Is Murray Schafer's Creative Music Education Relevant in the 21st Century?

By Rutherford, Sherrill | The Canadian Music Educator, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Is Murray Schafer's Creative Music Education Relevant in the 21st Century?


Rutherford, Sherrill, The Canadian Music Educator


Peer Review Corner features articles that have been submitted for review by a panel of music educators. The jury completes a "blind" review of manuscripts, offers suggestions for revision, and the revised article is either accepted or rejected based upon consultation with the journal editor and others on the editorial board. If you wish to submit an article for review, please send it to Dr. Lee Willingham (lwillingham@wlu.ca).

"A consideration of the present-day school of music points at every turn to a need for a more creative approach to music in all areas and all subject matters within the art" (Benson, 1967, p. 4).

Murray Schafer is well recognized as a contemporary Canadian composer; however his accomplishments in music education are less well-known. Schafer began teaching music in the 1960's at the primary, secondary and university levels, and developed his own teaching style which he named Creative Music Education. At that time Schafer's teaching methods were considered innovative and inspirational by some, experimental and avante-garde by others, and altogether radical by many conventional educators (Adams, 1983; Paynter, 1987; Southcott & Burke, 2012; Ward, 2009). Ian Bradley's 1977 discussion of Canadian composers describes Schafer the teacher as a "catalyst, provoking, inspiring, and expanding students' sensory awareness of the musical environment" (p. 191). In Stephen Adams' 1983 biography of Schafer, Adams describes Schafer's deep concern for public music education and his "innovative classroom techniques" (p. 22). It therefore appears that Schafer's music education methods were progressive in the 1960's and '70's, but are they still relevant in 2013?

A closer look at the beliefs, motivations and aims that shape Schafer's approach to music education, in essence his underlying philosophy, is required to assess their current relevance. Although Schafer does not specifically delineate his educational philosophy in his writings, he reveals a profound respect for individual expression, and a commitment to self-determination and inclusion, all of which guide his teaching methods, and could be considered a philosophical basis. Schafer's Creative Music Education concepts and the underlying teaching philosophies that they imply are presented here to further inform this discussion. Contemporary music education research is reviewed, and similarities between Schafer's methods and current education philosophies and methods are explored to determine whether or not Schafer's Creative Music Education is indeed still relevant today.

An Explanation of Schafer's Creative Music Education

Schafer explains his Creative Music Education concept in five booklets that he authored between 1964 and 1975. These booklets were reprinted in 1976 as a single volume called Creative Music Education, and appeared again in 1986 in an expanded book called The Thinking Ear which Schafer (1986) describes as the "definitive edition of all my writings on music education" (p. viii). These books are filled with autobiographical accounts of Schafer's experiences teaching music "in Canadian and American schools, universities, and summer music camps"; and include descriptions of the exercises that he utilized in his classes (Schafer, 1976, p. ix). In all of these works, two main themes dominate Schafer's descriptions of his music education paradigm: encouraging student creativity and training heightened listening. In an article about Schafer's music education methods, John Paynter (1991) explains that "perception and invention are central to [Schafer's teaching] scheme" (p. 42); Schafer "points us towards what should be our prime concerns in music education: aural acuity, adventurousness and courageousness" (Paynter, 1991, p. 40).

When Schafer made his first public statement about his ideas around music education, he pleaded for "greater emphasis on listening skills [aural acuity], and less on academic theory" (Adams, 1983, p. …

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