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A Response to Valerie Trollinger, "A Reconception of Performance Study in Music Education Philosophy"

From: Philosophy of Music Education Review
Volume 14, Number 2, Fall 2006
pp. 231-233 | 10.1353/pme.2007.0006

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As an educator who is a former professional trombonist I can certainly appreciate the issues raised in this discussion. Because I am inclined to agree with the spirit (if not always the substance) of Trollinger's remarks, I would like to respond with some thoughts on the manner in which she tends to frame this debate, because I believe that this has crucial implications and may explain the cause of some of the very problems she mentions.

Charlene Morton writes that a "bias for procedural knowledge . . . unwittingly immerses school music in the polemic arising from the false hierarchical dichotomy between 'hard' and 'soft' forms of knowledge." By this she means that the Cartesian mind/body split, which has led to our conception of thinking and doing as exclusive matters, is not remedied by our discovery of the importance of purely procedural knowledge, because we merely reinforce this dichotomy through acknowledging the latter term as a separate category from theoretical knowledge. Trollinger is correct in asserting that the act of performance is often overlooked and is not treated as a serious concern in music education and I believe that this may be largely due to this dichotomy, which manifests itself in the way that we divorce performance from its original holistic context.

In general, if we accept this argument, then debates about performance versus listening, theorizing, and so on are inherently problematic because the discourse itself reinforces an artificial dichotomy. If we fail to address the remnants of this "Cartesian anxiety," then in our attempts to address a lack of concern over performance, we may be left with a performance model that is purely utilitarian, in the sense that the body can only justifiably occupy a central place in the curriculum if there are direct, utilitarian outcomes that we can associate with it and so long as those outcomes are supported by the free market. In North America, progressive educators have been struggling for some time against the concept of school as a locus of training for the market place. This model becomes more difficult to resist, I would argue, as long as we continue to compartmentalize performance and other aspects of musicianship. Such practices reinforce an artificial distinction between procedural and theoretical forms of knowing (and, by extension, between mental and manual forms of labor) that Apple, Giroux, and other critical pedagogues would argue atomizes student knowledge in preparation for the marketplace; yet musicianship can serve many other valuable purposes.

Trollinger, in using the word "holistic," reminds us of the connection between body and mind that exists in performance. Further, she correctly states that until relatively recently, those who taught music were musicians. I would add that in Canada (where I teach), the idea that music should be taught by musicians has often been used to justify its exclusion from schools, which is indicative of our tendency to exclude those things that we deem corporeal from the life of the mind. In my home province of Ontario, recent emphasis on "the basics" has meant that music programs have vanished in great numbers, while music study is relegated to the conservatories which, with their widespread tendency to essentialize musical experience as performance in the most limited sense of the word, have contributed further to this dichotomy.

My point is that all of us, including Trollinger, may wish to reconsider the nomenclature that we carry into this debate from the outset. Because the word "performance" has become strongly associated with this particular pole (it is no accident that we use this word to describe car engines and stock returns) I suggest we can best elevate our estimation of the term by replacing it with the word "musicianship." In this way we can repair some of the damage done by the Cartesian split and the consequent de-valuing of performance that has occurred through separation from its original context. Within such an integrated model, it would become problematic to debate the relative importance of performing, listening, theorizing, or any number of activities with regard to the overall goals of musicianship, because these categories would have a sort of dialectical meaning in the sense that we would be unable to discuss the importance of...

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