Sustainable Music


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sustainability and Music Education: China Lecture 2 Summary

In this lecture I considered education as a means of sustaining music. For the ethnomusicologist, music education is but one means societies use in order to transmit music and musical skills from one generation to the next. However, music education also involves, implicitly, ideas about what music is (and is not), what music is good, where music comes from, and what is the purpose or function of music. I reviewed the development of public and private music education in the United States, and also discussed the place of folk and world music in it.

The most basic means of sustaining music from one generation to the next is by either informal or formal teaching and learning. Different social groups transmit their music through different kinds of education. Within any large social group many kinds of music education take place. What can an ethnomusicologist contribute to the discussion of sustainability and music education? Historically music education in the United States, as elsewhere, shows differences and sometimes philosophical disagreement in three areas. The first area of difference involves the distinction between formal instruction with lessons and written musical notation in the schools versus informal learning that takes place in a family or neighborhood setting by imitation and oral tradition, usually without lessons and almost never with notation. 

The second area of disagreement, which takes place in colleges, universities, and conservatories, is the balance in the curriculum and the structure of the musical institution between, first, practical instruction in performing music; second, theoretical knowledge in the history of music and how music is designed and structured; and third, courses in music education below the university level (i.e., how to teach music to children aged 5-18). 

The third area, which takes place at all levels of formal learning, whether in elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, colleges, universities, and conservatories, is the balance in the curriculum and the institution between Western art music and multicultural music, including folk music and world music. The United States sees itself as a multicultural nation but until fairly recently the dominant view among American scholars and the general public was that the United States was a united group of people who had melted their ethnicities in a large pot into a single culture with a single language (English) and a single set of values: one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. But in the last fifty years this view has been strongly challenged by American scholars who view the United States as various groups of people struggling with different languages, histories, ethnicities, and ways of life towards the ideals of liberty and justice that have not been achieved for all, and that when they are achieved each group will retain its ethnic, religious, linguistic, and musical cultures. This second view is the view held by most ethnomusicologists: it is a vision of integration without loss of identity in which world music appears as a powerful symbol of peace, justice, and conflict resolution among peoples within a nation and among nations in the world.


  1. Great Post! there is lots of great stuff in here.

    Well done.

    David Hitt
    Song Placements

  2. Great article - I found it educational and helpful.