Music in UK Higher Education 2: Undergraduate and Postgraduate Taught CoursesPosted: June 3, 2023 Filed under: Academia, Culture, Higher Education, Music - General, Musical Education, Musicology | Tags: 1992 further and higher education act, conservatoires, ethnomusicology, hesa, master's degree loan scheme, music education, music higher education, music performance, music technology, musical theatre, musicology, popular music, post-1992 universities, postgraduate taught courses, private providers in music, russell group, Times Higher Education, ucas, undergraduate courses Leave a comment
As a follow-up to my previous post in this series, I now wanted to give details of the spread of undergraduate and postgraduate taught courses available in the UK Music Higher Education sector. These are figures for 2023-24 entry, as offered via the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) site, and collated earlier this calendar year. They can also be found in the handout for my lecture given at Oxford University in April, ‘Academic Music in the United Kingdom and the Dalliance with Practice’, the full text and slides of which (together with the handout) can be accessed here. Some may change for the upcoming cycle of admissions (for 2024-25 entry), but this gives a good indication of the current state of play.
What I am not at liberty to share here are the precise numbers enrolled on such courses, as this information comes from the Higher Education Standards Authority (HESA), for purely internal use by institutions. However, in my analysis at the end of this piece I will give some broad figures for which I previously obtained permission to use in an article for Times Higher Education. Suffice to say that numbers vary greatly – there are some with recent enrolments of fewer than 5 students, others in the 70s and 80s (three-figure sums on individual programmes are rare outside of the conservatoires, which collate students on many different instruments and voices on single programmes).
I am dividing up the sector as I have done elsewhere, into 1. Russell Group; 2. Mid-Ranking (a category which emerged after the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act, and the founding of the Russell Group in 1994 (arguably in response to the new act), originally comprising 17 institutions, but whose membership has changed considerably in the interim period); 3. Post-1992; 4. Colleges of Higher Education and others; 5. Conservatoires; 6. Private Providers.
As in all of these posts, the information contained therein is derived principally from that in the public domain. Furthermore, there is of course the potential for human error in collating it, and I welcome any corrections. I hope through these posts simply to make valuable information about the sector readily accessible to all with an interest, so that wider analyses or judgements on it can be better informed.
1. Russell Group
University of Oxford – BA Music (option of foundation year)
MSt Music (Musicology); MSt Music (Performance); MSt Music (Composition); MPhil Music (Musicology); MPhil Music (Composition); MPhil Music (Performance); also 1+1 option to combine MSt with an MBA. MPhil courses are taught and apparently sometimes taken as autonomous degrees.
University of Cambridge – BA Music (option of foundation year).
MPhil (Music) (taught).
University of Birmingham – BMus Music; joint courses with Modern Languages or Mathematics.
MA Music: Musicology; MA Music: Instrumental/Vocal Composition; MA Music: Electroacoustic Composition/Sonic Art; MA Music: Mixed Composition; MA Music: Performance pathway; MA Music: Performance Practice pathway; MA Music: Global Popular Musics; MA Music: Open Pathway with Performance; MA Music: Open Pathway without Performance
University of Bristol – BA Music; joint courses with various languages; MArts Music with Innovation (4 years).
MA Music; MA Composition of Music for Film and Television.
Cardiff University – BMus Music (option of study abroad year); BA Music (option of study abroad year); joint courses with languages, Mathematics, English.
Durham University – BA (Hons) Music (option of foundation year); joint course with Philosophy.
MA Music; MA Music and Science; MA Musicology; MA Ethnomusicology; MA Composition; MA Performance.
University of Edinburgh – BMus (Hon) Music (4 years); BSc Acoustics and Music Technology (4 years); joint course with Mathematics.
MMus Musicology (FT and PT); MMus Composition (FT and PT); MMus Musical Instrument Research; MScR Music; MSc Acoustics and Music Technology (FT and PT); MSc Sound Design.
