Appreesh

Here’s a bit of fun.  The opening unit of this semester’s Music History Pedagogy class was devoted to teaching Introduction to Music (or Music Appreciation, or “Appreesh”), which is likely to be a pre- or early-career teaching assignment.  We survey the available college-level textbooks, identifying their philosophical differences, comparing the web resources and costs. We also spend a good deal of time evaluating the authors’ choices of repertoire.  After a certain number of these books, one intrepid graduate student, RJ Gassner, was moved to create the following. I share with his permission:

AppreeshBingo

Now, as a first-year music major at Cal Poly, Pomona in fall, 1976, I took what was essentially a music appreciation course, and our text was Roger Kamien’s Music: An Appreciation, a chronologically organized text. A bit of chant, an excerpt from Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame, Thomas Weelkes’s “As Vesta was from Latmos Hill descending,” “Dido’s Lament” from Henry Purcell, Bach’s “Little” G Minor organ fugue, some excerpts from Handel’s Messiah…you get the idea.  This was in fall, 1976, so I don’t know how many editions of Kamien ago that was.

RJ’s Bingo card points to the number of shared repertoire choices the various competing textbooks, such as Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique. Given the breadth and depth of the traditional western repertoire—speaking for the moment only of the texts based on it—is there any excuse for that much duplication?  I happen to love the Berlioz, but I will forever believe that his mention of opium in one version of his written program for the work led people decades ago to think they could interest The Youth on that basis.  (In recent years, I gave a pre-concert lecture for the Bravo! Vail summer festival on that piece.  “We’re calling the lecture “The Symphony Fantastique: Music’s First Acid Trip,” they E-Mailed me.  I E-Mailed back, “Either we change the title, or I’m not coming.”  “Acid trip” indeed—not relevance, but the worst kind of condescension.

What is more, it so happens that a new textbook is currently being marketed, and it too includes the three works listed above, along with other familiar pieces. Although the publisher’s publicity blurb seeks to describe what makes this book different from all the others (a standard feature of the description of all such books), it also assures us that many of the selections are familiar—what you-the-teacher are used to—so you needn’t change much.  Great; we can continue to teach the exact same way, even with a new book!  It would be easy to blame the publisher for this, but I think it’s on us—that strategy suggests very strongly that many faculty members insist on teaching the same pieces, year in and year out. For the publisher, venturing too far from the inviolable playlist means that your new book won’t get adopted, and your investment will have gone down the drain.

So let’s review.  The majority of Appreesh texts take a Great Works approach, and there is a great deal of repertoire held in common between them, but the goal of such classes is to introduce students to the world of informed listening, to gaining some kind of understanding of the art music repertoire (or at least, not to fear and avoid it), but the prevailing model is a Classical Top Twenty with a couple of more recent, band-aid-type choices like one piece by a female composer and one Jazz piece.  When we talk about the future direction of the discipline, this really does illustrate a way in which we’re stuck in 1950.  “Jonathan, these are the future supporters of our symphony orchestras and arts organizations,” I was earnestly and patronizingly told about my Appreesh students in 1994., “You must reach out to them…”

Yes, I am channeling a former administrator who objected to my having even minimal academic standards in an Intro course almost as much as the students did, but Manfred Bukofzer made the same point in his survey of American Musicology in the mid-1950s.  Opportunities for higher education were open to a smaller percentage of the American public, then, and it was assumed only people of, or who aspired to, certain socioeconomic classes would have interest in higher education and the things to be found there…and yes, they would be the ones sitting on symphony boards in the future, assuming custodianship of our arts institutions.  A college degree was not considered a necessity for economic survival at that time, which it really is now, and the idea that products of higher education might not be interested in the great works of European art music was probably inconceivable.

To return to my anecdote: in fairness, the students had been told in Academic Advising (which was clearly neither) “all you have to do is listen to music.”  Then they walked into my class. A bloodbath ensued, and that was the last section of Appreesh I taught here.

(A parenthetical observation: There are texts that take a different approach. One we examined this semester was organized around the different roles music plays in our lives—a very plausible idea. Music and Religion was one section, and it had six or more examples…all of which were from Christianity.  There was no implication in this section that other religions had music, or even that there were other religions at all.  Next.)

I am well aware that Appreesh is not a high-status teaching assignment; whenever I’ve offered to pick up a section (say, when one of my own classes didn’t have sufficient enrollment) I’ve gotten the brush-off.  Still, this isn’t on The Administration, The Man, The Canon, The Discipline, The Senior Faculty, or any other such.  This is on us.  Publishers would change their offerings rather quickly, I’m sure, if we—musicians, academics, individuals with a lot of musical experience—were to take different approaches, and if such classes weren’t routinely offloaded on the most hapless adjunct performance teacher, stretched to the breaking point and grateful for the teach-by-numbers guidance.  There was a large lunch-time meeting at a national AMS, some years ago, in which people were grousing that music history teaching assignments were given to non-Ph.D.s, how only Ph.D.s (I mean, D.M.A.s?!  Really!) were equipped to teach such courses, and so on.  Of course, I stood up, proclaimed my D.M.A. and did my usual sound-and-fury-signifying-nothing act, and got the predicted response—a pained “Jonathan, please, of course we didn’t mean you, you’re not who we’re talking about”—but the question remains: is it important responsibility or not, and if it is, why do teachers continue to phone it in?  There’s a discipline-wide complicity in that.  Do we have more important things to get to?  I wonder. One view is that opening the doors of our world to non-majors, some of whom are probably devoted listeners to a wide variety of musics, is central to our mission in higher education.

Were I to be given an Intro course, I think I would teach it without a textbook.  I’ve got youtube, I’ve got iTunes, I’ve got readings.  Textbooks are very expensive—no news here—and I’ve never seen any web add-ons that are worth the time, trouble, and effort…and, more importantly, the additional cost.  Shouldn’t each version of this course differ, according the interests and preferences of the teacher, and isn’t that a good thing?  With oversight, of course.  No, you can’t devote an entire Intro course to the Roman de Fauvel, however fascinating you find it, or to Sun Ra.  (No, I am not dissing the Roman de Fauvel and Sun Ra.  No bonus points if you contrive to get offended.)

Whether or not less experienced teachers would use a textbook, though—few things are as mystifying as a lack of pedagogical creativity in an arts discipline.  Too often, blandness is a foregone conclusion, and predictable textbooks the default (and highly expensive) guides.  Given how many Appreesh classes are offered every year in the U.S., and how willing we are to fight about virtually anything else, I wonder that the traditional flaccidity of Intro curricula hasn’t produced more pushback among us, even outrage. Reaching non-specialists in a meaningful way is both a responsibility and a necessary investment in our discipline as a whole, because it is not musicologists who will argue for its continued presence, ultimately, it is the community of all those interested in education in general.  There is much talk about the future of our discipline as it stands; the general standard of Music Appreciation curricula highlights, it seems to me, an area of great need.

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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