the
> qualifications of those who graduate with a bachelor's, master's
> and doctoral degree in music. These are the future instructors of
> music theory!

If you are only talking about teachers in conservatories, your
points can apply; but the vast majority of students who have anything
to do with music are taught in K-12, i.e., elementary/secondary schools,
by former music education majors who needed to spend so much time on
various instrumental methods and "educational theory" courses that
they wouldn't be able to take the additional music theory courses you
suggest, unless they took 6-7 years for their bachelor's degree. I was 
always surprised that more BME students didn't burn out (or worse,
jumped off a cliff), given the ordinate course burden they face.

Closely tied to both lack of undergraduate hours and the much worse
situation trying to do any music in K-12 is the inadequate preparation
of incoming students. There should _NOT_ be any reason to give entry
to a prospective music major who does not already know fundamentals;
it would give back probably close to a semester's teaching if we
could avoid that--but in most schools it's not possible.

(BTW, it's worse in some other areas. When I taught at Ithaca College,
I also did some IT courses in their Humanities and Sciences college.
My office hours coincided with a class next door on _remedial FIFTH-
grade arithmetic_. Those students had no business whatsoever being at
*ANY* college; but, of course, the bureaucrats wanted the maximum
number of bodies with paying parents...)

> Even at graduate level one hardly sees courses devoted to the craft
> of harmonization or special contrapuntal techniques. The truth of
> this situation emerges like a tsunami when graduate students are
> asked to harmonize a simple melody...

Are you talking here about new music theory or historical musicology
grad students, or new music grad students in general? We, ahhh, can
open an entirely different gastank of worms if it's the latter.:)

Art Samplaski
Ithaca, NY

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