Our first speaker, Dr David Silverstein, leads us through a fascinating overview of ‘music and the brain’, and he begins with a quotation from Hippocrates:
And men ought to know that from nothing else but thence [from the brain] come joys, delights, laughter and sports, and sorrows, griefs, despondency, and lamentations. And by this, in an especial manner, we acquire wisdom and knowledge, and see and hear, and know what are foul and hat are fair, what are bad and what are good, what are sweet, and what unsavory… And by the same organ we become mad and delirious, and fears and terrors assail us…
We see evolutionary comparisons of the prefrontal cortex of various mammals, from rats to humans. As Dr Silverstein puts it “[our brains] hitch a ride on blood oxygenation”. Neurology and psychology are the fields by which we learn about our subjective brain experiences.
Popular Music Education as an antidote to McDonaldization
John Kratus, Professor Emeritus of Music Education, Michigan State University.
John begins with an overview of the concept of McDonaldization (Ritter 1993) – defined as a rational process combining efficiency, calculability, predictability and control, starting with McDonalds itself, and then extending the metaphor towards the ‘template’ that he suggests represents typical K-12 music curricula in the USA.
He cites Ritter “people are the greatest threat to predictability” and suggests that McDonaldized curricula need to suppress students’ agency.
Advocating for Popular Music Education – where do we go from here?
Steve Holley, Music educator
Steve begins with an overview of US music education generally, including high schools and universities, asking ‘why adapt now?’ and describing a necessary journey toward curricular adaptation. He takes us back to the mid-20thC innovators (USC, Miami, Berklee) who ‘took a chance on jazz’, and observes that the music education community thought they were crazy. Within 50 years of those early adopters, jazz in music schools had become mainstream. Steve believes that popular music education today is where jazz music education was in the 1950s, and predicts a similar trickle-down effect in future years, giving examples of schools where this is already starting to happen.
Randy introduces himself and talks briefly about his work in music education, including his publications, talks, and his experience of listening to other songwriters’ work over many years. Today he’s sharing with us the structure of his 16-week songwriting course, and he begins with the philosophy of definition i.e. the question ‘what is a song?’. He suggests that most technical descriptions of a song fall short of the mark of describing its subjective effects on listeners, noting how difficult this intangible would be to achieve. He provides a traditional melody-lyric-harmony definition of a song (i.e. omitting the Sound Recording or arrangement), and then asks the potential student question “If [a song is too intangible to hold], then how can I learn about it?”.
To the great amusement of the audience, Randy now talks us (literally, talks us) through the whole of the lyric to James Brown’s ‘I Got You’, demonstrating that it’s clearly a love song. He now separates the [love] song from the arrangement, describing the horn lick and Brown’s vocal as ‘ear candy’, building on the core lyric’s emotional intent.
Evan begins by describing the program beginning with a ‘chicken and egg’ situation in his institution. A committee was formed to figure out how to launch a popular music degree – but no-one on the committee had a popular music background. The committee pushed ahead, based on the institutional promise from ASU that faculty would be hired when the decision had been made to launch.
Practical Production Analysis: Helping Students Produce Competitive Songs
Misty opens by describing her particular students as ‘in the box’ producers – that is to say, they create the entire sound recording in a Digital Audio Workstation. The problem she’s trying to solve is this: the students’ recordings are just not ready yet [for the commercial marketplace]. So today, she will be sharing her approach to helping students to make their song recordings competitive, in the genre they want to produce in.
The approach starts with the assumption that students ‘have their chops down’ – that is, they can write melodies & lyrics, understand harmony, and can program beats. With this out of the way, the students are asked to work on these four areas:
On the bus to the university this morning I introduced myself to the person sat next to me, who turned out to be John Bigus from my own institution (Berklee’s a great community, but it’s a BIG community, so it’s possible to work there for a long time without knowing everyone’s name). John is responsible for the PULSE free resource, available at pulse.berklee.edu, which is part of Berklee’s initiative to work with K-12 school age music creators and teachers.
John has been working with Bandlab, so there is an introduction from the company’s Lauren Henry Parsons, and our interviewer is Bandlab’s Michael Filson. It’s a cloud-based, free, 12-track DAW app (mobile app or browser-based) with 3.5m users across the world. It’s sponsored by the music instrument industry, which is why the end product is free for musicians – and a walled-garden version for students and teachers. It’s also part of a relaunch of SONAR’s Cakewalk.