Academic journal article The American Music Research Center Journal

Education through Music: The Fundamental Ideas

Academic journal article The American Music Research Center Journal

Education through Music: The Fundamental Ideas

Article excerpt

Editor's note: Charles Farnsworth (1859-1947) taught music at the University of Colorado from 1887 to 1900 and, as explained earlier in this volume, was one of the important creative forces in establishing the university's music program. After leaving Boulder, Farnsworth took up a position at Columbia University Teacher's College in New York, a post that he held until his retirement in 1924. The central concern of his career, stimulated by his work in Colorado, became the training of future teachers of music for the public schools. His first book, which beautifully illustrates the clarity of his thinking and the diversity of his experience outside of the bounds of public school systems at the time, is entitled Education Through Music. For a publication dating back to 1909 it is remarkably relevant for teachers nowadays in its articulation of general principles. Early on he recognized that teaching as a skill or art unto itself was different from mere knowledge of the subject matter, that the practice of music and the skill of teaching it were separate disciplines. He thus strove to be an inspiring teacher of teachers.

Farnsworth always speaks in nontechnical language, but insists that music should be taught systematically and precisely, stressing both its structure and its expressive potential equally. He frequently alludes to senses other than hearing and uses images outside of music to elucidate musical ideas. Pointing to the visual and plastic arts, theater, nature, and literature, as it suits him, in order for even the novice teacher to comprehend the gist of his thinking about expressiveness, beauty, form, and the creative process. While somewhat anachronistically optimistic about the "universal ability" of humans to "appreciate" a surpassingly brilliant "interpretative performance" in the Western Classical tradition, he is equally convinced that one's native musical culture-Farnsworth was bom in Turkey and spoke that language as his mother tongue-is crucial in shaping taste and defining values. In chapter 5 he tells a startlingly modem anecdote bemoaning a lack of connection between the ordinary world of work and the generally inadequate means by which colleges prepare students for it. Plus ça change. . . .

Chapter I: Principles of Teaching

About one percent of our population has a formal education beyond the age of fourteen.* The musical instruction that is given during this period is for most people all the training that they ever receive in the subject. Hence it is of the utmost importance that the little time given to music should be spent in the most effective way. This requires a consideration not merely of the musical ends to be reached, but of the capacity of the pupil and his musical needs, involving a cultivation of the desire for the beautiful in music, and direction for its gratification under the social conditions in which he lives. Such a broad view of the subject demands that sound principles be followed and that a rational plan of presentation be employed. It may be of help if at the outset the principles upon which the instruction is based be formulated, and the necessity for a plan of teaching presented.

[* In 1905-06 the number of children registered as attending public high schools in the country at large was eighty-eight hundredths of one percent of the total population; or, including the children studying at private secondary schools, over one percent of the population was taking secondary education. David Snedden, Charities and the Commons. April 25, 1907.]

It is not always easy to differentiate between a method employed, which is the way a thing is done, and the principle that it is intended to follow, which is a general rule of procedure constantly needing common sense for its application.

No one way of procedure is the right way under all conditions; but the principles that underlie the application should have stability. Without this, the goal cannot be reached. …

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