- Response to Alexandra Kertz-Wezel, “The Magic of Music”
In her paper, "The Magic of Music," Kertz-Wezel proposes that music be "a means to transform emotions and experience life more intensely." She goes on to speculate that "not only the way of listening and performing Western European art music in educational settings, but also the music itself may prevent individuals from further involvement in classical music." Her goals are involvement [End Page 117] in art music and a deepening and enhancing of individuals' lives through aesthetic experience. Kertz-Wezel grants as reasonable the idea that education should start with an individual's experience 1 and should follow with a series of "intensive musical experiences." With all of this, I can agree.
However, whereas we share the goal of transformative music education through aesthetic experience, we differ in the means by which we would accomplish our goal and we differ for philosophical reasons. Kertz-Wezel promotes an approach to music experience that celebrates individuality and a return to Romanticism.2 By contrast, I have developed an approach to music experience that depends on collaborative music-making and that emphasizes the social and interpersonal context, as opposed to the individual. I would like to describe how my approach, contrary to the individualistic approach espoused by Kertz-Wezel, nevertheless accomplishes the goal of transformative music education.
My approach is grounded in principles abstracted from the writings of John Dewey.3 Like Dewey, I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of an individual's powers by the demands of the social situations in which individuals find themselves.4 Therefore, in the schools that serve as field and research sites for our university, we create communities of musical practice in which individuals gain the full and ready use of all their capacities while performing newly composed art music.5 Every year a set of new works are composed especially for our students by composers at our university. Through the process of actualizing a piece of art, our students are "stimulated to act as member(s) of a unity, to emerge from (their) narrowness of action and feeling, to conceive of (themselves) from the standpoint of the welfare of the group to which (they) belong."6 The image of a fully engaged community member stands in stark contrast to that of the young woman in Kertz-Wezel's paper who, in describing her experience at the rock concert, said, "You don't think about what you are doing. You do what you feel like, without even thinking about it." When in a trance, individuals are detached from, not connected to, their physical surroundings.7 When in a state of ecstasy, individuals are carried beyond rational thought and self-control.8 It is impossible for me to imagine how an individual in a state of semi-conscious detachment, lacking in rational thought and self-control, can be learning.9
Students in communities of musical practice are fully conscious of the value that they have to the group and "the value is reflected back into them."10 They learn to listen intently to other performers within the ensemble. They learn to communicate with one another in the symbol system of music and their musical babblings are transformed into articulate language.11 They become literate when they actualize into musical art what is embedded in the abstract symbols in a score. Through the process of actualizing pieces of musical art, students [End Page 118] heighten their perceptions and strengthen their connections. They have the kind of aesthetic experience described by Dewey:
The material of esthetic experience in being human—human in connection with the nature of which it is a part—is social. Esthetic experience is a manifestation, a record and celebration of the life of a civilization, a means of promoting its development, and is also the ultimate judgment upon the quality of a civilization. For while it is produced and is enjoyed by individuals, those individuals are what they are in the content of their experience because of the cultures in which they participate.12
The active, social, music-making approach to music education has considerable resource implications for...