Values and Affect

Developing students’ musicianship-listenership enables them to achieve a wide range of values. I suggest that enjoyment, self-growth, self-knowledge, and self-esteem (which is a blend of emotion-and-cognition, or “mindful feelings”) are among the most important values of music and music education. How do we enable students to achieve these values? These values occur arise when there’s a balance or match between (a) students’ musicianship-listenership and (b) the wide-range of challenges and meanings that musical works involve and can be “heard-as” presenting (MM, pp. 120-124). Music educators enable students to develop the cognitive-affective abilities that lead to enjoyment and other emotions.

Other emotions? Yes, as I explain (MM, pp. 203-206), the musical affective experience of enjoyment may include a wide range of feelings about (for example): the musicians and musical interpretations being listened to; the musical expressions of emotion presented by a musical work; the strategies composers use to create musical representations of people, places and things; students’ sense of identity as expressed in certain pieces of music; and so forth. This range of opportunities for musical reception offers people (as co-constructors of the works they hear) numerous ways of giving personal form to their powers of feeling, thinking, knowing, valuing, evaluating, and believing. Concerning the latter category, I argue that affective outcomes of listening are “cognitive emotions (positive and/or negative) about whether the cultural conventions of a given work (say, a piece of country and western music) matches a listener’s cultural beliefs and values” (p. 195) and that students my feel deeply in relation to the ways musical works capture and delineate the character of a culture (MM, p. 197).

I also state that musical works are crucial to establishing, defining, delineating, and preserving a sense of community and self-identity within social groups. Self-identity is another type of emotion that includes cognitive dimensions, of course. Musical pieces and musical practices constitute and are constituted by music listeners in their social contexts. Accordingly, teaching students to make and listen to works from unfamiliar styles-cultures is an important form of multicultural education, as I explain below under Multicultural Music Education.

In the last chapter of MM (pp. 306-309) I link music education to broader values. I argue that education ought to be conceived for life as a whole, not just for one aspect of life such as work, or schooling. Much more is involved in the full and beneficial “development” of children than “the acquisition of literacy” in the simple sense of “work skills” and academic knowledge. What more? Worldwide, human cultures past and present pursue a fairly common set of  “life goals” or “life values” that include happiness, enjoyment, freedom, fellowship, and self-esteem – for oneself and for others (see MM, chapter 12).

I summary, when we teach students how to listen reflectively to music we give them the means they need to participate in learning, maintaining, and contributing to musical practices (as adult listeners and/or amateur music makers). Another way of saying this is that we give students access to “a certain kind of life” (Sparshott’s term is Lebensform), or a “form of life” (MM, p. 180), that is deeply rewarding because it involves all aspects of our being: bodily, emotional, cognitive, autobiographical, and so forth.

The values I have described above are just some of the values people derive from musical engagements. Moreover, these values are fluid; they are contingent: they depend on why, how, and where a listener engages in music listening, his/her moods, expectations, cultural background, and so forth. This is why I say that “there is no one way to listen for all music everywhere,” (MM,  pp. 200-201) and there is no single, correct way to experience all music everywhere.

Now, Regelski suggests that I submerge or insufficiently address the so-called “extrinsic qualities” of musical engagements (p. 232). I’m not sure this is accurate. Nevertheless, I agree with Regelski that there is a very broad range of values people “take and make” for themselves in musical situations, and there are many ways that music can be appropriated and re-interpreted in different settings (which I discuss under Music and Identity, below). I suggest that my version of praxialism is easily adjusted to accommodate Regelski’s wisdom and advice on these points. Allow me to point out, however, that I do discuss the many ways people construct and derive musical meaning (e.g., from the social occasions of musical “witnessing” (MM, p. 142), and the many ways music is created to convey cultural-ideological-narrative meanings (see MM, chapter 8), all of which I count as extremely valuable.

At one point in his essay, Regelski discusses musical values in terms of the old assumption that music “has” intrinsic and extrinsic values (p. 232). I disagree with this split, as he also seems to do elsewhere (Regelski, 2002). So, I think we are actually in agreement here, too, because with both see all musical values as grounded in their social and personal contexts – never simply pure or given, never intrinsic or inherent. Indeed, a major part of my project is to advance the postmodern challenge to the old, modernist ways of thinking about “music” conceived as European, classical “works” set off from the social world, and only available to aesthetic listeners (i.e., people trained by “aesthetic educators” to focus on “musical elements” alone). Part of this project is to point out that if something is viewed or felt as good for oneself or others, then this is an extrinsic value. There is no such thing as an “intrinsic” value because “values” are experienced by human beings, not by things, such as artworks. Pieces of music don’t feel or value; people feel and value. Thus, music education’s traditional, dualist account of intrinsic-extrinsic values (based on absolute expressionism) is an illusion. As Taruskin (1995) points out, there is a great deal of contemporary musicology and music philosophy devoted to refuting the claims of modernist, absolutist, musical Aesthetics: “to showing that the music regarded as set off from the world is still in the world, doing worldly works; to showing that musical meaning continues, as before, to arise out of the relations between the musical artwork and its many contexts, pharisaically stigmatized as ‘extramusical’” (p. 17).

