My Teaching Philosophy (1994)
by Jody Nagel
The contemporary society in which we live has been seriously affected by the rampant commercialism increasingly unleashed upon us these last few decades. Most people have little awareness of the magnitude of the degree that their freedom in choice-making has been curtailed. The situation for music schools facing the current social condition is enormously problematic. For those of us trying to teach the western musical traditions, how can we explain the contrapuntal wonders of Palestrina, the utter perfection of Bach, the staggering sound-architectural monuments of Beethoven, the subtleties of Debussy, or the stunning realism of Berg's Wozzeck, when contemporary students grow up with 24-hour-a-day commercial sound. There is very little chance of communicating the post-World-War-II need for ultra-rational (serial-combinatorial) procedures in our modern era of material-comfort-for-the-majority. The disposal altogether of rationality and the embracing of chance and aleatoricism or of minimalism is a reaction against complex serialism, and all of it seems absurd to the student that has been brought up on 4/4 drum tracks. Universities have a 3-millennium history of passing on significant educational knowledge and wisdom. Plato assumed that an educated person was fluent in music just as in mathematics, letters, or astronomy. Now, universities are facing a conversion from institutions-of-higher-learning to job-training-programs. The modern school of music faces pressure to train people to be part of contemporary commercial reality rather than to train them to be musically literate.
It is imperative that a school of music within a contemporary university DOES NOT abandon completely the age-old mission of instilling a desire for perfection, of building discipline, of achieving greatness. If, for financial survival, a school of music turns to courses such as "Commercial Arranging," "The History of Rock," or "Music Engineering," it must also continue to insist on high levels of achievement in music theory, history, performance, composition, and listening skills. Without these traditional subjects, the world will continue to lose its context, its historical traditions, and will plunge into a Neo-Dark Ages in spite of our modern high-tech information-exchange systems.
I personally insist on high standards of achievement from my students. Lately, teaching has been dominated with the belief that teachers are supposed to be entertainers, that knowledge must exist in sound-bytes and hypercard-stacks, that a syllabus must dish up a proper-sized helping of work - and not one reading-assignment too many. Also, at the school where I currently teach, the education department seems to have the idea that it is possible to learn how to teach a subject quite independently of learning the subject itself. While I certainly believe that a teacher can have their teaching-techniques improved, and I am fully supportive of the reasonable use of modern technology within a classroom, it simply must be that an understanding and respect, a love, for the subject itself precede these other concerns. A music student must first and foremost love music, must desire to know as much of it as they can, and I as a teacher must help them nurture and evolve that attitude. A music student living in Austria, or China, begins study in childhood. By the time they are a 22-year old "senior" in college, they have had at least 16 years of training. Because of contemporary American values, our school systems are cutting the little that they have, so that some students take their first "real" music class as freshman. When they graduate 4 years later, they can not compete with musicians from around the world. It is important that students be reminded of their global context so that they can attempt to mitigate the effects of current reality by working 4 times harder.
A student needs to have a good role model. A music student will neither learn well from a teacher completely immersed in their own work, nor from a full-time "educator" that has no contact with the subject that they claim to teach. The traditional master-disciple one-on-one relationship is vastly superior to modern classroom techniques reeking of legally-required compromises and wishi-washiness. But since we must live within these confines we must continuously seek creative solutions to the task of balancing our creative musical work with our teaching responsibilities. The balance between these two needs seems to change continuously - even weekly - but if we allow ourselves to be flexible, to adapt, we (students and teachers) can benefit enormously from this mixture of "teaching" and "doing."
I am principally interested in composition and continue to have pieces written and performed. I have a secondary interest in music theory and write about music whenever I can. I have experience teaching low-level and high-level theory classes, as well as music classes for non-majors. I am fluent in computer programming and can contribute to the department's desire for more direction in the use of computer applications such as sequencing, notation, digital sound synthesis and editing, and electronic composition. I believe I can function as both a teacher and a role-model for the music students of your university. Music students of the future need essentially the same thing as music students 200 years ago needed : they need to learn as much as they can about music - theory, history, literature, aural skills, and instrument proficiency. The manner in which they learn these skills may be modified as teaching techniques expand to include computer applications for use in, as well as out of, the classroom. If a student chooses to go into, and help perpetuate, the commercial music scene, which has as its principal goal escapistic entertainment, rather than compelling art, that student will do so helped by their classical-education experience. If the student complains that they have no need of this education, they do not properly belong in a university to begin with. It is crucial that all of the faculty maintain an agreed-upon position on this issue, that they support each other and cooperate in producing an atmosphere where students learn to take for granted an enthusiasm for high standards, a joy for hard work, in short a love for music.
Dr. Jody Nagel
March 4, 1994