A Response to Mark Oppenheimer’s attack on the value of arts education published in the New Republic

As indicated by his article that admonishes parents who force their children to study music, Mark Oppenheimer reveals that he is mightily ‘dazed and confused’ about the value of music and the arts in education.  And the New Republic is guilty of publishing a speciously argued article that recommends that parents no longer need to take responsibility for providing an arts education for their children’s general education.

It is difficult to know how to respond to all of Mr. Oppenheimer assertions in his fractious and presumptuously article titled “Stop Forcing Your Kids to Learn a Musical Instrument.”

The presumptions are stunning with regard to questioning the motivations and intelligence of parents who for many reasons believe it is their responsibility to ensure that their children achieve the benefits of a rigorous education in the arts.  Despite its short length, Oppenheimer’s article is boundless in its insensitivity to the needs and feelings of our children who come to enjoy facing the serious challenges of arts learning and yet must learn also to survive, from time to time, the urge to quit their music and dance lessons whenever when the process seems too difficult.

I will start with Oppenheimer’s first argument: that is, the astonishing assertion that ballet and musical instrumental training are both “pointless” activities.  According to Oppenheimer, learning music and ballet can be characterized as hobbies that are as inane as “eating candy corn”.   Apparently Oppenheimer feels that parents who commit themselves to providing an education in the arts for their children — an education that is no more ‘forced’ than when schools or parents insist on required school subjects such as reading and math — should cease and desist from requiring their children to play an instrument or take ballet classes.

Though the pointlessness of arts learning is a central theme of his article, early on we learn that Oppenheimer does support his daughter’s education in ballet and playing the violin despite the inherent uselessness of either.  This paradox is explained by his second assertion: that education in the arts can be provided, but only if the child asks for it and continues to enjoy it.  Thus Oppenheimer feels he can be responsive to his daughter by paying for his daughter’s arts education because he thinks this ‘pointless endeavor’ is nonetheless temporarily enjoyable.  Rebekah reports to him that she loves her teachers, she is making progress, and Oppenheimer concludes that is all a parent needs to know if they are to support a pointless course of study.

But Oppenheimer also insists that those parents who decide to ‘force’ a child to engage in music lessons without assurances from their children that they want to play an instrument, have gotten the “unfounded” or “overblown” idea that serious arts instruction holds benefits for their children that go beyond a child’s immediate experience of having fun in the course of a ‘pointless’ activity.  That is, some parents and educators have discovered that many others believe that there is considerable experimental and informal evidence of music’s significant association with children’s cognitive, neurological, and social-emotional development that translates to higher levels of achievement in our schools.  Yet, according to Oppenheimer, the unfounded or overblown notion that an arts education is anything more than the fleeting pleasure of engaging in a aimless or nonsensical activity is a misconception.

Oppenheimer is troubled also by the lack of evidence for the need to perform music or dance in our current century.  He reminds his readers that  “before the twentieth century, there was a good reason for anyone to study music: If you couldn’t make the music yourself, then you would rarely hear it. “  Thus, in this age of total access to musical recordings, Oppenheimer is warning misguided parents that there is no good reason to put in the hours of practice it takes to perform music well because we can enjoy music without having to perform it ourselves.  Listening to music is important to millions of people, but learning to make music, or learning to read or analyze or compose music is completely unnecessary: we have access to all the recordings we need to enjoy or understand music.

