More about Tunis, following my earlier post on what I presented at the conference there.
This is about the group that presented the conference, the International Music Council. And about international issues in music.
The IMC was founded long ago, in 1949, by UNESCO. It considers international music issues, and advocates positions on them.
So what are the issues?
I won’t claim to be an expert, but I noticed two. One is music advocacy, which we’re certainly familiar with here in the US. And, in particular, advocacy for music education.
Here we run into the same problems, I think, that I’ve talked about in arts advocacy, which can include a sense of entitlement, and grandly specious claims made for the power of art. Especially its moral power.
So in Tunis we had (on a panel on music education), a hopeful presentation on the power of music, which the presenter (from an Asian country) felt could be a tremendous force for good. At one point he stopped to note that music education had to encourage not just love and knowledge of music, but also critical thinking, so that students could resist any use of music as propaganda.
Which, if you ask me, undercut his claims for music’s moral force. If music can also be used immorally, then why should we be so certain of its moral power? The speaker then went on to celebrate an event in which massed schoolchildren sang a song in the presence of his country’s leader — but probably without much critical thinking about the politics involved.
Two speakers presented terrific correctives to this. One was David Price, a consultant from Britain, who talked about music education programs he’d taken part in, which essentially were guided by the students. That is, you find out what music the students like, what use they’re making of music, and you try to build programs around that. Rather than, for instance, teaching them about the music you think they should care about. (Classical music advocates, are you listening?) These programs, Price said, were a great success, and I can well believe it.
The other corrective came from Wayne Bowman, professor of music education at the school of music at Brandon University in Manitoba. “All too often,” he said, “advocacy claims sound like last gasp efforts to defend instructional practices that have simply failed to keep pace with social and musical change.”
He challenged all kinds of conventional wisdom — music, he says, can’t honestly be said to make you smarter, to enhance critical thinking, to develop confidence, or to enhance communication. (In fact, anyone who sees how music works in the real world will notice that it often blocks communication, when people like widely diverse musical genres, and see someone else’s preference as a sign that the person isn’t worth talking to.)
I loved his paper, and Wayne very kindly agreed to let me put it online, which I’ve done. You can read it here. I highly recommend it.
Wayne, by the way, makes a pointed distinction between music training and music education. What’s the difference? A musician who can play the classical piano repertoire note perfectly, backwards and forwards, but who hasn’t heard even a single Charlie Parker recording is trained, but not educated. (My example, not his, though I think I can say he agrees with it.)
More tomorrow, about international music politics — more proof, by the way, that music doesn’t necessarily bring people together.