Creativity in U.S. Music Textbook Series: 1912-1953

By Nelson, Sandra L. | Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Creativity in U.S. Music Textbook Series: 1912-1953


Nelson, Sandra L., Journal of Historical Research in Music Education


Creating music has been described as one of three fundamental ways that humans engage in music. (1) However, there are indications that creative experiences may be very limited or not present in American school music. (2) In fact, Reimer has stated that American schools have had a tradition of providing mainly performing and listening experiences. (3) This opinion is verified in recent research. A national survey of American schools found that in the majority of elementary schools, children were primarily offered experiences in singing and listening, while improvisational experiences received low priority. Notably, composing was not addressed in the survey. (4) In a national assessment of arts education in the United States, less than 10 percent of eighth-grade students had been asked to make up their own music. (5)

There is also some evidence that teachers rely on music textbooks to help deliver curriculum. (6) Therefore, it is important to understand the types of materials and strategies that have been available in music textbooks, and whether experiences in creating music have been included along with performing and listening experiences. Understanding the historical heritage that influences contemporary curricular practices will provide a context for presenting a balanced school curriculum. Because the period of the 1950s marked the beginning of contemporary American music education, (7) continuing research into the period before 1950 will broaden the knowledge base about music education practices in the U.S.

The purpose of this paper is to investigate the type of creativity included in U.S. music textbooks during the first half of the twentieth century. Did students have access to music creativity in music textbooks of the first half of the twentieth century, and if so, what was the nature and scope of the creative experiences presented in the textbooks? The discussion will be based on considering "music creativity" as the manipulation of musical sound in order to derive an original musical response or product. The analysis will begin with a consideration of the term "creativity" and a review of literature.

Creativity

Without a clear definition, implementing music creativity into music classrooms has been difficult for teachers. Research studies have often used terms such as creative thinking, creative ability, or creative product. Mental processes, cognitive or personality traits, environmental conditions, or some combination have also been investigated in attempts to understand music creativity. (8) The publication of the National Arts Standards (1994) provides some direction to music educators regarding music creativity in the curriculum. Of the nine music standards, two address music creativity (compose/arrange music and improvise). (9) Composing, arranging, and improvising music all provide experiences in direct manipulation of musical sound, leading to original or new musical material. While creative thinking or creative ability may affect the end result, it would seem that the opportunity to engage in manipulating and organizing musical sound is at the heart of the creative experience in music.

Curricular practice in previous eras, however, did not have clear direction about creative musical experiences. In a survey of articles in the Music Educators Journal from its inception to 1970, Hounchell found five different uses for the word creativity. (10) Of several landmark projects that have examined the scope of music education curriculum, the 1963 Yale Seminar on Music Education suggested that there were fundamental problems in music education. The seminar concluded that the music available to schools was of appalling quality and of very limited scope; children's potential had been continually underestimated. The symposium suggested that the music curriculum of previous eras failed, in part because music composed by children (particularly the children being taught) was either not included or was not treated seriously. …

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