curriculum

May 21, 2015

(Yes, that is a boring title.)

I’ve been Tweetstorming quite a lot lately, and someone said, “Don’t you have a blog?” This reminded me that, yes, I do have a blog and should probably start using it more. (There was a time when I wrote a blog post every day.)

Some background:

I love this gig. It’s a great gig with great colleagues, great students, and administrators who more often than not get it. But it is not without challenges. First and foremost is geography. We are 90 – 100 miles from anyplace with more than, say, 25,000 people, and three hours from the Twin Cities. In many fields, that wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference, but since music is so specialized (you wouldn’t want me teaching, say, flute), the six full-time faculty cannot hope to cover all the possible areas of instruction. We rely more on adjuncts than I would like, but we do provide mileage for those coming from more than 10 miles away, and we do also put people up in hotels as necessary.

The problem with this is that it is unsustainable. Not financially, necessarily (though it may be that), but just in terms of building a traditional music program. I wouldn’t want to drive three hours each way every week for no more than four students, but we cannot in good conscience give a student less than the best possible instruction. We have tried some online lessons (through a partnership with MacPhail Center for Music) and that has worked to some extent, but to do that well we would need a large increase in our capital budget to update some rooms with a full spectrum of equipment for those purposes (cameras, microphones, necessary connections). This will be an ongoing challenge.

The other issue we face is somewhat tied to the first issue. Our curriculum is pretty much the Standard Undergraduate Music Curriculum (four semesters of theory, two semesters of history, lessons, a jury, a senior project, and some electives). It is designed to prepare students for graduate study, a teaching career, or a performance career.

But most of our students don’t do that.

We’re a liberal arts college on the prairie. Even though we have a high percentage of first-generation students, who are usually geared more toward music education as a career, most of our students don’t take that path. We have a couple of students who are carving out performance careers, but they are the exception. Same for graduate school. Our students usually end up working outside of music, using the ancillary skills they develop in the program and continuing in music on an amateur or semi-professional basis while paying the bills in some other way. There’s nothing wrong with that. There are days I’d do that. But it doesn’t make sense for our curriculum to reflect an approach that is simply not in line with what our graduates do. Thus, we are making some changes to the curriculum.

They haven’t all been ironed out yet, but when they are, I shall post them for your feedback. Like David Letterman in his Late Night years, the stuff may or may not work, but we’re going to try it anyway. If it doesn’t work, well, it wouldn’t be too difficult to return to the traditional model. But if it does work, we could change the face of music education in a liberal arts context.

Of course, this new curriculum would not likely earn the imprimatur of NASM, but we’re not accredited by them anyway, and many of the top music programs are pulling out. I have nothing against NASM; I worked with them at the last gig, and I think they do what they do very well and they should continue to do it. I just don’t necessarily agree that what they do overlaps much with what we do.

More bulletins as events warrant.

WF