Artistic citizenship in the age of Trump

Public-facing note taking for Philosophy of Music Education with David Elliott

This week I’m reading about the social and ethical responsibilities of artists generally, and musicians and music educators in particular. That topic is especially relevant at the moment.  

Before we get to the moral philosophy aspect, let’s talk about this performance. Why is it so good? Movies and TV have run “Hallelujah” into the ground, but for good reason. The song blends joy and pain together as well as any song ever has.It’s right there in the first verse: “the minor fall, and the major lift.” It’s the same reason we love “Amazing Grace,” and the blues.

You can hear Kate McKinnon’s Leonard Cohen tribute as the concession speech Hillary Clinton would have made in a perfect world. This verse in particular gave me chills:

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

You can also hear it as an expression of Kate McKinnon herself, a queer woman mourning the world of growing inclusiveness that she thought she was moving into, the one we all thought we were moving into. And you can hear Leonard Cohen’s bitter irony, too. SNL had Trump as its host just last year, and they’re as much to blame for normalizing him as anyone.

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Music Matters chapter seven

Public-facing note taking on Music Matters by David Elliott and Marissa Silverman for my Philosophy of Music Education class. 

This chapter addresses musical meaning and how it emerges out of context. More accurately, it addresses how every musical experience has many meanings that emerge from many contexts. Elliott and Silverman begin with the meanings of performance, before moving into the meanings of composition, listening and so on. They insist that performance is not an activity limited to an elite cadre of “talented” people, that it is within reach of anyone who has the proper support.

We propose that people’s capacities for and enactments of an intrinsic motivation to engage in different kinds of musicing and listening are extremely widespread phenomena, restricted only by lack of musical opportunities, or ineffective and indifferent music teaching. Indeed, developing a love for and devotion to musicing and listening is not unusual when students are fortunate enough to learn from musically and educationally excellent teachers and [community music] facilitators, and when they encounter inspiring models of musicing in contexts of welcoming, sustaining, and educative musical settings, including home and community contexts (240).

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Music Matters chapter six

Public-facing note taking on Music Matters by David Elliott and Marissa Silverman for my Philosophy of Music Education class. 

It seems obvious that the point of music education is to foster musical understanding. But what is musical understanding, exactly? Where and how do we learn and teach it?

On an emotional level, people seem to understand music just fine without being taught how to. My son, at age three and a half, recently heard “And She Was” by Talking Heads for the first time, and within ten seconds was commenting on how happy it sounds. He might not be able to explain why it sounds happy, but he understands just fine what he’s hearing.

Milo sings

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Music Matters chapter nine

Public-facing note taking on Music Matters by David Elliott and Marissa Silverman for my Philosophy of Music Education class. 

Research into music psychology (and simply attending to your own experience, and to common sense) shows that music arouses emotions. However, there is no conclusive way to explain why or how. To make things more complicated, it’s perfectly possible to perceive an emotion in a piece of music without feeling that emotion yourself–you can identify a happy song as being happy without it making you feel happy. Music and emotion are inextricably tied up with each other, but how does music arouse emotions, and how do emotions infuse music?

Elliott and Silverman summarize some major philosophical theories of musical emotion (or lack thereof).  Continue reading

Freud – Civilization And Its Discontents

Note-taking for Learning of Culture with Lisa Stulberg

We have read some dense canonical European White Guys. None of them have been as difficult and off-putting as Freud. I would have rather read Civilization And Its Discotheques.

Freud is so Freudian

Freud begins with the observation that for most of human history, our happiness has been tied to our ability to control nature: to keep away predators and stinging instincts, to keep ourselves fed and sheltered, to alleviate pain and disease. At the time Freud was writing, nature was well under control. You would think, then, that we would be really happy. But as Louis CK puts it: “Everything is amazing and nobody is happy.”

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Music Matters chapter five

Public-facing note taking on Music Matters by David Elliott and Marissa Silverman for my Philosophy of Music Education class. These are responses to the discussion questions at the end of chapter five, which discusses personhood and music education.

Antonio Damasio - Descartes' Error

Why should music educators be concerned with the nature of personhood?

All forms of music, education and community music are personal. They involve social engagement, and emotions both personal and collective. Praxial music education considers the student as a holistic person, not just as a musician. Educative teaching aims for the flourishing of the whole person, not just supplying skills and knowledge. It is difficult to support the flourishing of persons without a clear idea of the nature of personhood.

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Émile Durkheim – Elementary Forms of the Religious Life

Note-taking for Learning of Culture with Lisa Stulberg

This week, we read another cornerstone of the sociology canon: Émile Durkheim on where religion comes from.

Émile Durkheim

The book is very much a product of its time, with continual and annoying references to “primitive” religions and peoples. No question that Durkheim’s methodology doesn’t pass contemporary muster. But his theoretical insights are on point.

[R]eligion is something eminently social. Religious representations are collective representations which express collective realities; the rites are a manner of acting which take rise in the midst of the assembled groups and which are destined to excite, maintain or recreate certain mental states in these groups (10).

You could substitute the word “music” for “religion” and this paragraph would still be true. This is food for future thought.

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John Dewey on music education as experience

If I’m going to understand progressive philosophies of education, then I need to understand John Dewey. So here we go.

John Dewey

Dewey is a progressive hero. He was a supporter of women’s suffrage, a founding member of the NAACP, and was ahead of his time on the importance of multiculturalism. Contrary to what I had always assumed, he did not invent the Dewey Decimal System. Given that I’m reading about him in the context of music education, it was amusing to learn that he had congenital amusia. Finally, a fun autobiographical fact: I attended a very fancy school modeled on Dewey’s Laboratory School at the University of Chicago.

Before we get to Dewey’s thoughts on art and education, here are some of his key political stances, as explained by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Classical liberals think of the individual as an independent entity in competition with other individuals. Social and political life are the arena in which individuals engage in the competitive pursuit of self-interest, preferably with minimal interference from the government. Dewey preferred to think of individuals as parts of a bigger organism, dependent on our relationships with each other  for our survival and well-being. In Dewey’s model, freedom isn’t just the absence of constraints, but rather the positive fact of participation in an ethical social order.

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Personhood and music education

With this post, I begin some public-facing note taking on Music Matters by David Elliott and Marissa Silverman. The goal here is to explain the book to myself, but if this is helpful to you in some way, good.

Music Matters

What is the point of music education? For Elliott and Silverman, the goal is to develop each student as a person. Music engages and emerges from every aspect of your personhood, and so does music education. To talk about music education, then, you first have to define what a person is.

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