Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Musically Gifted, Part II: How About Classical Education

The whole mission of Magister Perotinus could be summed up in those two words—classical education. What brings together the hodgepodge of posts on this blog is the idea that music is an essential ingredient of paideia and must be treated as such.

As I've mentioned before, this is the reverse of our usual categories. We think of music as an art derived and governed by certain scientific principles. It's all about overtones and neurology, but with the "passion" and "human ingenuity" that only our artistic sides can add to the music. The classical model is the reverse of this. Music is a part of the quadrivium, or four-way intersection, in Latin, of, mathematics, geometry, astronomy, and music. These are the four liberal sciences. The three liberal arts are grammar, logic, and rhetoric, forming the trivium (yep, three-way intersection). The arts (or, perhaps we could, as I mentioned earlier, think of them as "skills" as well as "arts") are like a template. Grammar isn't necessarily a study in itself (unless you're talking about syntax and construction, which is a different thing). You study the grammar of several different subjects, like geometry—theorems, common notions, axioms, that sort of thing—or like what we might call general science—Na is sodium, the Fall of Constantinople was in 1453, and combustion has something to do with oxygen.

What's the equivalent for music? Studying the grammar of music would be gaining a basic knowledge of musical nomenclature. Reading music, learning your dominants and submedians, plagals and deceptives, and fun stuff like that. The logic would begin to delve into the reasons behind these things, like harmonic and structural analysis, polyphony in general, counterpoint analysis, substitutions, etc. And the rhetoric is the application and outgrowth of that—now write me a fugue.

What we're seeing is a radically different picture than what we're used to. Many parents might assume that giving their kids a classical education in music necessitated them throwing their kids into piano lessons or clarinet lessons where they'd learn how to play piano or clarinet. Somewhere in there, they'd learn some "ear training" and "music theory". Just so they know how to play. Obviously, we don't necessarily want our kids to become music majors.

But this isn't what the classical model is talking about when they speak of musical education. If you're musically educated, you're educated to write music, not just perform it. Or, to put it more bluntly—you think you're an educated person? Then, you should be writing music. Crank out a fugue!

They will probably say I set my sites too high. But this is the goal of Magister Perotinus. A restoration of composition as a part of education. Take an example like the New Saint Andrews College undergraduate degree. My suggestion is this—if they really take their higher education seriously, they should be aiming towards giving every graduate the ability to write a good Bach-style chorale. Why? Because this is a part of what they're trying to do. This is classical education.

And, as always is the proviso, this is also generational. My hope is not to see kids five years from now at some higher education college writing fugues as an undergraduate requirement. But I think my great, great grand-children should be doing that.

Why this is, I think, necessary both from a theological and aesthetic perspective, I'll have to take up some other time. This is long enough.

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