Integration, Diversity, and Creativity: Reflections on the "Manifesto" from the College Music Society

By Snodgrass, Jennifer Sterling | Music Theory Online, March 2016 | Go to article overview

Integration, Diversity, and Creativity: Reflections on the "Manifesto" from the College Music Society


Snodgrass, Jennifer Sterling, Music Theory Online


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[1] In November 2014, the College Music Society (CMS) released a preliminary version of "Transforming Music Study from its Foundations: A Manifesto for Progressive Change in the Undergraduate Preparation of Music Majors," a report compiled by the society's Task Force on the Undergraduate Music Major; this document will hereafter be called the Manifesto for short. The 2012-14 president of CMS, Patricia Shehan Campbell, appointed the task force, comprising eight scholars from different U.S. universities and colleges that represented various disciplines within the music academy: music education, jazz, ethnomusicology, music theory and musicianship, music history, composition, orchestral conducting, and instrumental performance. The purpose of the task force was to articulate "what it means to be an educated musician in the twenty-first century and, in turn, what recommendations may follow for progressive change in the undergraduate music-major curriculum" (Manifesto, i). A final version of the report, approved by the CMS Board of Directors, is expected to be published in the society's journal, College Music Symposium. However, the introductory material that precedes the report includes the disclaimer that the report represents only the opinions of the members of the task force, and not those of the CMS or its Board of Directors.

[2] This document encourages faculty and administrators to embrace fundamental curricular change, not only bottom-up but also top-down, originating from a high level of the administrative structure if needed. At its heart, the Manifesto "takes the position that improvisation and composition provide a stronger basis for educating musicians today than the prevailing model of training performers in the interpretation of older works" (2). More generally, the recommendations in the report are based on the principles of creativity in music-making (improvisation and composition as well as interpretive performance and analysis), diversity of repertoire (music from different cultures, times, and social contexts), and curricular integration (of music theory, performance, and music history with musicianship, improvisation, and composition), which are described as "three key pillars necessary to ensure the relevance, quality, and rigor of the undergraduate music curriculum" (2). These are not new ideas: they are strongly reminiscent of the Comprehensive Musicianship movement that began in the late 1960s, and have been espoused in more recent work by Lucy Green on pre-college music education and in many of the articles in Engaging Students: Essays in Music Pedagogy and the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy. The Manifesto also calls for teaching to reflect new research in cognition, for student engagement in curricular planning, and a broader conception of the skills needed for professional development (3-4). Some general suggestions for approaches, courses, and degree programs are included, but the specifics of their deployment are left up to the individual institutions. (It is worth noting here that while it is not a response to the Manifesto, the integrated undergraduate music curriculum outlined by John Covach fulfills many of the same objectives, and could serve as a useful point of departure for curricular change.)

[3] While the Manifesto encourages discussion among all instructors of music, many within the music-theory community have felt a polarization between those who support it and those who do not. Some members of the field also felt that the Manifesto mischaracterized actual teaching practices in the field as more uniform and tradition-bound than they actually are--in the words of the report, "isolated, resistant to change, and too frequently regressive rather than progressive in its approach to undergraduate education" (2). The lack of evidence-based research supporting the claims made in the Manifesto, and its minimal consideration of the increasingly important role of technology in music creation, consumption, and education, have also been viewed as problematic omissions. …

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