Furthermore, Oppenheimer assumes that there is no empirical evidence that music or ballet training has any measurable benefit to our children other than the joy of doing a pointless activity reasonably well.  To prove this presumption Oppenheimer completely ignores the numerous studies that suggest important attributes of arts learning and their possible association with other kinds of learning, and instead engages his readers in absurd ‘thought experiments’ intended to illustrate his argument.   He claims, for example, that no one would be able to distinguish differences in body movement when observing ballet trained versus untrained students going about their normal school day activities.  In his imagination, dance has little effect on the way students stand in line, walk with their friends, etc.  His opinions notwithstanding, Oppenheimer’s loosely described thought experiment not only does not warrant his conclusions, it shows a complete disregard for the nature of meaningful learning transfer effects that researchers report when, for example, strong associations are discovered between measures of early musical training and phonemic awareness in early language development,  or keyboard training and the grasp of spatial reasoning.  And, while dance teachers might disagree completely with Oppenheimer’s conclusions, if Oppenheimer’s readers to agree to accept his opinion that there ballet training will have no impact on physical movement of students during school then, by this logic, we would have to embrace also the unlikely notion that musical training presumably would have no influence on their ability of young musicians to discern, analyze, or reflect on music or other sonic environments any differently from untrained students as they are exposed to music during in-school or after-school activities.  And because Oppenheimer does not mention anything in his article about students who have been  ‘forced’ to learn language arts skills or to engage in the study of literature, we are left to wonder whether or not Oppenheimer would also believe the absurd hypothesis that learning reading, theater, creative writing, or poetry are also pointless activities that will have no impact on the language skills exhibited by children during their school day.

Oppenheimer’s pitifully small range of evidence also draws on his recollections of dinner party conversations with friends.  From this level of discourse he concludes that not every middle class adult continues to play the instrument they learned in their youth and musicians who learned to play Bach’s music early in life don’t think much of his music later on.  This finding is apparently important to Oppenheimer’s sense of the worthlessness of learning classical music when he states that “the music that these friends listen to as adults—klezmer, Indigo Girls, classic rock—is in each case quite far from what their parents paid for them to study. Their studies of cello had not made them into fans of Bach.”

This conclusion will seem very strange to musicians for two reasons.  First, musicians I have talked to haven’t found much evidence of music students not being able to appreciate the value of performing or listening to Bach or other classical composers later in life.   Secondly, it appears perfectly normal that music students expand their listening interests to include many kinds of music they haven’t studied on their instrument.   However it seems to Oppenheimer that listening to popular music or jazz is evidence of the failure of arts education in classical music.  However, music educators would normally expect that, as music students mature, their listening interests routinely expand beyond the boundaries of the music they learned in their music lessons.  The fact that music students can enjoy all kinds of music besides the classical music they play, strikes me as a very positive results of a comprehensive education in music.  Similarly, I would think English Language Arts teachers would assume that when readers to pursue their interests in literature beyond the boundaries of their experience reading Shakespeare or other authors they study in school, it is a positive outcome of their language arts education.

I am not sure what Oppenheimer means by classically trained musicians not being “fans of Bach” but arts education professionals know that anyone who has struggled to learn to play an instrument well enough to render a Bach Minuet or Invention — or who has studied ballet long enough to experience part of Balanchine’s choreography of the Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, or who has studied literature enough to memorize a scene from a Shakespeare play— is highly likely to have a life-long appreciation of these artists and their works.

We also have to question Oppenheimer’s view of the role of arts education in our society when he elaborates on his idea that it is also pointless to engage more children in the arts learning than will be needed to supply the cultural organization of our society.  This overly pragmatic and myopic view of arts education is articulated in the paragraph below:

“Now it is clearly the case that if nobody studied ballet or violin, we would have no professional orchestras or ballet companies. That would be a great loss. But for such art forms to persist, it is only necessary that the most eager and gifted students persist in their studies. I’m all for lots of children trying classical music or dance, but we no more need millions of fourth-year violin students than we need millions of fourth-year origami students. We all love paper cranes, I think, but we aren’t rushing to give our children to the cause.”

