A study in high school music appreciation should hold the attention of, as well as educate, every student attending such a class. This objective should be maintained whether a student can sing or play an instrument.
For the intent of a high school music appreciation class is not to make professional musicians out of teenagers, but rather for the enjoyment of all kinds of music and to create live music concert patrons. It is just as important to know the music of a particular culture as it is to understand and study its history, literature and art.
Listening to Music Develops the Mind
Music requires just as much mental development as any math or science course in the curriculum. Listening to music is as easy as downloading a tune on an iPod or watching a Youtube video. Why not include interpretations of the some of the greatest composers who ever lived by some of the greatest artists who ever lived to a student’s playlist?
Why not use classical music, played by young musicians where possible, to expand a student’s mental boundaries? Music appreciation courses, such as Roger Kamien’s Music: An Appreciation (McGraw-Hill 2008) attempt to do exactly this.
Music Appreciation Teaches “Music, ” Not Notes
Many high schools have marching bands, choirs and string programs. Learning how to play an instrument with some competence is a worthy task. Unfortunately, many times these classes and activities do not include a study of the theory, classification, analysis or historical relevance of some of the most profound music ever written.
Most high school students would stare blankly if someone asked them what key the piece they were practicing for the next game is in, or whether it was sonata or symphonic form. Learning the elements of a famous classical piece of music is what gives a student an appreciation for the music, the composer, his contemporaries and the historical context in which the piece was written. Most high school students have never heard good music, regardless of the genre or style.
Four Years in Scope
Perhaps the course should be required, or at least offered, for four years, just as a foreign language is offered. The point of the course would be to train students to develop the capacity to listen to music critically. This would involve teaching the students what to listen for. Listening to great music sharpens the mind by training an organ that is not emphasized very often- the ear.
Interesting and Relevant Courses
Care would be needed to make sure the music appreciation course did not become dull, as so many poetry and art classes become. Instead, a thoughtful music appreciation class would correlate with the history curriculum, in context with world civilization as expressed as an art form.
The classes might be written similarly to college level History of Western Music courses and follow a music anthology. Attending live concerts would be required as well as in-class listening assignments. As students become involved with each piece, class discussions are enhanced. As the students’ musical vocabulary and listening repertoire grows, so is the likelihood that the student will become an informed and appreciative patron of excellent live performances.