[Smt-talk] Rosen vs Kerman Redux

Stephen Soderberg hyperchord at me.com
Fri Apr 4 06:13:54 PDT 2014

Dear list,

For those interested, I just put up another entry in the "Partition Puzzle" thread (http://essaysandendnotes.blogspot.com/2014/04/partition-puzzle-3-homometric-partition.html), but today there's another topic gnawing at me.
Fifty-two years ago in issue 1/1 of Perspectives of NewMusic there appeared an article by Charles Rosen, "The Proper Study of Music." A spirited (to say the least) retort from Joseph Kerman was published in PNM 2/1 along with an equally spirited defense by Rosen. Then, as far as I can tell, there were few if any further direct confrontations on the subject. It didn't go away, but was seemingly fought underground and with indirect attacks (e.g., the Columbia tenure flap in 1971).
With that as a background, I'd like to inquire about the situation today - and I fully realize I'm asking this as an outsider vis-a-vis pedagogy. I've never been into theory so I could teach theory (the only career path I know of). But I nevertheless share the frustration of the gulf I observe that still exists between composer and theorist/musicologist. (I won't try to defend this contention further here since it would immediately raise the wrong hackles - but I will say I have some pretty embarrassing dissing examples coming from both composers and theorists that I will keep private. As for musicologists (a field apart in the U.S. model), I have to say I have no idea what they do now. Seriously.)
So here is my question trying to find out where the Rosen vs Kerman fight stands today:
How many of you require a **significant** composition element in your undergraduate *and* graduate theory programs?
I'm not talking about "exercises" in harmony & counterpoint, but regular assignments that challenge the student to create an interesting piece of music  - to actually feel what it's like to compose. Like asking an English major to write a complete essay or short story (though I'm not sure they do anymore).
I'm also not talking about a requirement for theory majors alone. Flute and viola da gamba majors have to suffer undergraduate theory like anyone else, right?
(If this were a composers' forum I would ask the same question with the roles reversed.)
Stephen Soderberg
hyperchord at me.com
Keswick, VA
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