As I see it -- a subjective report from a recent seminar.
Harald Bjerg Emborg
AS I SEE IT -
- a subjective report
from a recent seminar.
The teacher of music, whereever he is found, has more or less a classical schooling as working background. In the current of the day his situation is growing still more difficult. He seems to be surrounded by great clashes of interests, and in his endeavours to unite them he often feels that his aquired background is in the way. For instance: On the one hand the musical idiom of the children and the young, unbearably stereotyped and singularly expressive. On the other hand contemporary music from his friends, the composers, infinitely differentiated and completely incomprehensible.
In this situation the Nordic Music Pedagogues' Union (NMPU) - not the Union of Nordic Composers (UNK - or whatever such an organization might be called) - has taken the initiative to a five-day seminar in connection with the NMPU congress, 2-8 August, in Århus. Composers and pedagogues from the 5 Scandinavian countries discussed the subject "Contemporary Music and Contemporary Music Pedagogics", and it was the job of the participants to "aim at and work towards finding a renewal of pedagogic music".
The above and what follows does not pretend to be a report proper. It was written by request and is only a subjective expression for the view of one of the participants, a pedagogue, immediately after the numerous impressions received in the seminar. Bent Lorentzen, its excellent leader, will work out a report proper, commenting upon the participants and the works examined, and it will be a natural thing for DMT to publish this report; at any rate names and titles of works will only be mentioned to the absolutely necessary extent in this paper. It is necessary to point out that the piano was placed in the centre because of the fact that the NMPU includes many piano teachers. The seminar yielded to this demand although not everybody found it expedient. The main purpose of this article is to point out connections as well as oppositions within the subject matter mapped out here. In full agreement with the title of this article the model p. 114 illustrates the connections dealt with, whereas the contrasts are elaborated by adopting the radical composer's view of the pedagogues - and vice versa.
1. Composition exercises - Improvisation - creative musical work (see model).
To a quite plain and unreflecting consideration the music of yesterday (the 60's, or the 50's and the 60's if you like) is difficult, difficult to make, difficult to understand. The music of today is not easier, and we know nothing about the music of tomorrow. - Are we surrounded by a wall? Is there no hope, no hole? -Yes, because there is that peculiar thing about music that it arouses, let us call it, curiosity. That it forces us to touch it. Handle it a little in order to examine how it hangs together. And then the possibilities show up. There is one obvious which is called improvisation. It is as if the predetermined music of the 50's has been superseded by a kind of music in which the performer, and what he may invent, is taken account of. In other words: the creative possibilities of the executant, the pupil, under the influence of the composer's music interests the composer.
If we consider the relation between composition exercises, improvisation and creative musical activities thoroughly, a trinity which is quite close is revealed. Where is the boundary between composition exercises and improvisation? When Inger Alsted, a piano teacher in Odense, has her pupils of 11, 12, 18, and 28 years of age create dodecaphonic works on their own accord after having played Finn Mortensen's dodecaphonic pieces for children? When Inge Bergau, a Stockholm pedagogue, has her 11-16-year old pupils create free compositions without a model before them? Was that improvisation whiîe the process was going on? Was it composition when it was written down? Is it improvisation or composition when Bent Lorentzen's students make tape work, small sequences of sound on tape? Is it merely composition if the sequences have been written down first? Are the composers offended if such efforts of the students are called compositions? When Arne Mellnäs, a Swedish composer, makes a musical workshop with the children in 28 Scanian schools, using for a basis his composition "Pang", then it is improvisation conducted by six persons, each leading his own group. But how bound is it, how free?
The improvisation is free, when P.-G. Alldahl, the Swedish pedagogue and composer, has his students improvise on the basis of one single tone, an "A" -only this one tone + small fluctuations may be used. It would perhaps be more appropriate to say that it is a question af interpreting this tone, but this leads to the problem of the boundary between interpretation and imitation.
Why is it called creative musical work when Inge Bergau gets a magnificent idea which she calls "Mai du siècle", outlines it to her pupils, and then together with her pupils forms a musical sequence that includes movement as well as sound? Is it because Bergau and not a composer got the idea? Or when somebody else with his training college students, during several terms, maps out the whole gamut of expressions (vocally, the body, the room, instruments, tape, modulator) in order that the latter may not choose the elements at random when creating in sound?
