Friday, October 22, 2010


In a recent conversation about management and leadership, it was established that one of the most difficult things that managers and leaders must do is to establish and then to keep focused on the objective. This is difficult enough in a business context but then the question was raised about how can this be done in the context of a classroom where discussion is encouraged and irrelevant tangents can cloud the objective of the class. This led to the question of Music Appreciation as a topic in school and how difficult it is to teach because the students don’t like Classical Music and really have no interest in any music other than popular music.

I think that the problem with Music Appreciation is that it is suffering from a common complaint – one that I frequently encounter in my work. I think both the teachers and the students have lost track of the Mission and Objective(s). I could be wrong but I suspect that the typical teacher strives to accommodate their students (unrealistic or incorrect) objectives which has allowed the class mission to become obscured or distorted. From my managerial perspective I think the Mission in a Music Appreciation class is to teach students “how to appreciate music”-- not to enjoy it--but to appreciate the quality of a piece of music as an art form. They do not have to like it or to even enjoy it to appreciate the ART displayed by the composer. On the other hand the students seem to think they are there to ENJOY music, therefore they only expect to hear or discuss music they like. I submit that is not the objective of the class and if that is their expectation then they do not understand the objective and that the teacher has failed to explain the purpose of the class. They are there to understand and to learn to appreciate music as art and to learn how to distinguish bad art, fine art, and good art.

Beyond this basic confusion I think the typical teacher has wandered off course. Apparently in some classes the teacher has opted to include more black musicians and performers. I submit that is a fundamental error because the race and the performer should have no relevance to the music being presented. The teacher is there to discuss and to demonstrate music as art and art is (and should be) color blind and the performer should only enter into the appreciation of the piece being discussed as a comparison in technique and presentation. Apparently some teachers are now including lyrics as part of the exercise of music appreciation. I submit that while lyrics may be important in the overall enjoyment of the piece, the objective is to evaluate the music and therefore the lyrics are a distraction. Of course there are exceptions, such as Opera, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Madrigals, and Gregorian Chants but these lyrics are in other languages and thus become part of the art because what the lyrics are saying is largely irrelevant to the harmony.

I would recommend that a class in music appreciation should start with the teacher showing pictures of examples of various art schools, e.g. realism, impressionism, cubism, modern, surrealism, Dutch Masters, etc. The students should be asked to decide which ones they like, which they don’t like, and then challenged to explain why they like some and why they dislike others. Then they should be asked to evaluate the pieces in terms of their value as art, the difficulty in executing the piece, etc. The objective of the exercise is to separate their likes from the quality of the art. For example, I think Reubens and Monet are great artists but I wouldn’t have any painting by either one hanging in my home – I don’t like their work, but I will concede the quality of their art. This is what the students are there to learn and what the teacher is there to teach – they don’t have to like the music to appreciate it.

Another exercise I would offer is to show the music on the page – written out, not played or performed but to just show the notes. Contrast modern pieces to older works or classic works. I would then allow the music to be played but without lyrics. I would ask the students to determine the race of the composers, the complexity of the music, and the quality of the music as art. The point once again is to demonstrate that art is race independent and musical art is in the ear of the beholder.

If the students feel that playing music without the lyrics is unfair or misleading then the teacher should point out that opera music is commonly performed without the lyrics as is Big Band Music and even some contemporary music. If the issue is Rap – which is nothing without the lyrics, then the lyrics should stand alone acappella – ala African chants, Gregorian Chants, and any beat or background is unnecessary because if the lyrics are the art then they should standalone like poetry.

I don’t think the objective of music appreciation is to lead the students to a love of classical music or any particular musical form but to bring them to the point to where they can recognize music – in all of its manifestations as an art form and evaluate it on the basis of being good or bad.

It appears to me that the objective of music appreciation has been lost as the teachers lose sight of their objective which is to teach an appreciation of music as an art form. Instead they are reacting to the student expectation that they are in class to enjoy music that they like, not to learn about music in general. Instead of Music Appreciation it seems to me the idea of Music Appreciation has been allowed to descend into Music Enjoyment, which is a totally different objective.

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