The quotation above reveals that Oppenheimer thinks only the gifted few who will contribute directly to our nation’s cultural institutions need apply themselves to the rigors of an arts education.  As long as the continuing development of this generation of artists can still serve Mr. Oppenheimer’s and others’ appetite for well-performed classical music or ballet, then he would most likely approve requiring that persistent music instruction be made available to children, but preference should given only to the most ‘gifted’ of students at a young age.  As a result of this position, Oppenheimer is clearly not much invested in the notion that a rigorous arts education can serve all students well.  And he is probably unaware that most career musicians  — those assumed to be gifted or not at an early age — benefitted from parents or teachers who required them to work at their discipline in a way that motivated them to practice deeply the lessons they learned from expert teachers.

The next quotation below reveals Oppenheimer’s snobbish desire to be able to listen to live classical music and his pretense that listening to music is a pointless pleasure that is not enhanced by acquiring the ability to play music at any level of skill.  It is as if learning to read and speak well is unnecessary to appreciate the language arts.  Once again the author fails to provide any rationale to insist that children experience the opportunity to cultivate a deeper understanding of music by virtue of being able to play challenging music well.  Through Suzuki, parents today now know that virtually all children can learn to play classical music (and folk songs, fiddle songs, and string orchestra music) to a significant level of quality, but Mr. Oppenheimer fractiously asserts that learning to play the four chords of a current hit song on the guitar will be “more of an asset” to a child’s education in music than pursuing music that would contribute to a far deeper development of musical literacy skills.

“I am not saying that children should stop learning stuff outside of school (although some days, when I see how overscheduled some children are, that’s precisely what I want to say). We just need to sign them up for classes that make more sense, given that it’s 2013, not 1860, and that I don’t need a violin-playing daughter to cement my class status. Look, I love the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, but one could make the argument that Rebekah would be better off learning to play the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” on guitar. That skill would certainly be more of an asset at summer camp.”

Though we live in a society that justifiably supports freedom of opinion among all parents and arts educators, we have to question the purpose of this article.  Why does Oppenheimer make irresponsible and illogical statements about the nature and worth of arts education when he surely must realize that his statements could be used for fodder for those parents who want an excuse not to provide a viable musical education for their children?   Why is he choosing to denigrate the accomplishments of all children who participate in violin or ballet programs — and the teachers of these programs who dedicate themselves to every child they face — when he states  “there is no special virtue in knowing how to play the violin, unless you have a special gift for the violin.”

Music and ballet don’t just provide benefits to the highest achievers in music.  And they do not preclude the value of learning sports or going to good movies or reading books.  It’s just that responsible parents and educators now know that children cannot learn to love music, dance, or the language arts without an education that includes learning how to read, perform, and understand what it is they eventually choose to do in life.  By equating the serious study of music and dance with origami, watching a movie, auto repair or “endless hours of foosball” Oppenheimer appears completely insensitive to challenges that parents face when faced with the decision to support arts education for their children or not.  Hinting that a music education through pop music studies would be altogether preferable to classical training is Oppenheimer’s being flippant at best, or profoundly ignorant of the process by which educators establish the basis for a comprehensive arts education at worst.   What young instrumentalist would not benefit from learning to play both a transcription of a Bach and a Beatles composition?  What classically trained musician would not benefit from instruction in improvisation based on the substantial works of both classical and popular songwriters?  What dancer would be better off not benefit experiencing the choreography of both Balanchine and Alvin Ailey? What children would not benefit from experiencing the music dramas of Mozart and Alan Mencken?  It is the domain of an education in the arts that can provide these and many other sources of lasting inspiration for our children’s education over many years of study.

In the last analysis, it seems that young Rebekah is responsible for educating her father on what all adults should come to know as the timeless value of an education in the arts.  She is insisting that beginning ballet and the violin studies as a child, two very challenging enterprises, are rewarding to her despite momentary difficulties and disappointments that might cause other children to quit their studies — especially if their parents continually imply that she can quit at any time.  And, despite the hard work, it appears that the study of dance and music could simply make her happy.  And I would predict that, if she does stick with her arts learning disciplines she is likely to argue later in life that public education should at least provide, if not require, many types of opportunities for all children to practice the arts well and not just those who are presumptively deemed innately gifted.  Oppenheimer should have learned by now that learning the violin or ballet is not just an excuse to parade our kids through the fleeting pleasures of pointless arts experiences, but rather a reason to provide all children with the benefits of a life-long love of learning based on a growing appreciation and participation in the arts.

