19. How Music Education Brought Itself to a Dead End
The key power of any activity is motivation, the need for the activity. The need is formed by society. That which is wanted and cared about is developed by new dimensions. Unpopular knowledge disappears. In an illiterate society, the necessity of books disappears. In a society in which only the few can read sheet music, music literature is kept in reserves – rare, specialized music stores.
Was it ever otherwise? I won’t embellish the situation: the majority of society has always been musically illiterate. But earlier, more people persistently aimed for a music education; at the time, it was in demand. In order to fill one’s life with music, a person had to be able to play, and to listen to music as it was performed live. Any person that was able to play a music instrument, and freely play from notes, was treated with respect and held in high regard. Because of this, people of all social classes tried to learn music grammar.
However, only affluent people could afford access to a proper music education. The ability to understand and perform serious music was considered to be one of the highest honors. People bowed before a “talented musician.” High society spent its spare time in opera theatres and philharmonic orchestras. The “average people” were drawn to these spectacles, so that at least in the gallery, while standing, they’d get an opportunity to hear good music. The elite often opened musical salons and invited concert virtuosos to them. Without proper music lessons, the education of the aristocracy wasn’t considered to be ‘proper,’ and because of this the middle class treated music with immense respect.
These were the past couple of centuries, the “Golden Age” of musical progress. It was stylish to listen to and understand different genres of music. Society wasn’t lacking listeners and admirers; there were more than enough! Society needed talented, bright performers, whose masterful playing could stun the listener, cheer him, and touch him. “The Golden Age” formed the elite system of music education. Music pedagogy rarely trifled with the “average joes.”
The music institutions of Europe passionately busied themselves with the art of professional performance. The upbringing of new virtuosos – that is what brought the educators pleasure! The need of people with ordinary musical gifts didn’t interest them at all. Why waste time on “the ungifted masses” when you could take a talented student and make a name for yourself through him? This was the motto of most music educators of the time. As a whole, it is still the same motto today.
As a rule, music talents reveal themselves from early childhood. They are exceptionally convenient for the educator: there’s no reason to hurt one’s head trying to think up special methods in order to develop the music ear or memory. The assignment is simplified: using the ready-made abilities of the student, one only needs to develop the technique of his playing and help him to reach the professional level.
Imagine a gardener that can’t grow flowers from seeds. He buys grown bushes, aids their growth a little further, and prides himself on the splendid plants. And so convinced is he of his method that he proclaims that all seeds are incorrigible and a useless invention!
Just like him, music educators have declared that untalented students are hopeless. They don’t want to sow the seeds, to create and develop the music ear, music memory, intonation of voice, and sense of rhythm. The criterion for admission into music schools has become the population’s musical abilities. For the duration of the past century, graduates had to undergo special tests in which they were required to sing a melody while hammering out a different rhythm, and to separate movements from the intervals by ear.
But the greatest filter for the children who weren’t “gifted enough” was the very process of education itself. It was consciously oriented towards those that didn’t need to develop their music ears. It is a fact that since then, music education hasn’t changed much! It is still oriented towards gifted people, and doesn’t leave any chances for the rest, even if they really want to learn.
Music education doesn’t want to become that which it must be: an enlightening activity. It has irresponsibly isolated the selected few from the rest, and for the most part, has ceased to be pedagogy. It is exactly from this that so many absurdities, mistakes, and obnoxious habits stem into our music schools! The language of music’s scorn for most people. The inability to develop hearing and voice in ordinary people. The demand that each beginner must be made into a concert master. The persistent need to ‘get with the program’, or better, to get ahead of it. Lack of tolerance for mistakes in the performance of beginners. Disdainful regard for “amateurs,” yet an infinite inability to understand that music is a necessity to every person for his personal spiritual and creative growth.
Unlike the rest of our economy, our music education system doesn’t have a “middle class”; there are only the narrow group of elites and the completely illiterate majority. Nobody wants to understand that this situation is on the path to the degradation and fall of music as an art form.