Words of wisdom

During my time in Adelaide last week I spied this placard in front of the charming Elder Hall – a Gothic revival building with excellent acoustics but a rather small audience capacity. I love the quote from Samuel James Way, “To Adelaide … has come the honour of restoring the old alliance between music and other University studies and of giving practical as well as theoretical instruction in the art.”. 

For me this quote is important in two ways – firstly a view that a well rounded education must include instruction in music. Study after study has confirmed that music instruction has a beneficial effect on overall learning and discipline. Knowledge of music contributes at the very least to a more thorough understanding of culture – it certainly adds to appreciation! Recently I was waiting on line at the Frick collection in New York and it happened to be the day when the entrance fees were whatever one could afford. As a result the line was long and I thought I saw a wider cross section of the community. During the wait on the line there were two (just slightly scruffy) gentlemen behind me that were enthusing about Mahler, Strauss songs and their favorite interpreters of these works. It felt like I was in a Woody Allen movie! Their obvious love and knowledge of the music (and these were not musicians) was infectious and for me, strongly suggested that their education had included music instruction. Listening to their urbane banter brought home to me just how much joy music can bring. As with any art, the more knowledge one has the more appreciation one can derive from the performance.

The second aspect of the quote that I completely agree with is the idea of a university offering both practical and theoretical instruction in the art. I think the best music schools are those that stress a close relationship between practicing musicians and composers and thinkers about music. I have seen one music school in particular move away from this model recently and I despair of the standard of eduction that will ensue as this school moves away from traditional private instruction towards less intensive models. No doubt prospective students will vote  with their feet and move to schools that offer great teaching but I am concerned for the composers, musicologists and theory majors. The authentic and most gratifying music experience exists in one time and one place. Likewise, the opportunity for recreative artists to interact with composers and others is of immense importance.

This was evident in the 19th century – I’m not sure that anything has changed in the interim.

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