Though Oppenheimer is at present willing to continue providing a serious music and dance education for his daughter for the time being, he makes clear it is contingent on her enjoying every moment of the process, otherwise he is willing to throw away his investment in arts education and gladly watch his favorite movies with her instead.  This closing quotation from his article makes this fearsome contingency very clear:

“Rebekah, for her part, will continue with ballet. And violin. Periodically, we ask her if she’d like to quit, and she always says no. That’s good enough for us. If she finds a lifelong pursuit, that’s great. But if one evening, at her usual practice hour, she decides enough is enough, maybe I’ll suggest the guitar. Or maybe I’ll just ask if she wants to sit with me on the couch and watch Dazed and Confused*.”

Because Oppenheimer and many other parents may continue to be ‘dazed and confused’ about the value of a required arts instruction for their children, leading educators and researchers need to make more clear why all parents need to ensure that our son’s and daughter’s do have the right to comprehensive education in the arts in this new millennium.

Lawrence Scripp

*According to Wikipedia, Dazed and Confused” is a cult comic movie about high school hazing and all the expected hilarious depictions of fighting, alcohol and marijuana use and is known to be one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movies.

Lawrence Scripp is a life-long musician and music educator, arts education researcher and consultant. He has been the founding co-director of the Conservatory Lab Charter School, Founder of the Center for Music-in-Education, Inc., and most recently the author of  “Thinking Beyond the Myths and Misconceptions of Talent: Creating Music Education Policy that Advances Music’s Essential Contribution to Twenty-First-Century Teaching and Learning” in Arts Education Policy Review May 2013.

Videos from MIE Pi Day!

Download the MIE Pi Day 3-14-2013 Poster and put it on your wall!

For those of you who were unable to attend our 2nd annual Music-in-Education Department Concert (this year held on Pi Day — March 14, 2013), please enjoy the following videos!

This year’s inquiry question:

How do numbers empower musical understanding? Celebrating the Role of Mathematics and Music in Education

And our Program Notes (PDF): MIE Pi Day Concert 3-14-13 Program Notes
Larry’s piece, ‘Phone Number Myelination Music’: http://youtu.be/S0e-rcd8epI
Devin’s piece, ‘Oobleck Serial’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjqR5TfTNGI
Nick Kitchen’s piece ’36, 45, 378 and 64: Bach’s St. Anne Fugue and the Ciaconna for Solo Violin’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaLj5TDrZt4
Henrique’s piece, ‘Madruga’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=janSsF9SEz8
Katarina’s piece, ‘Sierpinski Triangle in 43 steps’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eq9YfIZ1svo
Rob’s piece, ‘Wondrous Numbers’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKi9tYEcOyc
Warren’s piece, ‘Thought Experiment’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xxiVUp9Y_0

Making the Right Move: NEC Gets a Chess Club

Over the past two years, I have worked in numerous ways and settings to help bridge the NEC communities, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes deliberately. For this internship, I found a unique way to serve the NEC student population: start a chess club!

What makes this different from other clubs? My chess club has ulterior motives. I’m interested in interdisciplinary connections, drawing inspiration for musical events from other structures. Specifically, I’m setting out to compose music inspired by and informed by the game of chess. As a composer, I want musicians to understand the game, in order to enrich their experience playing the music.

Moreover, having an “army of chess-playing musicians” gives me the ability to write new music that draws its compositional structure directly out of the game: I can use the board as a kind of improvised graphic score! Thus, by teaching musicians the game of chess, I am simultaneously preparing them to play my music.