Concerning musical reception and musical values, Koopman has several criticisms of the praxial view. His first criticism rests on a belief that “Elliott’s views about the value of music are based on the view that music is essentially cognition” (PME, p. 82). I hope it’s clear from what I’ve just said above that this is altogether incorrect. Musicianship and listenership involve many kinds of thinking that integrate all forms of cognition-and-emotion and the values of music include many kinds of affect. If this is not clear, then here is one of several statements from MM that deny my critic’s claim: “it is doubtful that music listening is strictly limited to the cognitive processes of purely aural pattern construction” (p. 84).

Second, Koopman questions whether self-growth leads to self-knowledge. He doubts this. He argues that “self-knowledge is the possible outcome of self-conscious reflection on one’s acting within a practice, rather than being an automatic result of action itself” (p. 83). But this claim overlooks a major theme of MM: we must teach students to be “reflective practitioners” (not “automatic” operators) with respect to all their actions and interactions in the musical practicum. Regelski agrees with me on this point when he argues that music education needs to take the existentialist view that we should be providing students with opportunities for self-actualization and “self-created meaning in action” (PME, p. 228). Regelski adds that music education also fits especially well into a philosophy that focuses on the central importance of self-creation and re-creation through such actions as making and listening to music (p. 228). He continues: “Elliott’s emphasis on flow and ‘self,’ ‘self growth,’ ‘self-identity’ and ‘self-knowledge’ thus reflect premises that are at least similar to those of existentialism and humanistic psychology” (p. 228).

Next, it is posited that “self-knowledge is as likely to result from our unsuccessful actions as from our successful ones. Therefore, there is no reason to link self-knowledge to the challenging activities described by Csikszentmihalyi.” (PME,  p. 83). There is a tiny grain of truth in this statement, but no more, because consistent failure does not cause a student to learn joyfully and constructively about his/her self. Experienced music teachers know that all teaching-learning situations include times when students’ actions are unsuccessful, and/or when students struggle to meet specific aspects of what they’re doing. Our task is to help students meet these challenges. Excellent music teachers have many strategies for enabling students to succeed. Moreover, as Regelski points out, a basic tenet of praxialism is that “the ‘doings’ of unsuccessful praxis become part of the new situation” (PME, p. 231). The result is that our students (with our help) learn from their mistakes and, then, go on to experience deep satisfaction and enhanced self-esteem when they succeed in meeting and exceeding challenges they could not meet at first, or that they never believed they could meet. This is why we call musical projects and works “challenges”: they give students opportunities to discover who they are, what they can achieve, what they want to learn and accomplish, and how to do it. In other words, “challenges” (balanced with know-how) enable students to become more fully themselves-in-relation-to-others in the practicum. This is why a praxial music education has the potential to provide excellent conditions for the joyful development of self-growth, self-knowledge, and self-esteem.

Now, because we can lose a sense of “self-consciousness” during an absorbing flow experience, Koopman posits that “challenging musical activities hinder rather than stimulate self-knowledge” (p. 83). Perhaps he misunderstands the meaning of the term “self-consciousness”: that is, music makers don’t fall into unconsciousness during flow; on the contrary, all our powers of consciousness are heightened and involved in making and/or listening to music. We are aware, and we know we are meeting the challenges of the moment, but we are not “self-conscious” in the sense of being ego-centered. We rise above our ordinary, everyday, self-centered problems and identities. This is what is meant by losing self-consciousness during flow experiences.

