The Study of Music at a Liberal Arts College

Given the wide variety of institutional settings in which music is taught in the United States—from conservatories and large conservatory-styled music departments to small liberal arts colleges like Carleton—there are, not surprisingly, a wide variety of teaching styles and expectations regarding the teaching of music exemplified in American higher education. Neither Carleton College, nor its Music Department, endorses any one specific teaching style or method. Indeed, perhaps more than most types of institutions, liberal arts colleges such as Carleton encourage a variety of teaching styles and, in particular, encourage efforts on the part of faculty to focus attention on teaching, experiment with new ideas about teaching, and grow and improve as teachers.

Nonetheless, several general characteristics of teaching at liberal arts colleges can be discerned. First, perhaps, is that teaching tends to be more student-centered than faculty- or discipline-centered. Liberal arts colleges, and most particularly residential liberal arts colleges such as Carleton, seek to take the whole of a student into consideration in the educational process (to be sure, applied music study is rich with such opportunities). Second, teaching tends to be collegial rather than adversarial. This is true both for faculty-student relationships and also for faculty-faculty relationships. Community standards, at least in part because of the typically small size of such institutions, focus attention on mutual respect and quality of character. Indeed, the liberal arts college in the United States has been since its inception devoted--and, historically, devoted above all else--to building the qualities of fine character and good citizenship in its students. Integral in this process remains a faculty which can model for students these qualities.

Music, like any other discipline, provides a rich array of material for study in depth; in addition, music's status as a performed art makes necessary the consideration of the interplay of the tradi­tional modes of humanistic scholarship (history, theory, and criticism) and creative performance. Moreover, the creation of musical compositions themselves is not only within reach of the music major but an integral aspect of the curriculum.

The music major addresses the goals of liberal arts education through courses which not only teach music, but do so in a way which calls upon students to develop their skills of critical analysis through the careful examination of music's primary source materials -- music itself and writing about music -- through their own writing about music and through writing their own music. Musical performance can also address the goals of liberal arts education, once proficiency reaches that level of mastery where performers can think analytically and critically about how to interpret compositions; indeed, the complex web of historical, theoretical, emo­tional, and technical consid­erations which attend informed interpretation can profoundly challenge a student's power of critical analysis. The music major, then, despite the non-verbal essence of music itself, is really much like other majors because it focuses on such standard aspects of liberal arts education as logical think­ing, critical analysis, literacy, historical con­sciousness, and values. As a measure of this commonality, students who major in music are awarded, like other students in the College, the B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) degree, rather than a B.M. (Bachelor of Music) degree, although majors may elect additional courses and perfor­mance study beyond the core requirements of the B.A. music major.

Undergraduate music major programs are of two types and award different degrees. The B.A. (or A.B.) degree signifies a broad, general background in music, focused primarily on academic music (composition, theory, history), while the B.M. degree signifies more specifically technical, pre-professional training. The B.A. is traditionally associated with Departments of Music, while the B.M. is traditionally associated with Conservatories of Music. While at one time there was a Carleton Conservatory of Music, at present the study of music at Carleton is organized as a Department, not as a Conservatory.

What, then, are the "higher achievements" for which the Carleton music major prepares a student? Like any other major, it provides the basic skills which professional schools look for in their appli­cants. Again, from the Carleton Catalog (section on professional preparation, in this case, for law school):

"Most important for law school admission is the development of skills of expression, understanding, and verbal and quantitative analysis. What major the student chooses in order to acquire and improve these skills is unimportant."

In fact, many Carleton music majors have gone on to law schools and other professional programs outside music.

The music major also specifically prepares the student to pursue further work in music at the graduate level, in history, theory, or composition, depending on the particular interest of the student and the amount of specialized work undertaken in those areas while at Carleton. Music majors with interests in musical performance, and significant background prior to Carleton, can also continue intensive study in their performance medium as an emphasis within the broader major and/or as preparation for graduate study. Students interested in a career in teaching music at the elementary and high school levels can use the music major to prepare for graduate work leading to the Master of Arts in Teaching (see the Catalog). Finally, in the broadest terms, the Carleton music major, like any major, contributes to the student's capacity to lead a "rewarding, creative, and useful" life.

The study and practice of music, both inside and outside academia, reflect a wide vari­ety of inter­ests and talents. The most basic categories, namely performance and academic areas, and more specifically the subdivisions of academic study into theory and history (with further specializations in composition, ethnomusicology, etc.), can be seen in the structure of the professional organiza­tions which serve the musical community; they also provide the rationale for the basic requirements of the music major.