What is Music? Ways of Viewing the World

This week focused on reading about the two overarching philosophies for music education: aesthetic and praxial. We had a few introductory articles and then read the main chapters from the seminal works on the two philosophies. McCarthy and Goble’s article, Music Education Philosophy: Changing Times from the Music Educators Journal (2002, Volume 89, Issue 1), provided a great overview, definition, and history of the two philosophies. The two seminal works were Experiencing Art (Chapter 6 of Bennet Reimer’s A Philosophy of Music Education) and Toward a New Philosophy (Chapter 2 of David Elliott’s Music Matters: A New Philosophy of Music Education). Reimer’s philosophy of music education represents the aesthetic and Elliott’s philosophy represents the praxial. We were also asked to read Coate’s article, Alternatives to the Aesthetic Rationale for Music Education, also from the Music Educators Journal (1983, Volume 69, Issue 7).


McCarthy and Goble provide the two following definitions from their work referenced above:

“Aesthetic philosophies of music education focus on preparing students to perceive and respond appropriately to musical works as forms of art (especially great works or “masterpieces”) in order to “educate their feelings” and to evoke in them “aesthetic experience” (i.e., a unique, highly pleasurable state of mind).” (p. 21)

Praxial philosophies of music education focus on involving students in the musical practices of different cultural groups and helping them to understand the intentions of those who undertake them, as well as the social, historical, and cultural conditions in which they originate, exist, and have meaning.” (p. 21)

Reimer goes on to define the aesthetic experience as the product of aesthetic perception and aesthetic reaction. He believes we can teach ourselves to subconsciously perceive aesthetic qualities (intrinsic beauty) by “recognizing, recalling, relating, identifying, differentiating, matching, subsuming, comparing, discriminating, synthesizing…” (1989, p. 108). Our reaction (emotion) to this perception creates the experience. Reimer then advocates for teachers to use musical works that are capable of being perceived and experienced aesthetically (think masterworks). He wants this aesthetic experience to be the center of all that we do, and “other learning play a supporting role” (p. 116). He says:

The responsibility of music education, at every level and in every part of the program, is to reveal more fully the musical conditions which should be perceived and felt. The qualities of sound which make sound expressive- melody, harmony, rhythm, tone color, texture, form-are the objective "data" with which music teachers systematically deal. Illuminating these "data" in musical settings is the task of musical teaching. (p. 117)

David Elliott, a student of Bennet Reimer’s, defines music in three ways:

MUSIC is a diverse human practice consisting in many different musical practices or· Musics. Each and every musical practice (or Music) involves the two corresponding and mutually reinforcing activities of music making and music listening… The word music (lowercase) refers to the audible sound events, works, or Iistenables that eventuate from the efforts of musical practitioners in the contexts of particular practices. (1995, pp. 44-45; emphasis mine)

He describes and diagrams a construct for understanding the interaction of these three definitions within several different contexts. For copyright reasons, I do not think I can post his diagrams here, but Elliott and Silverman’s article, On the “Truthiness” of Remixing the Classroom: A Reply to Randall Allsup from the journal Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education (2017, Volume 16, Issue 1), provides a simplified view:



Elliott refers to music as a four-dimensional concept, or “a tetrad of complementary dimensions involving (1) a doer, (2) some kind of doing, (3) something done, and (4) the complete context in which doers do what they do” (1995, p. 40). He looks at these both from the perspective of music making, and music listening, thus arriving at the following vocabulary:

Dimensions Music Making Music Listening
Doer Musicer Listener
Doing Music Music (or Listenable)
Being Done Musicing
performing, improvising, composing, arranging, and conducting
Context "the total of ideas, associations, and circumstances that surround, shape, frame, and influence something and our understanding of that something" (p. 40)

Elliott also says we can look at each of these dimensions from four different perspectives:

  1. Head-On: outcome of the action

  2. In Front Of: motivations

  3. In Back Of: goals

  4. Around: contexts (pp. 40-41)

Going further, “They (the four dimensions of music) form a dynamic system of exchange and feedback: doers are influenced by the musical consequences of what they do and make, as well as by what their mentors and peers think about what they do” (p. 41). He concludes with this:

We must consider all these dimensions and their interrelationships as they contribute to our understanding of the nature and significance of MUSIC as a diverse human practice. Taken together, these various dimensions and directions of thought provide a blueprint for constructing a philosophy of MUSIC on which to base a philosophy of MUSIC education. This is the task of the next seven chapters. (p. 45)

Whew! Now you can understand why I tweeted about having my mind blown by this. Now, if only his full book wasn’t $110 on Amazon…

Discussion Board

The prompt for this week was as follows:

What is your take on so-called aesthetic and praxial education? Do such ideas still hold value today? Does the profession need "foundational" beliefs ('united we stand, divided we fall'), or is such thinking passé?

