Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Buttercups (Ranunculus glaberrimus) blooming in the prairie, 3/16/10. In spite of our northern location and occasional cold weather (though not this winter so much), several native plants bloom here even in late winter.

You were just spared a diatribe about the current state of academic training for musicians, because I wanted to get past that frustration with a simple proposal for improving the situation. My fantasy is that we could create music workshops based loosely on training for creative writers, where musicians could be treated as artists and present their work to their peers. I have heard writers complain about writers' workshops, that their peers give inane and unnecessarily critical responses, that you can't teach writing anyway. All true, but that isn't the point. Education is about teaching and learning, sure, but for artists it is also about having a little institutional support while you find your voice and work it a bit. Currently, music programs don't allow this because the political structure is such that your peers don't matter; only the faculty's evaluation matters. A music student is NOT an artist in the current system. To empower the students as artists and give them a voice would ideally serve to open up the area of inquiry. Not just about unlistenable "new" music, but about songwriting, about music built out of vernacular traditions. Things the teachers might have to learn about. It is very hard, maybe even impossible, for the medieval power relationships in academic music departments to evolve beyond their dictatorial nature, but music departments aren't getting more relevant as time goes on, and the world no longer cares if you can properly resolve a German sixth chord. They do care if you have the funk, though. I just got a smile fantasizing a course called Getting the Funk 101--just the thing to replace 12-tone theory, which is an absolute waste of time. I had a writers-workshop structure built into a "music production" course I designed at WSU (end run around the deadly "composition" classes), to use this method for students to present their work in the recording studio to each other, but budget cuts several years ago utterly destroyed any hope of introducing new curriculum for the foreseeable future, and of course, now I am no longer teaching there. It's still a good idea though.

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