Over the semester, I hope to put on three performances. The first will be on the Music-In-Education Department Concert (which I am curating), to take place on March 7th. This will be a “small piece,” examining just a small microcosm of the chess universe. The second performance will (hopefully, curator permitting) be on Jordan Hall stage on April 9th, as part of the “Beckett Play” concert (put on by the Contemporary Improvisation Dept.). That piece would be a little bit bigger, and also relate to the writing of Samuel Beckett (especially “Endgame”). Finally, I hope to stage the largest version of the piece—the full-blown game of chess—on my recital: April 28th, in Brown Hall. This would require thirty-two musicians, all of whom play chess relatively well, so I hope people show up to the club!

Right now the club is in “stage one”: building critical mass. So far there’s been a steady crowd of musicians each week, and the cast usually has a mixture of rotating players and steady regulars. On our first day, there were thirteen people! The challenge each week is to find ways to teach each person on an individual basis, while simultaneously introducing concepts that will be relevant in my compositions.

Starting in the next couple weeks or so, I plan to introduce my first piece in the club, teaching about that.

Exploring “Talent” in Dr. Larry Scipp’s Teaching Seminar

In my final semester at New England Conservatory, I’m interning as a Teaching Assistant for Dr. Scripp’s Teaching Seminar, one of the core courses in the Music-In-Education curriculum. I took the course a full year ago and really enjoyed the exposure to new concepts and the multiple perspectives from which we viewed the art of teaching and learning. Of course, year-to-year this particular course can change significantly; the topics explored are, to a certain degree, based on the interests of current class members as well as the latest literature with implications on teaching and learning.

One of the pieces of literature we’ve been reading as a class is Matthew Syed’s new book Bounce. In the spirit of Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, Syed explores the “science of success” by illuminating the hidden opportunities that have existed to create some of the most accomplished musicians, athletes and intellectuals on the planet. Syed challenges the notion of talent, a concept ingrained in the American psyche and romanticized by many, and points to concepts like the 10,000 hours theory of practice, domain expertise and what he calls a trajectory of development.

What helps to make Syed’s arguments so authentic is that he himself is a former elite athlete, an Olympian who became Britain’s no. 1 ranked table tennis player in 1995. Syed writes candidly about hidden opportunities that existed for him, such as the tournament-specification table tennis table that his parents bought and housed in their garage, on which Syed and his brother would duel for hours on end at a young age, creating for himself a trajectory of development that made it virtually impossible for thousands of other aspiring players to match. Another hidden opportunity existed in the fact that one of the nation’s top table tennis coaches taught at the primary school Syed attended, spotting Syed’s enhanced ability at the game and inviting him to join Omega, one of the elite table tennis clubs in the country. Syed states “… I had powerful advantages not available to hundreds of thousands of youngsters. I was, in effect, the best of a very small bunch. Or, to put it another way, I was the best of a very big bunch, only a tiny fraction of whom had my opportunities.”

Syed also explores the 10,ooo hours theory of practice, a recent theory of cognitive science that asserts it takes about 10,000 hours of purposeful practice for the human brain to assimilate all of the neural traces required for world-class expertise in anything. Syed cites a 1991 study by Florida State University psychologist Anders Ericsson, in which he and two colleagues conducted extensive interviews with violinists at the renowned Music Academy of Berlin. The violinists were categorized into three groups- the most outstanding performers, the very good performers, and the least able players who were studying to become music teachers.

Syed sums up, “By the age of twenty, the best violinists had practiced an average of ten thousand hours, more than two thousand hours more than the good violinists and more than six thousand hours more than the violinists hoping to become music teachers. These differences are not just statistically significant; they are extraordinary. Top performers had devoted thousands of additional hours to the task of becoming master perfomers. But that’s not all. Ericsson also found that there were no exceptions to this pattern: nobody who had reached the elite group without copious amounts of practice, and nobody who had worked their socks off but failed to excel. Purposeful practice was the only factor distinguishing the best from the rest.”