University of Glasgow – BMus Music; MA Music (4 years); BEng/MEng Electronics with Music (4 or 5 years); joint courses with Archaeology; Classics, Economics; History, Mathematics, Philosophy, Politics, Psychology, Business/Management, Comparative Literature, Computing Science, English, History of Art, Scottish Literature, Theatre Studies, Film/Television Studies, etc. (all generally 4 year MA courses); various languages (5 years).
MMus Musicology; MA Historically Informed Performance Practice; MSc Music Industries; MSc Sound Design & Audiovisual Practice. Formerly an MMus Composition and Creative Practice.
King’s College, University of London – BMus Music.
University of Leeds – BA Music; BA Music with Enterprise; BSc Music, Multimedia and Electronics; BMus Music (Performance) (4 years); Marts BA Music and Music Psychology (4 years); joint courses with English and Mathematics.
MA Applied Psychology of Music; MA Critical and Applied Musicology; MMus Critical and Experimental Composition; MA Music and Management; MMus Performance; MA Music and Wellbeing.
University of Liverpool – BA (Hons) Music; BA (Hons) Music and Popular Music; BA (Hons) Popular Music; BA (Hons) Music and Technology; BSc Mathematics and Music Technology; BA (Hons) Music and Game Design Studies; BA (Hons) Music Technology with Game Design Studies; BA (Hons) Popular Music and Game Design Studies; various joint courses.
MRes Music (formerly MMus Music); MMus Performance; MA Classical Music Industry (formerly MA Business of Classical Music); MA Music Industry Studies; MA Music and Audiovisual Media; MA The Beatles: Music Industry and Heritage.
University of Manchester – MusB Music; BA Film Studies and Music; BA Music and Drama; joint MusB/GRNCM course with Royal Northern College of Music (4 years).
Musm Music (Musicology) (FT and PT); Musm Music (Ethnomusicology) (FT and PT); Musm Composition (Instrumental and Vocal); Musm Composition (Electroacoustic Music & Interactive Media); Musm Performance Studies.
Newcastle University – BA (Hons) Music (option of year abroad); BA (Hons) Contemporary and Popular Music; BA (Hons) Folk and Traditional Music.
MMus Music; Mlitt Music; MA Creative Art Practice.
University of Nottingham – BA Music; BA Music and Music Technology; BA Music and Philosophy; option throughout of foundation year.
Queen Mary, University of London – MSc Sound and Music Computing (FT and PT, with option of industry year).
Queen’s University Belfast – BMus Music; BA Music and Audio Production; BA Music and Sound Design; BSc Audio Engineering; BA Music Performance.
MRes Arts and Humanities.
University of Sheffield – BMus Music (option of foundation year); BMus Music (part-time) (6 years); joint courses with English, History, Philosophy, Languages, Korean Studies (latter two 4 years).
MA Musicology (FT and PT); MA Ethnomusicology (FT and PT); MA Composition; MA Music Performance Studies (FT and PT); MA Music Management (FT and PT); MA Psychology of Music (FT and PT); MA Music Psychology in Education; MA Transcultural and Traditional Music Studies (distance/online learning an option) (formerly formerly MA Traditional and World Music; before that MA in Traditional Music of the British Isles and MA World Music Studies); MA Music Psychology in Education, Performance and Wellbeing (Distance Learning)
University of Southampton – BA Music (option of year abroad); BSc Acoustics with Music; joint courses with English, French, German (all 4 years); BA (Hons) Music and Business Management (option of year abroad); BEng (Hon) Acoustical Engineering (3 years, option of foundation year and/or industrial placement year, can go up to 5 years); MEng (Hon) Acoustical Engineering (4 years, option of foundation year and/or industrial placement year, can go up to 6 years).
MMus Music (Musicology); MMus Music (Composition); MMus Music (Performance); MMus Music (Education); MA International Music Management.
University of York – BA (Hons) Music; BA (Hons) Music and Sound Recording; BEng (Hons) Music Technology Systems (option of foundation year); MEng (Hons) Music Technology Systems (4 years, option of foundation year); BEng (Hons) Electronic Engineering with Music Technology Systems (option of foundation year); MEng (Hons) Electronic Engineering with Music Technology Systems (4 years, option of foundation year).
