Tuesday, September 13, 2005
teaching composition is a waste of time
I suspected that my comments on music composition teachers would not go over well with those who are, in fact, composition teachers
No disrespect was intended for anyone who is a composition teacher. However, I (and I suspect at least a few others) would dispute the notion that the vast majority, if not all, composition teachers will view their student's work from their own perspectives and biases. That is normal, and part of being human. But it is exactly that bias that makes the notion of 'teaching composition' a wasteful exercise in my opinion. If one is teaching technique, a la music theory, ok, but is that really teaching composition? The tools perhaps, but not composition. My teachers almost never taught me the tools, since that was what my theory and solfege classes were for. Rather, they looked at my music and offered opinions on what were essentially matters of personal taste.
We're not dealing with factual matters here, but a highly subjective form of art. That seems to get forgotten. A teacher of anatomy or mathematics can certainly offer instruction based on a set of facts: F = ma, E= = mc^2, the names of the brachial nerves, etc. These are all facts. In composition, what can one teach? Write with/without key signatures? Write this in third species counterpoint? Write something more/less melodic? Develop this there a bit more? All of this is subjective, not factual.
Stravinsky (or Schoenberg; whomever it really was) had it 100% correct when he urged Gershwin not to study with him: "Why end up as a third-rate me when you are a first-rate Gershwin?"
I've just seen too many people who end up emulating their teachers. This is partly why, I suspect, there is perceieved discouragement of new or individual styles in music conservatories. One factor is an academic bias against something new and different. But another is the fact that most composers who teach in academic environments will naturally view things from their own perspectives, and that would tend to promote their own styles with their students.
I suspect it would be a rare teacher who would do otherwise. I also don't think this constitutes being absolutist. I dislike absolute statements and am a relatavist my nature, but I think if there is a general perception and a large number of observations to back it up, one could at least get away with making a claim that in the majority of instances something will indeed be a certain way.