Another criticism of my view rests on another misunderstanding. Koopman believes that when I talk about musical “challenges” I mean extremely complex works from “classical” styles, such as Beethoven piano concertos, or Mozart string quartets that require people to “perform at the limits of their capacities” (PME,  p. 83). Evidence of this misunderstanding is clear in the following passage where reference is made to “the kind of significant challenges Elliott has in mind”:

“Elliott’s theory covers only a limited number of musical practices and cannot therefore be considered as a general theory of musical value. Most musical practices do not seem to center around the kind of significant challenges Elliott has in mind. Listening to music, singing in a choir, or playing an instrument – all these can be very worthwhile without our musical capacities being tested seriously.” (PME, p. 83)

What I’m saying in MM is that musical enjoyment and self-growth tend to occur when there is a match or a balance between a person’s musicianship-listenership level and the musical piece (“challenge”) they’re endeavoring to perform, listen to, compose (or whatever). Just as peoples’ musical abilities range from novice to expert, musical “challenges” range on a wide continuum from easy to very difficult in each musical style context. This is what I mean by the “dynamic” nature of musical practices: the vast majority of musical practices around the world include a wide range of songs and/or instrumental pieces (with or without dances, and so forth) that spiral upward in difficulty from beginning to advanced levels (MM, p. 121). So, I’m not using the word “challenge” in the sense of something that only expert musicians can accomplish.

Put another way, I agree with Koopman that people can and do enjoy “listening to music, singing in a choir, or playing an instrument” (PME, p. 83), but this occurs because there’s match or balance between (a) what they know how to do at their levels of musicianship-listenership and (b) the level of the musical works they’re involved in listening to, singing, or playing. Thus, what my be a “challenging” piece for a beginner may not be challenging or interesting (or “significant”) for an expert, but the beginner will still find this beginning-level piece challenging and enjoyable if s/he learns what she needs to know to sing, play, and listen to this piece musically. Unfortunately, Koopman fails to notice the many examples of music I offer in MM that are appropriately challenging for different levels of ability (e.g., music for a class choir: see Musicing-and-Listening, above) that challenge beginners at their level and, therefore, engage them in flow experiences as they learn to meet these challenges. Again, then, when I refer to a piece of music as a challenge, or a cognitive challenge, the difficulty/complexity of this challenge is relative to each individual’s level of musicing and listening. Accordingly, I argue that this theory applies to a very wide variety of musical practices.

Another criticism is based on an incomplete reading of MM. Koopman states that “the central problem” of my view is its “failure to mark out music as a practice with a distinctive value” (p. 84). He continues:

“According to Csikszentmihalyi’s theory, every practice involving progressive challenges can yield the values of self-growth, self-knowledge and enjoyment. If so, why engage in music and teach it at school? If the same values can be had by mountain climbing, playing tennis, doing science or doing meditation exercises, what is left from the special status of music? Elliott counters that music is a unique kind of cognition, consisting of the construction aural-temporal patterns and involving six dimensions (see section 4). But his argument misses the mark. For according to his explanation, it is not as a specific type of cognition but as a cognitive challenge that music has its value.” (PME, p. 84)

I wish Koopman had taken the time to read my full discussion of the uniqueness of music. If he’d done so, I believe he would have seen that I say much more on this topic than he acknowledges in his essay. First, I do not simply say that “music” is a unique kind of cognition, nor do I say that the value of music can be explained as “a cognitive challenge.” These are serious misrepresentations of what I explain at much greater length. I say that musicianship-listenership is a unique form of understanding. And clearly, I posit that MUSIC has many possible and contingent values. Also, I argue that musical practices involve entirely different kinds of social contexts, actions, challenges, and entirely different kinds of knowing than other pursuits. For example, and to be blunt, the actions of hitting tennis balls, perceiving tennis balls, and the nature of tennis balls – all of these are remarkably different from musicing, listening, and musical works, yes? (I shouldn’t have to make this point, but the oddity of Koopman’s statement requires it). In the same vein, the knowings one needs as a conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic, a rap artist, or a meditating guru are entirely different – socially, contextually, procedurally, and so forth. Also, of course, the phenomenology of music listening (MM, pp. 126-127) – the aural-sonic nature of musical reception – is completely different than the visual-auditory phenomenology of mountain climbing, or tennis. Also, my colleague overlooks my discussions of the many different kinds of social settings that are central aspects and values of musical practices (see, for example: MM, chapter 8).

In summary, musical practices involve many different kinds and combinations of unique values. Put another way, the conditions of musical flow experiences, and the situations that give rise to musical emotions, are specific to musical practices. Accordingly, the contents of musical experiences – their cognitive and affective qualities, the ways they feel while they last, their tacit and verbal significance – differ fundamentally from other forms of experience, including other artistic experiences. Therefore, the nature and quality of values such as self-growth, self-knowledge and enjoyment, as experienced in musicing and music listening, are unique to the specific musical practices in which they arise. For all these reasons, I disagree with Koopman that my position fails to “mark out music as a practice with distinctive value” (p. 84).

