Saturday, April 8, 2017

Education in the Arts

I suppose I have a somewhat jaundiced view of education in the arts because that was my racket for most of my life. I taught music in one form or another for roughly thirty years and, while it was often fulfilling and engaging, it was also often very tiresome and mind-numblingly boring. Sorry! After the five hundredth time you have explained that there are two quarter notes in a half note, it starts to lose its delight.

But that is all just subjective whining, the objective truth seems to be that education in music and art is crucial in involving people with the arts and music in their entire life. The Pacific Standard has the story: The Lifelong Effects of Music and Arts Classes. Researcher Kenneth Elpus tells us:
“Rather than disengage from art-making and arts attendance upon graduation, students of school-based music and arts education were significantly more likely (than their peers) to create art in their own lives, and to patronize arts events,” Elpus reports.
Even after taking such factors as race, sex, and socioeconomic status into account, “Both music performance and music appreciation courses are strongly associated with later arts participation as patron/consumer and performer/creator,” he writes. For example, compared to their peers, “Former music-appreciation students were 93 percent more likely to attend classical music or opera performance as adults.”
This is one reason why I think it is so extremely important to preserve and enhance our traditions and institutions of classical music performance: if they are not passed on, both in performance and in the provision of music education (the real thing, theory, history and notation) then we start to lose touch with one of the greatest achievements of Western Civilization.

I think that one of the most intractable problems with this is that the very teachers whose job it is to pass on these traditions are sometimes either incompetent or simply lack commitment to the aesthetic traditions. These are the folks, possibly corrupted by contemporary educational ideology, who start talking about diversity and stuff. They want to bring pop, folk, jazz and world music into the curriculum. At first this seems a good idea, but over time, they start to edge out the classical music. They are easier to enjoy and the technical standards are not so demanding so if you don't have a very strong handle on exactly why you need to be teaching the classical traditions, then pretty soon you will just stop bothering.

I can see this happening in our two local concert series. The one, without anyone at the helm with musical training, keeps getting worse and worse pianists each season. They probably don't see the difference between a really good pianist and an insensitive banger, so hey, why not hire the cheaper one? The programming gets less and less creative and more and more formulaic each season, but the pleas for donations get ever more strident. As an economic formula, it works, but I attend fewer and fewer concerts each year. The situation with the other series, a shorter one in the summer, is even worse. They have started to have the occasional less formal concert in the off season and I just noticed that this week it is a jazz quartet. Sure. Even more telling is that they have changed the name. it used to be the "Chamber Music Festival" but now it is the "International Music Festival." You can see where that is going. Trying to re-organize your concerts to appeal to people who don't like classical music is going to end by dispensing with classical music.

These are inevitable trends and the justification is always the attraction of more attendees, budget demands, audience demographics, the need for more contemporary works and so on. The only actual defense is aesthetic and no-one knows how to make aesthetic judgements or arguments anymore! In Europe there is an enormous critical mass of appreciation and support for the arts and music, but in North America it always seems to be on life-support or being taken off life-support. The people that run the institutions seem to too often misunderstand what they should be doing or, most saddening, to be manipulative scam artists taking advantage of an opportunity to advance their career.

The only path that can lead to understanding of the arts and music and their true role and importance in our societies is through aesthetic understanding. Statistics, psychology, sociology and economics are not going to do it. What those disciplines tell us over and over is that classical music is of almost no importance or significance whatsoever. All the real action is in popular music.

The only answer to that is this:

No comments: