Multicultural Music Education

At the beginning of her essay (PME, chapter 11), Szego emphasizes that Music Matters is devoted entirely to the topic of multicultural music education because “the claim that ‘MUSIC is inherently multicultural’ is woven throughout the book. As such, it is cause for celebration among advocates of culturally expanded curricula and ethnomusicologists alike” (PME, p. 197). In Szego’s view, MM manages “to synthesize elements of a post-positivist epistemology emerging in education, cognitive studies, aesthetics, and musicology with the musical and cultural inclusiveness of ethnomusicology. A philosophical project of this magnitude and ambition has to be regarded as a work-in-progress” (p. 197). Indeed, this is complex work, and I welcome the support and advice Szego offers in her essay.

So, now, the first issue to tackle is the question, why? Why is my version of praxialism so concerned with proposing that children should learn more than one musical style? To answer, consider LANGUAGE. There are hundreds of linguistic practices throughout the world. If so, then how could one reasonably mandate that all students in (say) the USA should only learn (say) English, or Spanish? We only need to ask this question to realize the educationally restrictive and politically imperialistic nature of this one-size-fits-all approach.

The same holds for MUSIC. There are thousands of Musics around the world. To argue against multicultural music education is to ignore musical reality, to restrict students’ musical knowledge and creativity, and to enforce a kind of “school music imperialism” (which was the norm in many countries until fairly recently). Put another way, “music” is much, much more than sonic events. As I’ve said many times, musical practices, and the products and events they produce, are saturated with personal and collective values and meanings. Multicultural music education allows us to develop students’ understandings of these values and meanings;  “teaching music” with a multicultural mindset allows us to deepen students’ knowledge and “feel” for the ways in which “music” is deeply social, cultural, ideological, political, and personal. This is why I argue that limiting students to one musical practice counts as an extraordinary form of cultural and creative censorship.

At the same time, I am not suggesting (and I never state in MM) that we should teach dozens of musical styles, let alone all the Musics of the world. I only recommend that, over a period of years, students should learn a reasonable diversity of Musics, starting with those that are most familiar to them (MM, p. 211). Please keep in mind, also, that we do not need to go to exotic extremes to teach in a multi-musical way. As I stated in the section on Musicing-and-Listening, above, deliberately engaging our students with works and projects from even few different musical style-practices  – e.g., a Bach piece (Baroque practice), a blues piece (a Jazz practice), and a Zulu song (an African traditional practice) – allows teachers and students to realize many similarities and differences, back-to-back, on the way to deeper and deeper musical-cultural understandings. This kind of curriculum holds rich possibilities for deepening students’ understandings of each and all these practices, assuming that teachers deliberately and systematically cause students to compare and contrast what they are learning within and across different practices.

The “creative reason” for teaching multi-music is obvious. Students need opportunities to make and listen to several different kinds of music as part of their preparation to create their own music and understand how musicians (past and present) borrow and adapt musical ideas from different musical style-practices. Much of today’s music results from fusing or crossing various musical practices to create new ones. Musicians have done this for centuries. There are thousands of examples. Think of how Debussy’s compositions fuse European Romantic traditions with Indonesian influences; think of Afro-Celtic styles, jazz-rock fusion, and so forth. The list is endless. Shall we deny our students access to this “raw material” for their creative work?

There are other major reasons why the praxial philosophy supports multicultural music education. As I say in MM, “in the process of inducting learners into unfamiliar musical practices, music teachers link the primary values of music education to the broader goals of humanistic education . . . Musical risk-taking (and the temporary disorientation that may follow) activates self-examination and the personal reconstruction of one’s relationships, assumptions and preferences.” I cite Harold Osborne, who puts the issue this way:

“The best and perhaps the only sure way of bringing to light and revivifying . . . [our] fossilized assumptions, and of destroying their powers to cramp and confine, is by subjecting ourselves to the shock of contact with a very alien tradition.” (MM, p. 209)

I propose that a multi-cultural music curriculum connects the individual selfhood of students – which includes their personal and musical identities – to the selfhood of other music makers and audiences in other times and places. A music curriculum centered on the praxial teaching and learning of a reasonable range of music-cultures (over a time span of months and years) offers students the opportunity to achieve a central goal of humanistic education: self-understanding through the processes of coming to understand others.

I go on to emphasize that personal and cultural recognition are essential to the growth and education of the self. I cite philosopher Charles Taylor who insists, as I do, that recognition is closely tied to self-identity (MM, p. 212).   That is, a student’s identity includes a personal self-awareness of who they are, “of their fundamental defining characteristics as a human being” (MM, p. 212). As Taylor emphasizes: “Due recognition is not just a courtesy we owe to people. It is a vital human need” (MM, p. 212). I point out that people tend to identify themselves with particular Music(s) and that a people’s Music is very often something they are. If so, then recognizing the traditional music-cultures of one’s students and one’s community may contribute significantly to self-identity. Indeed, music has enormous powers to affirm students’ self-identity because the development of personal identity rests importantly on the deliberate and accurate recognition of a person’s cultural doings, experiences, beliefs, and values. So, for example, if a teacher in southern Texas ignores the Musics of her Spanish-American students, then s/he is sending a clear, negative message: the Musics of his/her Spanish-American students aren’t worthy or important, which students will interpret as “we aren’t important.” As Taylor insists, when recognition is withheld, or dishonest, the consequences can be grave:

“a person or a group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves. Non-recognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being.” (MM, p. 212)

In sum, the music we teach constitutes and is constituted by culture and ideology. Music education is not something that operates autonomously in a culture; music education also functions powerfully as culture. Thus, great care must be taken to affirm our students’ musical selves and, also, broaden and deepen their selves and identities by inducting them into a reasonable diversity of musics during the time they spend in our classrooms.

Bowman and Szego have concerns about my views on multicultural music education, which I examine now. Bowman seems to support multi-musical education (PME, chapter 3), but he is not convinced that the tenets of praxialism support my position on this topic. His main concern, then, is theoretical. He suggests that praxial convictions do not in themselves “address or answer such questions as whose, or which, or how many? Such issues are at least as political and ideological as they are philosophical, and may need to be addressed by means other than an appeal to praxis” (p. 67).

To some extent, I agree, which is why I used political, moral, and educational arguments from the writings of Pratte, Taylor, Osborne, Regelski, and others to support my view. In addition, I offer ways of selecting musics for multicultural music education (MM, pp. 208-212). Still, I believe there are several themes in the praxial writings of Alperson and Sparshott that do in fact support the idea of teaching more than one music. For example, Alperson (in a quotation cited by Bowman himself) states that “comprehensiveness and inclusiveness are important measures of philosophical adequacy. Music philosophy must account for musical practice ‘in its widest sense’ . . . in order to avoid the common error of attributing to ‘music’, as a whole, characteristics specific to a particular musical practice” (PME, p. 54). Surely we want something close to this for our students, too? Indeed, Alperson’s discussion of music-as-musical practices is consistently plural. At another point, Bowman quotes Sparshott who makes a similar point: “the word ‘music’ covers an inherently unstable variety of practices linked functionally, and/or procedurally, and/institutionally, in all sorts of ways (PME, p. 59). In sum, it seems to me that our students have the same right to learn about the pluralism and situatedness of MUSIC, just as these philosophers have done (based on their own experiences of doing, listening to, and reflecting on musical pluralism).

Please compare what I’ve just said about the humanistic values of multicultural music education to Bowman’s criticism that my argument for multicultural music education is “rationalistic in character, appealing more to a sense of intellectual/ conceptual obligation to an ontological ‘given’ (what MUSIC  ‘is’) than to a transformative vision rooted in moral convictions (what or who we ‘ought’ to become)” (PME, p. 74). I’m disappointed Bowman interprets my view this way. I don’t believe I treat multicultural music education in an abstract, impersonal sense: indeed, I agree with Bowman completely when he says that multicultural music education is about

“multiple concrete visions and ways of being alive and being present to each other,” (PME, p. 74). I believe this is what I propose for the multicultural music curriculum-as-practicum conceived as a community of learners involved in many kinds of personal and musical actions and interactions toward self-other understanding.

Next, although Szego offers “a general endorsement” of my views on multicultural music education, she has three concerns: (a) that I only focus on teaching multicultural music education through performing; (b) that I do not offer a basis for dance instruction; and (c) that I repudiate integrated arts education. I take her point about dance: I should have offered more in MM on this topic. However, I believer Szego’s reading of MM is questionable on the other two points. Let me take each point in turn.

Szego is concerned that my approach to multicultural music education is purely performance-oriented (PME, pp. 201-203; p. 206) Her criticism is that this is too restrictive and unworkable for herself and music teachers generally. Listening should also be taught, says Szego. I agree that listening should be taught, of course. So, her concern is unfounded. As I’ve already detailed under Musicing-and-Listening, above, praxialism urges teachers to teach musical works and musical practices by engaging students in all forms of music making, by teaching students how to listen in the context of all kinds of musicing, by listening to recordings, and by using various forms of conceptualizing and reflective practice, as I explain at the end of several chapters in MM. In short, Szego and I have no disagreement, only a miscommunication.

Indeed, I agree with Szego that “not performing may be justified in particular circumstances, sometimes by virtue of the culturally-specific meanings attached to ‘music,’” which she discusses in the first section of her essay. I also agree (to an extent) when she says that reading about, talking about, and listening to lots of recordings of the musical practice students are learning is desirable (p. 202). Yes, but – and this is a big “but”!  – I believe firmly that students – even the kind of college students Szego teaches in her role as a university professor of ethnomusicology – can and should engage in a reasonable amount of musicing-and-listening in ways that closely approximate how real practitioners do the music being studied. (More on this point follows shortly).

At one point in her essay, Szego says that “the difficulty with Elliott’s prescription for what listeners need to do in order to be considered expert . . . is that it discredits those kinds of listening that do not fulfill the prescription.” At another point she says that “the issue for Elliott is . . . that listening is never enough; human beings must also engage the body, in the most literal sense, by making music.” I want to suggest that Szego misreads what I’m saying. I am not discrediting ordinary-everyday listening to music, or the listening that people do who have never had music instruction. And I am not saying that we can or should aim to make all our students “expert” listeners. I am saying that, because we are teachers who are involved in education, we have a responsibility to go beyond “just listening” to recordings. Listening expertise ranges on a continuum from novice to expert; as educators, we are accountable for moving our students beyond what they would learn in the normal course of their daily lives. Thus, we have an obligation to provide opportunities for our music students to develop their music-listening abilities in several ways and from several perspectives. Doing so, I believe, will make it more likely that their adult listening experiences will be deeper and richer.

Implicit in my insistence on combining musicing-and-listening with recordings is the belief that it’s almost always possible, and educationally desirable, to engage students of all ages in meaningful music making (performing, improvising, and so forth) so they may achieve a comprehensive “feel for” and understanding of the music they are learning. Note: I am not saying that all students can or should become professional music makers, or that learning a musical practice means students must learn to perform at expert levels, as Szego seems to suggest (p. 202). I am talking about students developing music-making ability levels appropriate to their ages and the amount of time they have to learn music in a school or community setting.

With these points in mind, let me reflect on some other aspects of Szego’s arguments in favor of “circumventing performance” (PME, p. 203) in the teaching of multicultural music education. First, although she is very concerned with authenticity, and although she affirms the importance of learning musics through performance if/when possible (p. 206), I note that the teaching strategies Szego uses and recommends (i.e., talking about music and listening to recordings of West African music) are firmly anchored in Western academic-musicological ways of music instruction.

Szego says she opts to read about and listen to lots of music with her students in the hope that this approach will “sharpen” their “aural and conceptual antennae” (p. 202). Yes, this will work to some degree. But do African listeners-dancers learn their Musics mainly by reading books, discussing concepts, and listening to recordings? No. So, why should North American teachers adopt this in-authentic approach to teaching these Musics? Moreover, these strategies seem to collide with Szego’s insistence on the importance of mind-body integration, as in dancing!

Also, as Bowman says, performing is a way of being together, it is “an immensely potent synthetic experience that blends, balances, and fuses together elusive and fleeting aspects of human existence as nothing else does” (PME, p. 148). And recall Keil’s words (which Bowman cites) to the effect that performing is “the opposite of alienation from body, from nature, from others,” and that “its existence is imperiled by commodification [recorded music], and by the passivity and receptivity to which such commodification leads” (PME, p. 148). Thus, teaching a musical practice like West African drumming via recordings is exactly what Kiel opposes:

“In order to understand what any musician is doing, you have to have done some of it yourself. I used to think you could do it just through listening, but that alone won’t let you connect to the music or to other people. Unless you physically do it, it’s not really apprehensible, and you’re not hearing all there is to hear in the music” (Keil & Feld, 1994, p. 29, cited in Bowman, PME, p. 149).

