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fwd: A view from the middle

Peter_Mueller@UCSDLIBRARY.ucsd.edu
Fri, 27 Jun 1997 10:20:00 -0700

---------------------------- Forwarded with Changes ---------------------------
From: mathews@peabody.jhu.edu at @UCSD
Date: 6/26/97 7:52PM
To: peter mueller at UCSDLIBRARY
Subject: A view from the middle
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Forwarded from the the music theory list, SMT
-Peter

______________________________ Forward Header __________________________________
Subject: A view from the middle
Author: mathews@peabody.jhu.edu at @UCSD
Date: 6/26/97 7:52 PM

I tend to eschew talk of the death of music. Like the early news of Mark
Twain's death, the reports are greatly exaggerated. However, as someone
still finishing a doctorate and still seeking a position, I have two
rather interesting lecturing jobs that afford me a unique perspective
on the situation, and I will attempt to share them with you.

One of my jobs is teaching Music Appreciation at Baltimore City Community
College. My students are non-traditional: mostly single mothers returning
to school after some quick G.E.D. courses. They come to my class largely
unprepared and not well-served by their education in the Baltimore public
schools. They seek quick technical-school degrees in nursing and computer
programming squeezed in between poorly-paying jobs and suspicious
child-care arrangements; they have no time for "well-rounded education."
At first, I questioned my role in their hurried curriculums. Gradually I
came to realize that these people certainly could use a little beauty in
their lives, and a thing of beauty, Keats has it, is a joy forever.

For my students -- and also for my students at the University of
Maryland -- the idea of just listening to a piece of music is totally
alien. When I tell them that concert goers in the Eighteenth century
had "an intuitive grasp" of what happens in the sonata form, they are
incredulous. Who could just listen to music and understand all that
stuff about melodies and keys? Without lyrics, no less! And when I teach
my pop-music class, I find that they know little more about the music they
claim is near and dear to them. Sure, they know the gossip and they've
memorized the rhymes, but they have no idea how the music is held together,
and what's going on behind the singer/s. For most of my students, music
happens in cars. Music comes out of headphones, facilitates dancing. It
is not a thing to be contemplated solely. They are perplexed when they
come back from *seeing* the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and I ask them
what they *heard*.

Another job I have is lecturing at the Peabody Elderhostel. There, I
lecture to retired people who live comfortably in the fourth movements
of their lives. When they ask me what happened to Classical music, they
might as well be asking what happened to the Nineteenth century. They
mourn a time when listening to music meant *seeing* Bernstein at the
NYPhil, or *going* to the old Met: not to mention *being seen* at these
places. They might as well be talking about city parks, or libraries,
or museums, or any of a number of large institutions that are crumbling
in a slight rubato with the pace of general urban decay.

When I analyze this situation -- usually driving between the two jobs --
the message I get is murky, but distinct. Music still has the power to
affect a sweeping change over individuals (and thus society), but the
medium for transmitting the music, but the method of transmission is
rudely out of step with the times. I do not suggest that music should
"dumb down" or pander to the lowest common denominator/highest common
factor, but I do think the problem transcends the repertoire and the
artists. People are changing. Music is changing. Music institutions
are frozen. A long summer is upon us.

______________________________________________________________________
Paul Mathews, DMA Student: Peabody Conservatory / JHU
Adjunct Faculty: UMBC, BCCC, Peabody Elderhostel
Webpage: <http://www.peabody.jhu.edu/~mathews>