In Remixing the Classroom: Toward an Open Philosophy of Music Education, Randall Everett Allsup makes a powerful, moral, and timely argument for more open and less hierarchical forms of public school music teaching and university music educator training. Drawing inspiration from Maxine Greene, Elizabeth Gould, John Dewey, Roland Barthes, and collage practices—what the author describes as a “ ‘remix’ of postmodern and constructivist tenants” (pp. 103–104)—Allsup challenges prevailing notions of aesthetic forms, music-teacher expertise, classroom environments, and curricula, arguing for “an educational platform that is unapologetically difficult and unsafe” (p. x). While his call for teaching the unknowable, the unfinished, and the unpredictable departs from our current obsession with the clear, the complete, and the certain, Allsup presents a compelling vision for re-imagining our role as educators.
Allsup’s argument hinges on a distinction between open and closed forms. Closed forms, including music in the Western cultivated tradition, are traditionally taught by masters who educate apprentices in the works and unalterable laws of a sealed tradition. In addition, they “represent culturally structured and norm-driven literacies” and prize stability, certainty, and canonicity, while open forms are diverse, “hybrid, irreducible” texts (p. 48). They value participation, and their codes and meanings are subject to (re)negotiation and (re)use by individuals in local contexts. In addition to making a distinction between the aesthetic and pedagogic characteristics of closed and open forms, Allsup argues that they also manifest different ideals of social life. “It stands to reason,” he states, “that those musical forms whose aesthetic logic is tightly structured necessarily enact a different set of human and sonic relationships than those forms that are open and evolving, or those forms that are made open and evolving” (p. xi). Throughout his book, Allsup relies on the differences between closed and open forms to explain conflicts between replication or standardization and creativity or individuality; connections between exclusivity and notions of talent, genius, or musicality; and teachers’ roles in upholding or challenging hierarchies of power and their attendant social structures.
In “Toward Open Encounters,” he illustrates these forms with vignettes of figures that transgress (fashion designer Dapper Dan), epitomize (Franz Kafka, with his parable “Before the Law” [“Vor dem Gesetz”]), or challenge and then reestablish laws (sushi master Jiro Ono). Allsup argues for supplementing our conventionally closed instruction with open forms, (re)forming music education to make it “human-specific, not practice-specific” (p. 24), and thus devoted to the individuals in front of us (and their attendant preferences, concerns, and challenges) in the present moment. He reminds us that we teach children, not traditions, and should model engagement, curiosity, and openness. Allsup’s premise, which is uncontroversial, suggests that our dominant educational models and philosophical paradigms—notably closed forms, the master-apprentice relationship, and David Elliott’s Music Matters, co-authored with Marissa Silverman (2nd ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 2014]—are authoritarian, stylistically limited, oriented towards the past, and marked by certainty about who is musical and who is not. Allsup interrogates these ideas, challenging teachers to cast off the master’s mantel to re-imagine music education as a flexible space concerned with exploration and human growth, with “events and relationships” that manifest as “irreducible, locally governed, and unfinished,” as well as often without a “general consensus about what is good and what is bad” (p. xii). [End Page 285]
In chapter 2, “Music-Teacher Quality and Expertise,” Allsup describes the type of public school teacher that students deserve. His ideal educators are guides, facilitators, musicians with broad expertise, and teachers focused on providing learners with the greatest potential skill set. These teachers work within decentered, mashed-up, or authorless open forms just as easily as they currently work within closed forms. Such flexibility increases student access “to more and different ways of making and enjoying music” (p. 45) and grounds students in a relevant past while preparing them for the future through...