It is correct, and it may provide a certain surview to divide improvisation into 1) improvisations for use (jazz, physical training music, church music, accompaniment), which have nothing to do with contemporary music, 2) pedagogic improvisation (Orff), and 3) therapeutical improvisations (very similar to those here mentioned). But it is of no use in solving the problem of distinguishing improvisations from composition and creative musical activities. - Until somebody can get a knife in edgeways they must be regarded as a coherent continuum which is of immediate interest and which the composers have contributed to make so. It is, for that reason, of little use to plead that improvisation and composition exercises (!) impede the reading of notes, an argument which can hardly be of any relevance.
2. The Composer - the Pedagogue - the Pupil
Composers are multifarious, and we recognize them by their musical footfalls. If the composer listens to that and its accordance with the coming and going of his collègues only, he is lost for the pedagogue in his position which, when it is best, is a mirror of the - often inarticulate - demands among the children and young people he associates with.
It is maintained from Finnish and Norwegian quarters that the composer's attitude is characterized by passivity towards and lack of interest in the teaching of music. This is really a fantastic assumption, for the composer has, indeed, a chance of contributing, through responsiveness to the demands of music teaching, to enable the children of the day to listen to and play his music with pleasure at some future date, although it may sound a little old-fashioned. Luckily, this is not the present state of affairs in Denmark, neither in Sweden. An invitation in the summer of 1970 to 40 Danish composers to the effect of writing choral music to contemporary Danish lyrics has, in the summer 1971, resulted in 100 choral works, and they are certainly not dull.
Taking the composer to be "sender", the pupil, the public as such, is "receiver". What determines the attitude of the pupil, the public? The environment, with all its good and bad influences. The overwhelming part of the music that determines the environment by virtue of its masses has persisted in its stereotype, but gained in expressiveness. The models are still as imbecile as ever, but their musical clothing is frequently special and effective. The credit for this must be placed with the young themselves; to a great extent their own representatives have determined the development.
Here we have a set of musical means of expression ready for use. Taken singly they are just as weighty as any other means of expression. It is clear that they are not applicable if the composer wants to write a string quartet, but if, instead of using a certain classical frame, he wants to send music that stands a good chance of being received, these means of expression come to the front. If they are employed the composer can go far, become very unfamiliar in his technique, and yet he will be heard.
The position of the pedagogue is, ideally, between composer and pupil. If he reflects his pupils' demands to one side, and if, in spite of his classical schooling, can decipher the signals from the composer, his position as connecting link, mediator, is indisputable and natural. And he ought to be there. For his task is double: to convey the composer's music to the pupil in a fruitful order, and to make his contribution to the composer's reception of impulses from the pupil, accompanied by clear information of what can be done technically.
Nothing general can and will be said about whether the pedagogue takes his ideal place in this constellation, whether he hides himself, in splendid isolation, in his traditional pedagogic world picture, taking comfort in the thought that the composer does the same thing in his nonfigurative ivory tower, that the world is out of joint, and that the young people's taste is vulgar. Or whether, without criticism, he tries to adapt himself and his teaching to the tone of the day, wandering from one folk song arrangement to another without revealing that there are other accessible worlds.
It causes surprise to hear from Norwegian quarter that the parents' attitude is a hindrance for involving contemporary music in the tuition, and the thought crops up that it may be something about the manner.
This is one aspect: the manner of doing things, and it will be touched upon again in section 3. Another aspect is the music in and by itself. - Did this composer-pedagogue seminar take place in a phase where the contact composer - (pedagogue) - pupil is particularly intimate, or has the wave reached the pedagogue/pupil only after the composer has sailed past?
Suggestions of the latter cannot be rejected as a matter of course. After the preoccupation with currents from Europe in the 50's whether from Paris, Darmstadt or Cologne, the 60's saw here in Scandinavia a new emancipation and spontaneity, in technique as well as in expression, an intense and extrovert interest of e.g. the means that were used by the popular music of the young. This happened at the same time as when those young people, in England and elsewhere, really succeeded in finding a style that made everybody prick their ears, if they were able to listen outside their own walls at all. - Was there a composer/pedagogue seminar just before or in the middle of the 60's? - at the time of writing it is not remembered.