So what are the implications of all of this for music, education and music-in-education? There are several. One implication on music performance is that this knowledge can help to nurture humble top performers. The knowledge that world-class expertise on an instrument is not the result of some innate talent but rather a product of countless hours of purposeful practice, often working in tandem with an early exposure to music that created a trajectory of development, can help to instill pride in top performers rather than a feeling of uniqueness. One of the most inspiring things I experience every so often is being in the presence of truly expert performers who are totally humble and unassuming in their personalities- this has a powerful musical effect as well.

Another implication is that we, as educators, should be able to teach complex skills (such as the learning of an instrument) more effectively now that we’re armed with the knowledge that it takes the brain about 10,000 hours to assimilate all of the necessary neural traces for expertise. It may be effective to explain to students the nature of how their brains create memory traces for the fine motor skills required to play an instrument, and that, with practice these traces become stronger and stronger, essentially becoming “wired” in them. Also, to be able to explain to students that expertise doesn’t happen overnight, and to reference the latest cognitive research on expertise, may help young students to gain a good perspective on things and avoid frustration when they expect to develop expertise more quickly than humanly possible.

Finally, an important implication for education in general is, in the words of Dr. Larry Scripp, “Teach every kid as if they’re talented.” In other words, don’t adjust expectations based on a preconceived notion of what students are and aren’t “talented,” because the latest science of expertise suggests that “talent” has far less to do with expertise than the aforementioned factors. Teach all students with the assumption that they will “get it,” because with enough determination, study and practice, chances are they will.

-Art Felluca

Music-Math Matrices as a Model of Shared Fundamental Concepts

NewsBlog Editor’s Note: We are pleased to introduce to you Justin Stanley, a new CMIE Guided Intern working as Documentation Specialist for Larry Scripp’s Introduction to Music-In-Education course this Fall.

Professor Larry Scripp introduced a number of concepts this week in his class, “Introduction to Music-in-Education.” He began the lesson by drawing a matrix (as shown below) on the class blackboard and playing a recording of a piece by Bobby McFerrin. Professor Scripp, through nonverbal suggestion, portrayed the function of the matrix in the rhythm of the song, and added x’s in single cells to notate clapping or emphasis. Soon, the class was engaged in an activity in which we clapped along rhythmically to the piece in a unified perception of the function of the chart drawn on the board. Professor Scripp gradually added complexity to the exercise by using symbols to imply rhythmic groupings, words to apply to rhythms (antelope for a group of three, salamander for a group of four), and rhythmic solfege for the same.

The basic form of the matrix used in class to show the basic form and rhythm of the song.
The basic form of the matrix used in class to show the basic form and rhythm of the song.

After the exercise and a discussion of what we did, students were asked to compile a list of mental processes that had to be integrated to take part in the exercise. Among many conclusions, students realized that processes of permutation, symbol association, cycle recognition, and grouping and parsing were needed to actively participate. We found that these concepts and brain processes that we used can be applied to a number of different subject areas. This led Professor Scripp to make the following comment: “If music is a fundamental medium and model for teaching and learning, from the point of view of integration, you could say that it is a fundamental medium and model for integrating.” Because of the subtle complexity involved in the activity, Prof. Scripp was able to keep the entire class (perhaps completely subconsciously had we not been conservatory music students) in a state of Flow (as shown in the chart below) during which we were all listening, questioning, creating, performing, and reflecting. Through this lesson, we as students were able to experience some of the cornerstones of the MIE program first hand: shared teaching and learning concepts, and teaching and learning processes. the flow st The integration of all of the learning processes exhibited during this exercise can help students create and strengthen connections necessary for all kinds of education. The subtle complexity of this exercise and any number of exercises like it that integrate music and other curriculum can create and strengthen connections in the minds of any student. Complexity in learning and comprehension can lead to any number of paths for a learner of any age. This lesson pushed me to do two things: 1.    I worked on a new unit plan for my internship teaching brass players at a local upper school that incorporated the use of a matrix to teach solfege. The initial lesson went incredibly well, with students learning how to create their own symbols to notate rhythm and melody. I hope to incorporate the following aspects into the unit curriculum for integration: a.    MATH: unit, sequence, fractions, special learning b.    LANGUAGE ARTS: symbols, syntax/structure c.    SCIENCE: measurement, documentation, inquiry d.    HISTORY: timelines, maps, contextual history e.    ARTS: creation, spatial learning 2.    I decided to focus on flow theory and brain processes/anatomy for a research paper for another MIE class at NEC, “Learning, Brain Development, and Music,” taught by Lyle Davidson.