Due to my parents being here Wednesday and Thursday and my sister being here from Friday-Tuesday, I crammed as much reading and writing as I could in to the front half of last week. I responded to the post on Wednesday morning, but some of my thinking and digesting of the material has changed since then. Here is my first post:

Understanding that my education is a reconstruction of my experiences (Shute et al., 1933), my undergraduate music education classes focused on developing what I now know as an aesthetic philosophy of music education. We were required to read pieces of Reimer’s A philosophy of music education, and craft our own philosophy statement in a similar aesthetic vein. As I began teaching, I found myself shifting to a more paraxial philosophy of music education. This was likely both a reaction to our aesthetic education as well as a response to the needs of my programs.

Reading Reimer again, I found myself better understanding his construct of aesthetic experience equaling the product of aesthetic perception and aesthetic reaction (1989, pp. 107-108). However, I still disagree with the logic used to defend all three constructs. Having not previously read any Elliot, I really resonated with his dissection of both the history of aesthetics (1995, pp. 23-28) and the logic behind the aesthetic constructs for music education (pp. 30-38). My mind was blown by his four-dimensional constructs of musicers and listeners as well as his three constructs of MUSIC, Music, and music. (pp. 39-45).

I find myself aligning more with the praxial philosophy of music education as defined by McCarthy and Goble (2002, p. 21). We need to involve students in the contexts of music, not just the works themselves. I do believe the profession needs these “foundational” beliefs, as long as they continue to be a conversation of how to think about music and music education, rather than unchanging dogma.

A classmate responded with the questions: “Do you believe that ‘foundational’ beliefs involve the fundamentals of music as well as music history? Should all students be educated in both these aspects, instead of just a music appreciation (music listening) style class?“ She shared that her music appreciation class, a class many take to fulfill their fine arts requirement, leans more towards an aesthetic philosophy, whereas her musical theatre and choral classes lean more towards a praxial philosophy. Here is some of my response:

I struggle with that too. In my paper, I've been writing about my Music Fundamentals class. On paper, it functions as a non-AP Music Theory course, but I get a few "non-traditional" music students each year. Usually they are self-taught musicians on a non-band/orchestra instrument or a music enthusiast with no performance experience. Due to the requirements of the course, they need to learn the fundamentals of music in terms of notation, melody, and harmony. But, are any of these self-taught musicians any less of a musicer in the eyes of Elliott when they do not have an understanding of notation? My opinion is moving more towards exposing students to as many of the dimensions of Elliot's construct as possible. Some may be able to have a much deeper appreciation and understanding because of their foundations.

Another classmate shared some of his reading from other chapters of Elliott’s Music Matters. He also reacted to my comment about unchanging dogma with an example of a band director functioning as an “executive,” making all interpretive and expressive choices with little student/performer input. Again, here is some of my response:

As an ensemble director, I wrestle with wanting students to make musical decisions, but also having the deadline of a performance and needing to at least lead them down the path to a musical decision. I too want to purchase Music Matters after reading that sole chapter! As I think about his definition of musicer being someone who does music by performing, improvising, composing, arranging, or conducting, I don't see music literacy being a necessary component off all of those, but I do see it deepening the level of musicianship involved.

I like your example of unchanging dogma. When I was writing the original post, I was thinking in broader terms of, "This is the way we teach ____." Another example would be from our discussion during the Live Classroom about broadening to "modern music" offerings being met with challenges because it is outside of the norm.

That same second classmate in his discussion post shared a similar experience to mine with aesthetic and praxial philosophies: being exposed early to Reimer and the aesthetic philosophy, being turned off by the “disinterested” aspect of the aesthetic experience, but being much more appreciative of Reimer’s views in rereading the text. My classmate also found himself identifying more with the praxial philosophy. Here is how I responded:

I had a similar experience with Reimer in regards from the aesthetic experience being intrinsic. I see how good works of art can invoke an aesthetic experience, but why does that experience have to be "removed from practical, utilitarian concerns" (1989, p. 103)? Wouldn't an understanding of the different dimensions and contexts from Elliot's construct (1995, p. 44) enhance that experience? The aesthetic experience I have hearing the First Suite in E-flat is different when hearing the University of Michigan perform it for H. Robert Reynolds retirement or performing it from the trombone section in my graduate wind ensemble. Both experiences are valuable and meaningful, but are different because of the context and dimension from which I am experiencing the work.

