An explicit concept since the late 1950s, aesthetic education first developed to provide a strong philosophical foundation for music education and continues to evolve as a solid theoretical orientation for current effective practices. Bennett Reimer has contributed much to the discussion and development of the value of aesthetic education for the teaching and learning of music. Others in music education also support and promote these ideals and focus on developing an improved understanding for music educators.
Some scholars oppose the principles of an aesthetic education, recently demonstrated by David Elliott who favors a praxial philosophy of music education centered on musical performance. The work of Reimer shows an influence of these thinkers and illustrates the essential benefits of a professional emphasis on aesthetics, the branch of philosophy especially devoted to studying the value of the arts. With guidance from aesthetics, music educators better understand the value of music and its fundamental role within the school curriculum.
With its introduction, aesthetic education provided an understanding of authentic fundamental characteristics of music not previously discussed and encouraged an articulation of those ideas into relevant objectives for teaching and learning. The appearance of Basic Concepts in Music Education (ed. Nelson B. Henry, 1958) and the college text Foundations and Principles of Music Education (Charles Leonard and Robert W. House, 1959) promoted the acceptance of an aesthetic-based philosophy as a guiding theoretical foundation.
These significant resources encouraged individuals to put their previous intuitions into effective practice using a shared, progressive concept of musical experience and learning. Many music educators embraced aesthetic education (and continue to do so) because it reinforced the validity of music study in the school curriculum for reasons intrinsic to the art itself. Reimer emphasizes that we (as music educators) need not establish discipleship to one particular person or point of view of aesthetic education.
The ideal of “Music Education as Aesthetic Education” (MEAE) does not exist as a particular collection of fixed certainties; it supports the attitude that philosophical truths develop and transform as we advance and verify new ideas. Many sources (books, journals, articles, etc. ) provide the insight of professional scholars on the fundamental values of music supporting the aesthetic approach. The music educator who commits to MEAE must seek this knowledge to understand the art of music beyond his or her own instincts.
Only with that awareness can the teacher adequately portray a genuine representation of the artistic values of music to students. Reimer describes aesthetic education as “the development of a sensitivity to the aesthetic qualities of things. ” He consciously avoids using the term “definition” yet provides a much-appreciated explanation that achieves that function.
Reimer further illustrates that MEAE should encourage our ability to perceive and respond to conditions of musical relationships (e. g. tension-release, expectation-deviation) in perceptible objects and events. Musical works may possess various qualities (such as functional ones), but the primary significance of music should lie in its aesthetic value. If we abandon this unique characterization of music and emphasize its societal role, we risk degrading ourselves as well as our work. As teachers, we mediate the interactions between our students and aesthetic objects and should seek to improve these relationships with different experiences.
Yet, we must first ensure that students have the ability to perceive expressive conditions as well as the ability to respond to them. Reimer distinguishes that effective MEAE cultivates a person’s “ability to yield meanings from (a work of art’s) structures of interrelated sounds and to transform words, images, ideas, emotions, and any other socially shared human values by incorporating them as meaningful aspects of musical structure?.
” Abraham Schwadron also promotes this perception of feeling in music, pioneered by Susanne Langer. He asserts that formal education should address structural approaches to describing responses to music and not the emotive states that may result. That is, teachers should use elements of music to explain qualities of feeling (suspense, deception, resolution, etc. ) and not teach music as the translation of sound into emotion by the composer or the performer (i. e. , how does this music make you feel? ).
MEAE should consider extra-musical descriptions, however, when those factors influence the understanding of a particular piece of music or musical process. Once we have created the potential for our students to recognize aesthetic qualities, we must encourage their ability to perceive and respond to those experiences. Teachers must present a variety of musical items and events to develop this aural aptitude.
They must also guide the relationship between the student and the aesthetic object as each learner produces, conceptualizes, analyzes and evaluates music. In 1972, this philosophy led Reimer to emphasize the necessity of a unified curriculum in the arts and advocate curriculum development in music education. We observe this influence, years later, in the music section of the National Standards for Arts Education, published in 1994. These (relatively) recent standards, which Reimer helped developed, promote an expansion of the music curriculum and encourage a comprehensive approach to music instruction, which incorporates many characteristics of MEAE.
Even with this concept of an inclusive aesthetic education, performance remains the primary curricular activity with which we attempt to realize our goals, especially at the secondary level. This myopic approach neglects other ways that people experience music (e. g. , listening, composing) and often emphasizes skill development over musical understanding. Bennett Reimer declares that, “Our past and present mentality about music, so dominated by the performance model, is now beginning to be out of phase with the realities of our art.
” He offers that we can learn much from the “Discipline-Based Art Education” movement that recognizes that multi-dimensional curriculum guidelines (which include aspects of history, criticism, and analysis) enhance aesthetic experiencing. Embracing the ideals of MEAE means accepting that all students, not just a small percentage of gifted ones, should have access to the aesthetic qualities of music. By cultivating enjoyment in the majority of students (about 85 percent, Reimer implies) who choose not to perform, we also augment our authentic presence in the school environment.
To achieve our aesthetic intentions, a transformation must occur that creates three aspects of a comprehensive music curriculum: the required general music program, the elective performance program and the elective composition program. These components would more accurately represent the three key functions involved in Western music: listening, performing and composing. A complete program of music, aligned with the fundamentals of MEAE, would use performance and composition to enrich the universal musical activity of listening emphasized by the comprehensive general music program.