Introduction to ‘The Percussive Parent’

Hello MIE Blog community! I am doing an internship this semester (along with fellow intern Joanna Mattrey) as a participant and documentation specialist for a class titled “The Percussive Parent”. The class is held at the Gentle Dragon Preschool in Medford, Massachusetts under the direction of Warren Senders, a current MIE instructor at NEC. Twelve adults and their children are enrolled in the course which meets every Wednesday afternoon for ten weeks. The class involves, among many things, counting and number games, handclapping activities, instrument-making, the use of found objects converted into instruments, producing music with drums and percussion, simple movement activities, along with methods and techniques for parents to incorporate what they have learned into the time they spend with their children outside of class. Warren’s goal is that, by the end of the ten week period, “group members will be able to direct multigenerational rhythm groups on their own, using traditional, self-made and spontaneously created instruments.” He explains that the course is not for children and their parents, but rather for parents and their children so that the children can learn (if they want to) from their active parents while the parents learn musical methods for teaching their children.

For my guided internship this semester, I plan on using Warren Senders’ class “The Percussive Parent” as a way of investigating the ways in which children learn from and imitate their parents, the experience and growth of a child in a creative musical environment, and also how to develop and organize a community course directed towards a specific audience in a free-thinking learning environment. Through this, I will be able to document and experience the organization hands-on while also playing a role in the teaching and learning process of building instruments, experiencing and applying rhythmic games and tools, and utilizing mundane or found objects to create a musical learning experience.

This internship will serve as an application of previous work that I have done with Warren Senders. In addition to completing his two MIE courses (Cross Cultural Approaches to MIE and Improvisation in General Music), I completed an internship as a documentation specialist for his Cross Cultural Approaches to MIE course last semester. In this course, and through my internship, we investigated, among many things, different cultural methods of education, specifics and speculation on the nature of memory, instrument building, intrinsic knowledge, music in education, and more. This internship will follow on the heels of the previous as a hands-on application of techniques and topics discussed with Warren Senders throughout his courses.

An interesting hypothesis that Warren shared before the start of the course, was that “our kids will be much more likely to make music together if they see us making music together. We will be modeling music-making behavior for our kids…and, of course, making music ourselves.” It is an exciting and fascinating premise, that by being an active learner as a parent and teacher, our children and students will most frequently follow our example through imitation and/or a desire to be like their adult role model. I will continue to investigate and document such patterns throughout the course of the class, and share insights with you as we go along. Joanna and I will also be collaborating on information and musings in order to give you a wider ranging perspective on the progress made throughout the ten weeks of the course.

Reflection and Analysis of Recent Class Sessions

Learning through Oral History and Morphogenetic Family Fields

In one of our first classes, Warren taught us the first verse of a traditional Indian song. He began the class with a drone and had us repeat vocal warm-ups in order to acquaint ourselves with the intervals in the scale. These fragments were then, piece by piece, combined to form a small melody. At this point, he broke away from the melody to have us repeat 5 or 6 spoken syllables. He then sang the completed piece with the full text and had us sing along when we heard the syllables that we had just learned. Now we had a somewhat ‘fleshy’ skeleton of the piece that we were able to fill out with the missing syllables. After about 10 or 15 minutes the class had successfully learned the verse.)

