Playing western classical music is not the only way to validate one's musicality
Whether it be rock music, rap, or music of other cultures, students are far more likely to understand musical concepts within the context of modern music
When I was an undergraduate student at the Crane School of Music, I pledged that I would play all of the Beethoven Sonatas by the time I was 30. I felt the pressure of the college world to become known as a great performer of the western classical tradition. It seemed to me that you could not be validated as a musician unless you could read music well and reproduce the works of "the masters".
Despite the greatness of the classical tradition, I slowly came to realize that this perspective was a narrow and limited vision. Clearly, musical understanding can be demonstrated in a multitude of style and genres found throughout the world. This became clear to me, initially, when i began to observe the music that students were listening to. As I listened to their songs, the expressive elements such as melody, dynamics, articulation and form that I knew so well from the study of Beethoven were in there as well. I felt that the music they were listening to was composed of fundamental ways of knowing and can be legitimately called MUSIC.
Music is now redefined as a way to express oneself through sound and that all ways of knowing music - from African Apala to rock n roll to western classical - are equal and legitimate forms of expression. REFLECTING ON THIS STORY TODAY... In his study of schools of music, Bruno Nettl (1995) allows us to examine carefully the art music world, informing us of "what" music is to be studied and "how" that music is to be studied: The classics according to the western canon and the masterworks that are derived from it. Beethoven not Brittany is sanctioned. Those who seek to be music makers outside of the western classical tradition have no place in the school of music.
Nettl's analysis rings true to my experiences in music school. While working on a program for an upcoming recital, I asked my piano professor if I could perform a piece I had composed, as well as a Scott Joplin Rag. Neither of the two would be acceptable, I was told. Instead, I played a Bach Prelude and Fugue, followed by a Mozart Sonata.
This idea that you must teach the classics is a strong idea in the preparation of music teachers. However, this idea comes with it not only certain strengths it comes with it weaknesses as well. Primary among those weakness are its limited vision of what is music, its exclusionary nature, its disconnection from popular cultures. If carried into the classroom, these weakness have serious implications for music teaching and learning. Primarily elitism and irrelevance. This does not include the pedagogy used to reproduce art music culture.