My “wonderment” has to do with the following statement from the Estelle R. Jorgensen’s book Transforming Music Education:
“It is also less threatening to go abroad to other nations and collect their musics, to focus on the exotic and the different, than to confront the many diverse musical experiences at home, especially in a culture that is ‘monochromatic’ despite its claims of diversity.” (127)
This is really a two-part statement as I see it, and the first part draws my curiosity as much as the second part. Initially I was drawn to the idea that Jorgensen sees it as “less threatening to go abroad to other nations and collect their musics, to focus on the exotic and the different, than to confront the many diverse music experiences at home…”. I am immediately prone to wondering if music teachers see this idea as a generally accepted belief. I myself do not feel this to be the case at all.
In a world containing so many vast, unique, and varying cultures, some of which have not even been thoroughly studied and documented, I do not see the collection and use of these materials in my classroom as being easier than discussing my own culture’s music. In Chapter 6 of Bennett Reimer’s A Philosophy of Music Education: Advancing the Vision, the author presents the Contextualist viewpoint of incorporating multicultural music education in to the classroom. The following statement was made from this viewpoint: “To think people can genuinely understand the music of a foreign culture is to deal with that music with ultimate disrespect, ignoring or denying what is essential about it – its own cultural integrity, embodying a world view very different from that of cultures foreign to it.” (Reimer, 181). Although I am not in complete agreement with this mindset, I do understand the importance of creating a classroom environment that is very respectful of other cultures’ musics when trying to incorporate them into the classroom. I believe it is much more difficult as a teacher to create this respectful environment, and to try to convey to my students a sense of being ‘an outsider looking in’, when studying music from other nations. How are we supposed to ever fully understand the music of a culture that we are not a part of? How are we supposed to know what would be considered the most “quality” works to show a student to represent that culture? How do we ensure that our students do not have the arrogant mindset that they now must fully understand a culture’s music just from the little bit that they have experienced in our classroom? Although it is important to expose students to sounds and music other than those that surround them on a daily basis in their own culture, I do not feel that it is “less threatening” than discussing our own culture’s music…in fact, I feel it is the opposite.
The second part of the Jorgensen quote from the top of this paper deals with the idea that the culture of the United States is “… ‘monochromatic’ despite its claims of diversity.” I feel it only fair to cite examples of what the author is talking about in reference to this quote for the purpose of discussion. She states the following: “In the United States, …, one comes face-to-face with the lack of freedom; unfinished racial business; a profound neglect of native peoples and other invisible minorities; and injustice and discrimination on the basis of gender, age, language, religion, color, ethnicity, class, or lifestyle… . Looking abroad for exotic musical cultures can mask a widespread lack of interest in or indifference to the makers and takers of the many diverse yet marginalized musics of our own place.”
Let me first address my feelings toward the idea that our country is not truly diverse. I certainly do not agree with this statement. I actually feel that our country is a multicultural melting pot all its own. I also feel that one kind of music of our culture is specifically a platform for all people to have a voice: popular music (including the many subsets of our culture that have their own unique ‘popular’ music). Look at blues, jazz, R&B, Soul, Country, etc. All of these musics represent a different sub-culture of the United States, and the voices of these people are clearly heard. Some may disagree with me. For example, one might reference Rap music and how it is often sexist toward women. But if you have ever heard a female rap artist’s work, you know that they also have a strong voice all their own, often putting down the words of the men of their genre and retaliating with a very strong viewpoint. If you look at the Billboard Chart today, you will see that woman are currently dominating the field (ex: Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Rhianna, etc.). Many races are often present (White, Black, Hispanic, etc.). Many ‘older’ artist are still on the charts as well (ex: U2, Steven Tyler, Paul McCartney).
Having said all of this, I can see an instance where Jorgensen may have a point. In a music classroom that is formalized, and one in which the teacher holds the belief that the only music with value is that music in the Western Classical tradition. I can see where someone would say that there is a large amount of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, etc. Yet, I see myself and my teaching in my music classroom as very far, or at least straying, from these ideas. I am truly an advocate for the incorporation of popular music into the classroom due to the success I have had when using it. It provides each of my students a voice and a common point of reference when we are talking about all kinds of music concepts, theory, etc., regardless of their age, race, sex, poverty level.
I plan to incorporate a few of the ideas presented to our Philosophy class today by Dr. Campbell. What if we began a discussion about American music by posing questions to our students? Something as simple as “What do you think constitutes American Music?”, could open so many doors of discussion. Each student would surely have a different, unique answer based on their experiences of being American themselves. Dr. Campbell described the plethora of possible answers that could be given as “…a beautiful mosaic that could represent the pluralism and multiculturalism of our country.” We also discussed how this could lead us toward a more personalized, or individualized, level of music instruction for our music students, and how their own “multicultural” answers to our questions could be a great starting-off point for us to do this. Please consider this quote from Bennett Reimer: “The music of a culture expresses, or captures, or formulates, or gives voice to this reality as only sounds organized to be meaningful can do…” (Reimer, 176). Having them take part in the development of what American Music is to them would “give voice” to their realities through the music of their culture.
When I look back at the initial quote from Jorgensen, I also believe that some of my confusion arises from the contradiction existing within it. In one instance she claims that it would be easier to pursue ‘exotic’ musics rather than to pursue our own country’s “many diverse musical experiences at home..”. But in the other instance, she claims that our culture is “… ‘monochromatic’ despite its claims of diversity.” So which is it? If you say we are diverse in one breath, how can you claim we are not in the next. I feel that it is wrong for one to see the culture of the United States as anything but diverse. Although stereotypes and biases exist in all cultures throughout the world, I do not feel that the correct word to describe us is ‘monochromatic’.
What I take away from all of this for my teachings in the music classroom, is that I have developed a goal of incorporating the music of other nation’s cultures in a respectful and realistic way. I also have a goal of creating a sense of what exactly American Music is, in a respectful and meaningful way for my students. I am also going to try to incorporate their viewpoints and experiences into the teaching of American Music so that they can form some kind of personal connection to music in general and allow them to have a voice.