Music class: A final summation

By Robert Westerman, 04

Throughout the semester, I have learned the most in music class. When I originally singed up, I figured that we would be covering the basic curriculum of most theory classes; the note values and how to write sheet music, major and minor scales, the circle of fifths. Little did I know that the teacher had a completely different agenda in mind. We began this class with an in-depth study of our favorite artists and musicians. This gave the rest of the students and I the impression that the class would be primarily based on our opinions and personal preferences. As time progressed, we began studying more the philosophy behind music, something completely new to my musical experience. The questions started out simply: What is a tone? What is a time signature? Does this song sound “concluded”? But as time went on, the class found that the answers to these questions were much more complicated then we originally throught. The question about tones evolved into a theory that linked the physical world with the “inner world”. These ideas were completely new to me, as my previous band class was performance oriented. Through much work and thought however, I eventually made a mental breakthrough in which I came to understand and appreciate music much more. The philosophy behind tones proved to be very important in teaching music, and if the class is repeated next year, I highly recommend that it remain a very important part of the syllabus. My Atheneum teacher provided the ideal conditions for learning, partly because he allowed us to stray from the topic at hand. This allowed many more students to become involved. Discussions became more personalized, and slowly everyone found some new concept that they could relate to and understand. Bands and genres were just as important as texts and even specific songs were demonstrated to show modern examples of true musicians. Whoever teaches music class in the future at Atheneum should be this open and flexible, for if the entirety of the class seems to only consist of analyzing music, then the forced action of studying ideas will be resisted. This is not to say that the students get to choose everything that happens, for if that were true then there is no guarantee that any studying would occur whatsoever. However, patience is always important, especially with something as fragile and personal as music. Another concept that proved effective is teaching how to play instruments. I noted that students that actively play seem to become much more energetic about learning. Something important to remember, is that the class should NEVER become solely performance oriented. I have been in that type of environment for seven years, and I can honestly say that I learned much more from reading Zuckerkandl’s Sense of Music, than learning sheet music. If the students are so driven to perform, the teacher should take an active participating role in pushing the group forward, but otherwise, they should simply have the tools available to further advance their involvement in the class. For the most part, our class has taken these steps and maintained a balanced schedule that kept everyone interested. I have greatly enjoyed my time in music, and the knowledge I now have will carry through to many aspects of my life. It has inspired me to challenge my preconceived notions of the world around me and has tied together the entirety of my education at Atheneum.
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