On Music Education

Although I am a composer by profession, I have always been fascinated by psychology. There are so many similarities between writing music and practicing psychology that for me they are one and the same; both involve the pursuit of communicating with mind and soul. Both disciplines have their left and right-brain approaches, however, and while studying music in school, I began disconnecting from my musical emotions. The deeper I intellectualized composition, the less sensitized I became to the music experience itself. Then, after about ten years of “detox” from music academia, I slowly regained my musical awareness and started to feel it again.

When I began studying psychology fifteen years ago, I found myself falling into the same trap. The “Healthier than Thou” stage was eerily familiar to the “Anything but music written by the masters was sub-human” stage. Ultimately, I had two choices in both cases: Either lose myself in grandiosity or reconstruct my vantage point by focusing on the human spirit and not his brain. Although I am energized by classical training of all types, I find that for the most part hardcore study of the human condition tends to disembody us from the soul with whom we are trying to communicate. Perhaps this is where the stereotype of the cold psychiatrist and the ruler-slapping musicologist comes into play.

The real world of music is different from what we are told. The REAL experts are the listeners. No matter how much expertise we gain, it always comes down to the man-on-the-street’s final judgment; he is the one experiencing our handiwork and therefore the expert. If we “professionals” delude ourselves into believing we’re the experts, then we inevitably lose touch with reality. If I had a magic wand and if there was anything I could change about general music education, it would be to instill the ideal that “snobbery” has no place in music. Who’s to say that rap music isn’t as valid as the classics? The first performance of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” resulted in a Paris riot! The lesson here is that Music is and always has been a time, place and culturally specific communication, and equal appreciation of the technical WITH the cultural is the all-important end goal. Is music really the universal language? Only if one is ready to engage in the whole human experience.