One of the main reasons Szego gives for using recordings alone is that she feels “a pang of guilt” that she is not yet to the point where that she can’t provide her students with the musicing that she’d like to do and that I recommend: “Without a tradition-bearer in our midst and with no West African music training of my own, our classroom enactments have been limited and feeble at best.” At first glance, this seems reasonable, but let’s take a second look. Ethnomusicologists (and other music scholars who specialize in specific styles) are often uncomfortable when music educators teach students how to perform styles such as West African drumming, bebop jazz, Puerto Rican salsa, and so forth. Their reason is that we (school music educators) cannot ever hope to perform or understand these styles as well as “tradition-bearers” or professors who’ve spent their careers learning to perform and understand these Musics.

On one hand, we can understand why professors say such things. But consider this: if the qualification for teaching secondary school biology, or math, or elementary school history (and so forth) was a college professor’s level of expertise, then schools would never teach any form of “doing,” academic or otherwise (e.g., mathematical problem solving, scientific investigation, sports). In other words, we do the best we can as educators, given our particular situations, and we can achieve a great deal. Thousands of music educators accomplish competent and proficient levels of musicing and listening in many musical practices during their careers (through undergraduate and graduate training, summer school studies, workshops, individual lessons). This is happening more and more. Yes, of course, we also feel pangs of guilt for not being experts. But this doesn’t cause us to limit our students’ experiences of musical practices to reading about them and listening to recordings.

Szego worries that “while Elliott uses theories about the embodied nature of human experience to justify his emphasis on vocal and instrumental performance . . . he does not use them in explicit support of dance instruction.” I agree. I should have spent more time on the topics of movement and dance in music education. However, I did not omit dance from my concept of music.  I make the point that MUSIC can and does involve the making of sounds “for a variety of purposes across cultures: as accompaniments to celebrations and dances,” (MM, p. 129), and so forth. In addition, as Szego notes, MM includes citations from ethnomusicologist John Chernoff to emphasize how music and dance are intimately related in many musical practices.

Another criticism is that I repudiate integrated arts education. This is untrue. I do not reject integrated arts; I reject a specific type of integrated arts instruction called “Aesthetic Education” (see MM, pp. 248-250) in which students merely conceptualize about the similarities and differences among the so-called elements of music, dance, visual art, poetry, and so forth (e.g., melody, harmony, form, line, color, balance, focus, direction) without any meaningful participation in doing these arts.

Put positively, I fully agree with Szego when she says that multicultural music education must include other arts when this is appropriate to the musical practice involved. In fact, I make this important point in MM, but Szego seems to overlook it:

“Musically speaking, it is true that many musical practices worldwide combine music and dance, music and poetry, music and drama, and so on. In these cases, the relationships between music making and dance, poetry and drama are an important part of what specific practices present and works present for our understanding and enjoyment. These relationships are part of the cultural-ideological dimension of listening and listenables. Accordingly, to learn how to make and listen for musical works that involve other artistic practices requires reference to the whole web of beliefs, concepts, traditions and standards that explain how certain musicers and listeners understand the contribution that other performing and non-performing arts make to their music-cultures.”

For example, in music-cultures where music and dance are intimately related, musicianship, self-growth and enjoyment depend on going more and more deeply into the music-dance relationship [italics added]. (MM, p. 248)

Dolloff refers to the above passage when she remarks that “Elliott argues against forcing integration by means of unmusical ‘common elements’ approaches, and the like.  He argues that there are many opportunities in teaching musical practices for authentic, integrative experiences without creating artificial ones. In cooperation with specialists in other artistic areas, we need to strive to create realistic situations of integrative practice” (PME, pp. 292-293). Yes. And in contrast to Szego’s reading of MM, Dolloff continues:

“Many activities that teachers have traditionally thought of as ‘integration’ are, for Elliott, a basic and natural part of learning particular styles and works because ‘other arts’ are part of the socio-historical tradition of such styles and works.  Engaging students in exploring the cultural context of a piece – the social ethos of its performance setting; the ritualistic meaning or role of a piece; the political underpinnings, dance, drama or costumes that are part of its meaning – none of these are considered extra-musical in Elliott’s view; rather, all of these dimensions, and many more, are part of the musical nature, values, and meanings of that piece of music” [italics added]. (PME, p. 293)