The suggestions that the composer is withdrawing a little now at the beginning of the 70's were not repudiated by the composers of the seminar. - And this is easy to understand: The new impressions must be examined, step by step. A new simplicity of style, a careful hovering about the detail seem to become more and more obvious. That the music becomes an object for examination does not diminish its artistic value. But it grows more abstract, more indirect, more difficult to understand, and perhaps also more difficult to perform. And the technical difficulties are rarely corresponded by direct, spontaneous experience.
3. To Perceive - To Experience, Aesthetic and Technical Difficulties.(see model)
"The difficulties are there to be conquered", said the piano teacher to his pupil, judging him to reach the Chopin ballad before the pupils' concert in 1973, "keep slogging away!"
The relations between the long time, the rehearsal (the development), and the short moment, the performance, is worth a second thought. If the attention is directed narrow-mindedly towards the latter, there is a risk that the former suffers. But if the acquisition process is in focus the construction of the various elements of the musical works is experienced, so that one confirms and motivates the next, even if the latter contains high degrees of difficulties. Then this sequence of experiences accumulates to what the seminar, with some caution, chose to call aesthetic appreciation of the work, and the performance will not become a disturbed moment of sweat and trembling hands, but a conclusion of a sequence of developments. The pupil who chooses to become a musician will probably have to struggle against serious difficulties, but the choice has probably been made on the background of musical experiences that have grown to aesthetic appreciation.
Within the framework of contemporary music the aesthetic difficulties grow rapidly, and the point where appreciation stops arises for everybody, including in a certain sense the composer. The moment you see perceive/appreciate and experience/feel as extreme ends of one continuum, related to the two items dealt with earlier, the aesthetic appreciation becomes of much less importance, whether you cherish one truth, i.e. that everything can be understood and explained, or the other, that nothing can be understood and explained. In all basic music tuition, in the kindergarten, the primary school, voluntary instrumental tuition, the senior school, training collage, in musical work among the people, the essential thing in the daily work must be the experience, which will then help to solve the aesthetic as well as technical difficulties.
The composers in the seminar asked: What does the pedagogue want (expect) from the composer? The pedagogue changed the question to: What ought the pedagogue to want (expect) from the composer? In agreement with the above the answer must be: Two things: 1) That you listen to the expressions the children and the young use, 2) that you listen to what we pedagogues tell you about levels in connection with technical difficulties. We want our pupils to experience your musical idiom with the technical difficulties it may include.
Arne Mellnäs' "For you and me" may serve as an example of a piano movement that gives a spontaneous experience of the aesthetics of the work, especially because it can be played forwards and backwards at the same time. Peder Holm's Concertino no. 2 for piano and strings places the ensemble on a clearly defined level, and leaves the piano to an advanced pupil. The series Modern Piano Music For Teaching Purposes devotes the first number to various degrees and kinds of difficulties, number 2 is Finn Mortensen's dodecaphonic pieces, no. 3 includes movements of Bibalo in Bartók style, and in no. 4 by Thea Musgrave the musical humour is cultivated. In the two following numbers Gudmundsen-Holmgreen hovers stubbornly about the experience of the musical details, and Karl Åge Rasmussen's elaborate titles give visionary experiences which are reflected in the musical sequence. - The needle is turning from technical difficulties towards the experience around them. The musical experience can be considered as one of the quite central key words.
The model, for which the seminar cannot be held responsible, marks out the connections dealt with. Incidentally, it is similar to all models in this respect: it is coarse, it over-simplifies.
But it has the advantage that it provokes reflections when its arrows are followed beyond what the present article has done. The pedagogue has been placed in the centre, but there is no reason why the composer or the pupil should not place himself there and see what happens.
Many composers will see a suitable composition model in the figure, it can also form the foundation of creative musical activities - It is at your disposal!
The question whether it carries a revolution in it for the composer, the pedagogue, or the pupil cannot be answered in general. Perhaps to A, B and C, not to D, E, and F, who find a confirmation in it. The seminar was, within the subject matter outlined in the model, at any rate revolutionary in its endeavours to find a renewal of "pedagogical music".
They deleted the term.
Harald Bjerg Emborg
NB. Composers or pedagogues who may feel offended are asked to reconsider the title of this article.