In our session this week, three of us recollected the song to Krishna that we had learned a few weeks ago while the other five members tried to learn it. This time, though, it only took about 4 or 5 minutes for the class to be able to recite it (as opposed to the 10 or 15 minutes the time before).

This reminded me of Rupert Sheldrake’s studies with morphogenetic family fields. Stated in a question to anthropologist Terence McKenna, a morphogenetic field is “a non-material organizing collective memory field that affects all biological systems. The field can be envisioned as a hyper-spatial information reservoir that brims and spills over into a much larger region of influence when critical mass is reached – a point referred to as morphic resonance.” Basically, one can understand it as a collective memory bank where a species, through adaptation and evolution, stores knowledge that is passed on through future generations of that species. Sheldrake elaborates that

each individual both draws upon and contributes to the collective memory of the species. This means that new patterns of behaviour can spread more rapidly than would otherwise be possible. For example, if rats of a particular breed learn a new trick in Harvard, then rats of that same breed should be able to learn the same trick faster all over the world, say in Edinburgh and Melbourne. There is already evidence from laboratory experiments that this actually happens.

In this case, knowledge is not limited to growth by future generations, but in fact is immediate.

This seems to be evident in our classroom. It took half the time for the class to learn the song when there were members present who had already learned it than it did when none of us knew it. In relation to this, Sheldrake determines that “animals inherit the successful habits of their species as instincts. We inherit bodily, emotional, mental and cultural habits, including the habits of our languages.” This could also go to explaining the pattern of oral history and tradition that makes our species unique. Warren mentioned in class that oral tradition was learning based upon the human love of imitation. I agree with this, but I also believe that, on a similar scale, oral tradition exists because of our innate capability of memory. Sheldrake in fact proposes that memory is inherent in nature. In this way I see oral learning and history as divided into these two factors; imitation and remembrance.

I watched a series of video clips this week on YouTube of Warren and his teacher, S. G. Devasthali, in a lesson (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4qibmXtTN0). The way in which he learned the ragas was similar to the way in which he taught pieces to our class. There was a call and response throughout the lesson, where his teacher would sing a fragment of the melody which Warren would repeat. The fragments were eventually compiled and through this repetition, he remembered them. This is the basis of oral tradition; imitation and memory. Repetition may also be listed as a component of oral tradition, perhaps as a subset of imitation.

It is interesting that, while he worked with our class, the song was essentially shattered in numerous fragments (phrases, pitches, syllables, physical expressions of the mouth, etc.) which we pieced together in a variety of different ways. I could almost envision a matrix of possible combinations, which after a number of these combinations had been tested, an image of the piece as a whole became more clear. It seems to me that this method is effective in that a deeper understanding of the material is achieved, where one not only learns the song front to back, but now knows its inner workings and could perhaps sing it back to front, or even from middle outwards. This also relates to a matrix, lets say in 12 tone music, where all possible combinations are visible at once (all of the inversions, retrogrades, and retrograde inversions for each transposition of the prime series).

Later in the class, we began to learn the second part of the Krishna lullaby. I was reminded of a piece by Milton Babbitt for soprano and piano (or tape) where, in addition to his systems of 12 tone and duration rows, he devised a system where each pitch was assigned a syllable. In this way, the text of the piece emerged from the music or from the system, rather than the music emerging from a set text. For me, this was similar in that learning this Indian song (where my knowledge of the language is next to none), each pitch or melodic fragment was assigned a syllable or, in a sense, a syllabic motif. It is interesting that in this case, in both pieces, there is a supreme unity to the sound. One piece (the one from class) the music emerged from the text, and the other (the Babbitt piece) the text emerged from the music. Either way, both utilizing a language unintelligible to my ears, both pieces felt solid and complete.

-Chris