Facing the Risks of the "Mozart Effect'

By Reimer, Bennett | Phi Delta Kappan, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Facing the Risks of the "Mozart Effect'


Reimer, Bennett, Phi Delta Kappan


Mr. Reimer argues that music educators must protect the integrity of music education from alternative, nonmusic agendas.

THROUGHOUT its history in the United States and in most countries and cultures around the world, the teaching and learning of music has been recognized as serving a variety of human needs. Some of these needs can be met only through music & that is, through the kinds of meanings and satisfactions that only musical sounds, defined and structured according to cultural expectations, traditions, and identity traits, can provide. Involvement with culturally significant musical events & through composing, improvising, performing, listening, or any other musical opportunities a culture provides & has been considered fulfilling to varying degrees, from the lightly entertaining to the profoundly spiritual. The teaching and learning of music, then, has been understood to be valuable because it improves people's abilities to gain meaningful, gratifying musical experiences. Other needs served by studying music can also be valuable but can be fulfilled in a variety of ways not involving music or its study. Sometimes these other needs come into conflict with the musical ones. A glance backward in history will illustrate how this can happen.

Musical and Other Purposes of Music Education

Singing schools were established in the United States in the early 18th century to fulfill a need to improve the quality of singing as part of worship services & an important societal activity that depended on a higher level of musicality than that achieved by most members of the congregation. But in addition to fulfilling a musical need, these instructional sessions were socially enjoyable for the people who attended. No doubt some single individuals attended in the hope of meeting suitable partners (some things don't change over time). Also, the singing masters & the first professional music educators in the United States & were, if they were successful, able to make a decent living from the activity.

Singing schools, then, had the primary purpose of teaching music skills, while naturally and comfortably serving a variety of associated purposes. There were, of course, many other ways to enjoy companionship, to meet eligible partners, and to make a living. There was only one way, however, to satisfy the need for better singing: to learn how to sing better. The conflict occurred when several people who regularly attended a particular singing school began to complain that too much time and effort were being spent on singing instruction and that more time was needed for socializing & perhaps for potluck suppers, games, and so forth.

For the singing master & the music educator & this presented a dilemma. He (this was then a male role) was devoted to the musical task for which he was responsible and for which he had developed the necessary musical and pedagogical expertise. He had a course of study to deliver, including skills to develop, a musical repertoire to be studied, understandings to be nurtured, and learning assessments to be made; in short, he had a curriculum. But when he heard his students' complaints, he wondered if he was being too hard a taskmaster and needed to provide a bit more time for those other needs to be met. Or perhaps he should take the cue from his students' requests and make singing instruction secondary, devoting the most time and effort to the other, more social activities. Maybe he should go even further, advertising his school as being focused on social and singles activities, thereby appealing to a wider constituency than just those interested in learning to sing.

At what point would he be allowing the purpose of musical learning to become so altered by other purposes as to lose its centrality and authenticity? At what point would the tail start wagging the dog? If he allowed this to happen, he might get more students in his classes and make more money. …

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Facing the Risks of the "Mozart Effect'
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