A different classmate, who I ended up citing in my paper about this very topic, discussed her boarding schools use of open mics to provide opportunities to many students. Here is how I responded to her post:

I loved during our Live Classroom hearing about the opportunities your students have through open mics. Our school has a similar opportunity available through our media center, and there is a large community of musicers and listeners that has evolved there outside of our "traditional" offerings of band and choir. That same community is enriched by the music studio we have developed off of the media center for students to independently experiment with music production as well as piano, bass, guitar, and drum set. I find myself more and more moving towards an aim of helping all students experience musical practices (Elliott's Musics, 1995, p. 44) from as many dimensions and contexts as possible. The current paradigms of large ensembles like band, orchestra, and choir allow us to reach some students, but things like open mics and other course offerings like modern music and music technology can help us begin to reach all students.

Live Classroom

In addition to our regular readings and discussion posts, we had our second Live Classroom this week.. Our small groups facilitator, Dr. Ingrid Kovacs, was in Dubai, so our professor, Dr. Kính T. Vũ, presided over our Live Classroom. Originally, the prompt for our Live Classroom was as follows:

The primary purpose of this Live Classroom discussion is for DMA students to discuss the ramifications of aesthetic and praxial music education. Be prepared to argue the merits and pitfalls of each as isolated ideals and then think together about how these ideals are still relevant in music teaching and learning today. You will want to discuss how these are relevant in your own schools or studios.

However, because the Live Classroom took place on Wednesday of last week, Dr. Vu was concerned not all of us would have completed the dense readings necessary for having such a discussion. Instead, he turned our topic to a piece from Week 2’s Discussion Board:

The history readings this week examine three aspects of American music education’s past. What aims might the Damrosch music appreciation broadcasts, MMCP, and the Tanglewood Symposium exemplify? How appropriate are such aims today? Following Bowman, in what ways are deliberations on aims for music education a philosophical exercise? Do these have a role to play among practitioners (i.e., everyday music teachers), or are such questions best left to the “experts” (i.e., academics)?

One of our classmates had just recently returned from The Conversation on Music Education at Boston University, an “unconference” for researchers, practitioners, and students to discuss music education. The theme for this year’s Conversation was Building Home: Creating Connections, Stimulating Reflection, Taking Action. Our classmate shared his experiences at the conference which was originally created as a continuation of the 1967 Tanglewood Symposium, jumpstarting our conversation. While the discussion flowed through several different topics, Dr. Vu continued to probe us on the “why” of each of the events: Damrosch, MMCP, Tanglewood, The Conversation, El Sistema, etc.

Paper #1

As if dense readings, discussion board posts, a Live Classroom, and family visiting weren’t enough, we also had to write an 1100 word paper! It took some time for me to get back into the swing of APA Formatting (two spaces after punctuation?), so I was glad to have my sister here to help with that! The prompt was:

You’ve now read generally about WHAT are history and philosophy, the AIMS of music education, STORY-ING music in education, various CURRICULAR movements, and this week, AESTHETIC and PRAXIAL approaches/outcomes of music in the lives of people (namely children and youth).

In this, the first of three papers, write about your own aims and curricula. Then address the following questions:

  1. Name one specific thing that you teach (e.g., sight singing, cello, band), and briefly describe how you usually teach this topic.

  2. What critiques could you raise or should you raise about this particular practice?

  3. Finally, leave readers (your facilitators) with a sense of next steps: How will you consider and/or re-consider the way you enact the practice you've chosen to critique given the readings and live classroom discussions?

Remember that the point of enrolling in graduate school goes far beyond pay raises; it is about self-initiated professional development. This paper, of course, is an opportunity for you to demonstrate where historical and philosophical ideas and practice might powerfully intersect in what some would call the perfect storm or more academically as NEXUS.

I wrote about my teaching of Music Fundamentals, Centennial’s non-AP Music Theory course. I’ll share more about the paper in a separate post after I have received my feedback from Dr. Kovacs.


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.