Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Editorial

Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Editorial

Article excerpt

O, wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as others see us! 

Robert Burns's famous quotation came to mind when I was reading the book How Music Works by the famous Rock and Roll Hall of Famer David Byrne, another Scot, he of the Talking Heads. (1) In this book Byrne takes a fresh look at the whole subject of music (really!) and this includes some discussions about music education and the history of music education.

Byrne's world emanates from recorded music and many of his observations begin there. But he's done some good research too, citing sources as diverse as John Philip Sousa, Ellen Dissanayake, and Alan Lomax. While I wish the book had an index, any book that can move effortlessly between just intonation, the acoustics of a car interior, El Sistema, and James Brown has my attention. I liked this book because he explained what he took from experiences, observations, and readings and made some interesting conclusions. For example, he related that when the first recordings of music came out around the turn of the twentieth century, many teachers believed this would encourage children to take up music. But then "soon the emphasis shifted: it became about learning and understanding musical forms, rather than making them. The new pedagogical goal was to expose students to all kinds of music, in genres that were previously unavailable to them. Not only was the emphasis on listening, the expressed goal was to get the kids to appreciate the superiority of a certain kind of music over what some declared to be coarser, more popular forms" (271).

Well, yes, I guess that is exactly what happened in the public schools of the United States. While it is slightly more complicated than that, it was refreshing to read a reasonable conclusion based on considered evidence.

Byrne is an advocate for performing music as the most effective way of learning music. While he is not against learning great works, he feels that they have been prioritized out of proportion to their lasting value: "By encouraging the creativity of amateurs, rather than telling them that they should passively accept the creativity of designated masters, we help build a social and cultural network that will have profound repercussions" (298). …

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