American History and Music Education: A Summary of the 2008 Ohio Music Education Association Research Forum Presented by Dr. Michael L. Mark

Article excerpt

The Research Committee of the Ohio Music Education Association (OMEA) sponsored a lecture by Dr. Michael L. Mark during the 2008 OMEA Conference. Professor Mark presented an enlightening discussion of historical events and trends, and their relationship to the field of music education. This summary highlights key topics from his lecture.

Many readers are familiar with the texts Contemporary Music Education and A History of American Music Education, often required reading for those studying music education. The Graduate Research Forum at the 2008 OMEA Professional Development Conference provided the opportunity to experience an enlightening lecture and question-and-answer session with the author, Dr. Michael L. Mark. Organized in a linear format according to selected topics, Mark highlighted connections between trends in American history and trends within the field of music education. He asked the group to think of the history of the United States as a colorful tapestry containing different threads, of which music education history was one essential part.

Agrarian Society: Utilitarian Music

Utilizing a PowerPoint presentation with numerous visual and musical examples, Mark began the examination through the lens of agrarianism and its relationship to American cultural life. Many people lived in rural areas and musical practice was unrefined by European standards. "It usually violated the rules of traditional harmony...the melody was in the tenor with two harmony voices above the tenor." Music of this era was mostly religious and included The Bay Psalm Book (1639) and The New England Psalm Singer (1770). Mark used the listening example of Chester by William Billings and placed it within the European context as being popular in the time of Haydn and Mozart. Amity, a fuguing tune by singing schoolmaster Daniel Read, was played to demonstrate the influence of the Singing School movement. It was composed as an imitation of European practice, but the composer had no formal study in European theory. Another important movement during this era was shape-note singing. A contemporary example of shape-note singing was Amazing Grace, as performed by the congregation of the Old Regular Baptist Church in Jeff, Kentucky. A later movement of this era was Sacred Harp Singing. A slide displaying an embroidery piece from 1876 depicted a visual rendering of a Sacred Harp Sing. The listening example, a later, more refined performance of Amazing Grace, highlighted the impact of solmization on the improved quality of singing compared to earlier times.

The Industrial Revolution: Increased 'Sophistication'

The Industrial Revolution brought many changes to American culture. "By 1830 [the industrial revolution] had transformed American cities into manufacturing centers that brought workers from rural areas into the cities." The changes influenced music education. "The fast-growing middle and upper classes demanded a higher level of American culture." Lowell Mason (1792-1872) was an advocate for replacing American music with music based on European models. Traditional American music came to be seen as old-fashioned. In Boston, Mason achieved tax-supported music education within the public schools in 1838. Wild Wood Flowers is an example of music employed to persuade the school board to approve music as a permanent subject for study in the Boston City Schools. The song is based on a European model, which Mark critiqued as "bland, insipid, and boring" when compared to the previous American music. Arguments based on the work of Swiss theorist Pestalozzi helped to convince the board of the moral, physical, and intellectual benefits of music. Also convincing was the notion that music in European styles was "scientific, meaning modern and improved." Mark noted that these arguments seem familiar to music education advocates today.

Evolving Beliefs and American Music

Mark proposed that American beliefs continued to evolve and were influenced by a diverse group of thinkers. …