Koopman’s next claim is that I “disregard the role of feeling in music.” He claims that “the only kind of feeling” that features in my philosophy “is the enjoyment that is the outcome of performing successfully in cognitively challenging musical practices.” Note how Koopman contradicts himself: he says, first, that I disregard the role of feeling in music: then, second, he says that praxialism “features” the “enjoyment that is the outcome of performing.” So, his first statement is incorrect. In addition, everything I’ve said in the preceding paragraphs about musical values, and the roles of feeling and emotion in the praxial account of music, evidence the errors in his view.

But there is more. Koopman goes on to state that I take no account of the role of feeling in listening: “Constructing musical patterns is not simply a matter of ‘cold’ cognition but, as an increasing number of scholars begin to acknowledge, it is accompanied by and informed by feeling” (p. 85). He adds a long explanation of how feeling is involved in all aspects of musicing and listening, including problem solving, judgment, interpretation, and so forth. But, in fact, this is exactly what I say in MM. As Cutietta and Stauffer write: “Throughout Music Matters, Elliott ties the concept of educated feelings to the listener’s engagement in a musical practice and beliefs about that practice” (PME,  p. 135). More broadly, I emphasize that human consciousness is an integrated phenomenon that includes several systems and “powers” working together, continuously and simultaneously: attention, cognition, emotion, intention and memory (MM, pp. 64-65). Based on the work of many scholars in the new field of consciousness studies, I argue that music makers and listeners experience musical works by means of, and in terms of, all these multidimensional systems. Accordingly, I emphasize throughout Music Matters that there is no such thing as thinking without feeling, feeling without thinking, attention without cognition, and so forth. Here is one example of what I say: “Our everyday phenomenological experience results from the integration of our powers of consciousness. There is likely no such thing as cognition without emotion, emotion without cognition, awareness without attention, and so on” (MM, p. 52). I state repeatedly that thinking and feeling are hybrids, neither completely emotive nor completely cognitive in content.

Another concern I have about Koopman’s argument is the simple split he makes between emotion and feeling. He believes that whereas emotions have cognitive content, feelings do not. He suggests that emotion is always “about something.” In contrast, “feeling is a much broader concept” (p. 85). However, when we study his examples of feeling – he lists surprise, satisfaction, and tension, among others – we see that all of these are in fact “about something” in the sense that a person must be cognitively-affectively aware of these differences and distinctions, “inside themselves,” and in relation to the sources of these “feelings.” Without such “cognitive content,” a person could not distinguish or name these affective experiences. In short, unless a person has a conscious, aware, thinking-feeling mind, s/he will have no way of knowing whether s/he is experiencing something called “satisfaction” compared to (say) uneasiness, or tension. Therefore, to me, Koopman’s argument rests on an oversimplified bifurcation, which is no longer accepted by most scholars of consciousness.

So, in MM generally, and in terms of the kinds of knowing that make up musicianship-listenership, I emphasize (for example) that procedural, informal and impressionistic musical thinking are prime examples of cognitive-affective interdependence. I employ the terms “cognitive emotion” and “mindful feeling” (MM, pp. 64-65) to break down the walls between cognition, emotion, feeling, and so forth. To cite one example:

“becoming a competent listener includes developing a refined emotional sense or “feel” for what is musically appropriate, original, and artistically significant in the music one makes and listens for . . . impressionistic musical knowledge involves cognitive emotions; it involves educated feelings for particular kinds of musicing and listening.” (MM, p. 98)

As Cutietta and Stauffer confirm in their essay, “by stating that ‘thinking and feeling (cognition and affect) are interdependent’ (MM, p. 65), Elliott rejects dualistic concepts of emotion and intellect in favor of current mind-brain models of integrated consciousness.  In short, there is no thinking without feeling and no feeling without thinking” (PME, pp. 135-136). They continue:

“educated feelings” or “cognitive emotions” of impressionistic knowledge arise from and are developed within musical practices and lie at the root of musical judgments about what is good and bad, or artistically appropriate or inappropriate.  Through “the actions of natural music problem solving” (MM,  p. 99), the student develops a refined emotional sense of what works and what doesn’t work.  Once attained, impressionistic knowledge can be used in listening experiences outside of music making. (PME, pp. 129-130)

Elsewhere in MM I discuss the nature of musical preferences in the same terms when I suggest that, among the consequences of listening to musical patterns and their delineated meanings, we may experience “cognitive emotions (positive and/or negative) about whether the cultural conventions of a given work (say, a piece of country and western music) matches a listener’s cultural beliefs and values” (p. 195). To summarize my reply to the preceding criticism, I submit that praxialism does a reasonable job of giving “both cognition and feeling and their complex interrelationships their full due” (PME, p. 86).