Music Education

Monks, Monophony, Musical Notation, & Machaut

Soon I’ll mark the end of my tenure in studying western art music to expand globally and dig my hands into the sounds I’ve been craving for years. Over the next week, I want to spend time recapping periods, developments, styles, and listing favorites.

First up on the chopping block are the Middle Ages (450-1450). I have this image in my head of this whole period being in sepia tone, and every impression has either an axe or a lute in it. I’m sure a therapist somewhere could dissect that.

This is going to be kind of a speed-date between myself and the music from the Middle Ages. Ready? Set? Go!

Score Study: Mozart’s Serenade in c minor, K. 388 (for wind octet), 1782

******NOTE: This post gets quite a bit of traffic.  If you intend to use/paraphrase any of the material, please inform me.  I strongly feel like there aren’t enough score study examples on the net, so I will continue to post my work – but NOT if I find they are being plagiarized.   I can and do check.


My current project is Mozart’s Serenade in c minor. I’m conducting it next Thursday night and have been rehearsing it with a fabulous ensemble on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

Here’s a random video I found on youtube of the first movement:

Although the players in this video are lovely, I don’t agree with their tempo in this first movement. It should be played just a bit faster, otherwise the piece tends to drag.

What made Mozart compose wind music? The often-told purpose is to produce music for entertainment, and often at outdoor performances. Wind instrument frequencies can carry respectable distances, and their timbre provided a stark contrast to that of their string counterparts. In addition, they have many qualities that give them speech-like character. In other words, they can display human sentiment (regardless of whether the piece was programmatic or absolute). The octet formation and the music that was written for it became known as Harmoniemusik.

My research on the piece is based on G. Henle Verlag’s Urtext score.


bogus standards of competence, musical inhibition, dog howling, and Wagner

I’ve had young students whose parents are excited about enrolling them in lessons because they feel as if they can live vicarious musical lives through their children.

That is, they believe that they harbor absolutely no musical talent, but have always wanted to try. I’ve tried my best to convince them that it’s never too late to try, and that it would help motivate their kids to practice if they struggled alongside them. In fact, I’m proud to say that this week alone I’ve had two parents call asking for phone numbers to private teachers because they have decided to start playing, or continue where they left off years ago.

I strongly trust that inherent musical ability is a trait of humanity. So often, the concept of musical ability includes a bogus standard of required competence. I grew up in central Massachusetts where it’s okay to be a young kid starting off on a trombone – cracking notes, making the dog howl, annoying the neighbors, and interrupting mom’s show on TV. Yet after a certain age, you’re either very good or you’re not. You choose to continue by playing in ensembles, pursuing it in college, or you give it up entirely. There seems to be no middle ground – playing for the sake of playing… for the sake of having fun. There are exceptions for those who play in community ensembles – and it’s for that reason that I believe they’re so important to prize – and fund (but that’s another post).

In general, the American population is creatively inhibited by their own standard of musical competence. As we are a conflict-ready society, I can only imagine what would happen if instead of communicating with words, Americans were able to sit in musical ensembles and juggle their emotions with the help of little black notes and the expressive qualities given to them by composers.

The manic folks would love Baroque terraced dynamics, the white collar folks who have trouble emoting would delve all over the emergent Classics & Romantics, those folks who dig reality TV would slice into transcriptions and arrangements of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and all the true professional geeks would become giddy over the 2nd Viennese School and their mathematical composition techniques. I feel like it would be the equivalent of a ‘cookies & milk break’ every day for Wall Street execs – a good and necessary idea for a thousand and one reasons (plus it would drive up the Oreo stock).

Perhaps that’s one reason why New Orleans (and its music) is so different. There are no required standards of competence. Ever (at least on the level of community music). If you want to pick up a fiddle for the first time and screech that bow across a string or two in the middle of the street, do it. Instead of telling you not to quit your day job, people here would rather dance to it – then they’d either join you or give you a shortlist of musicians to jam with and learn from.

Read more about innate musical ability in the text of British ethnomusicologist John Blacking: How Musical is Man?… published in 1973.

Field Advocacy Swap: Lobbying for Music Education & Ethnomusicology

For many years I’ve learned to advocate for the field of music education. The concept of advocacy seemed so important even, that it became a main proponent of my first degree program. Early on through my mentors and professors, I learned which educational buzz words to use in conversation with educational stakeholders so that if the dreaded topics come up: Why is music education important in today’s society? Why should music be part of the core curriculum and not extra-curricular? Why does every child need a music education? … then I’d be armed with the right answers, which would change depending on the political, economic, and social climate of my surroundings. In essence, I became a lobbyist for music education. I think it’s a great thing.

Badal Roy teaches my students the language of the tabla

Recently we were able to get Badal Roy as an SMS special guest. It’s the fourth time I’ve met him, but I’m glad I captured several parts of his presentation on video. He broke things down so simply for the kids – what an amazing master musician!