MA Musicology; MA Music: Composition; MA Music Performance: Historical Performance Practice; MA Music Performance: Piano Studies; MA Music Performance: Solo Voice Ensemble Singing; MA Music Performance: Vocal Studies: MA Music Production and Audio Cultures; MA Community Music; MA Music Education: Instrumental and Vocal Teaching; MA Music Education: Group Teaching and Leadership; MSc Audio and Music Technology (hosted by School of Physics, Engineering and Technology).
University of Aberdeen – BMus (Hon) Music (4 years); BMus (Hon) Music Education (4 years); joint MA (Hons) courses with languages, History, Computing, Law, English.
MMus Music (FT or PT); MMus Vocal Music.
Bangor University – BA (Hons) Music; BMus (Hon) Music (option of foundation year for both); BA (Hons) Music with Theatre and Performance.
MA Music; MA Music with Education; MA Composition and Sonic Art; MA Performance.
Brunel University London – BA Music (option of placement year; option of part-time, 5-6 years); BA Music (Production) (option of placement year)
City, University of London – BMus (Hons) Music; BSc (Hons) Music, Sound and Technology; BA (Hons) Professional Dance and Musical Theatre; option of sandwich year or study abroad year.
MA Music by Research.
Goldsmiths College, University of London – BMus (Hon) Music (option of foundation year; option of part-time, 4-6 years); BMus Popular Music (option of part-time, up to 6 years) BMus(Hons)/BSc (Hons) Electronic Music, Computing and Technology (4 years; includes foundation or industry year); BA (Hons) Drama: Musical Theatre. Option of foundation year.
MA Music; MA Music (Musicology); MA Music (Contemporary Music Studies); MA Music (Ethnomusicology); MA Music (Popular Music Research); MA Music (Audiovisual Cultures); MA Arts Administration & Cultural Policy: Music Pathway; MA Creative & Cultural Entrepreneurship: Music Pathway; MA Musical Theatre; MMus Composition; MMus Performance & Related Studies; MMus Popular Music; MMus Creative Practice; MMus Sonic Arts; MSc Music, Mind and Brain.
University of Hull – BA (Hons) Music; BA (Hons) Music Production; BA (Hons) Music (Popular Music); BA (Hons) Music (Songwriting); BA (Hons) Music (Performance); BA (Hons) Music (Community & Education).
MMus Music (pathways in Musicology, Composition, Performance, Technology).
Keele University – BA (Hons) Music Production with a Foundation Year; BA (Hons) Music Production and Sound Design (sandwich); BA (Hons) Music Production and Sound Design with a Foundation Year (3.5 years); BA (Hons) Music Production and Psychology (sandwich); BA (Hons) Film Studies and Music Production (sandwich); BA (Hons) Media and Music Production (sandwich); BA (Hons) Business Management and Music Production (sandwich); BSc (Hons) Computer Science and Music Production (sandwich).
MRes Humanities; MA Creative Practice.
University of Kent – BA (Hons) Music, Performance and Production; BSc (Hons) Music Technology and Audio Production; BA (Hons) Music Business and Production
Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts (LIPA) – BA (Hons) Music; BA (Hons) Music (Songwriting & Performance); BA (Hons) Management of Music, Entertainment, Theatre & Events; BA (Hons) Acting (Musical Theatre); BA (Hons) Acting (Musicianship); BA (Hons) Sound Technology.
MA Music Industry Professional Management.
Open University – BA (Hons) Music; BA (Hons) Arts and Humanities (Music) (3 to 6 years, distance).
University of Reading – BA (Hons) Primary Education and Music.
MA Education (Music Education).
Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London – BA (Hons) Sound Design and Production
Royal Holloway, University of London –BMus (Hons) Music (option of foundation year); BA Music and Sound Design for Film, Television and Interactive Media (option of foundation year); joint courses with English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Philosophy, Economics, Political Studies, Mathematics, Modern Languages, Theatre, Physics.
MMus Music (formerly called MMus Advanced Musical Studies).
University of Salford – BA (Hons) Music: Creative Music Technology (option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Music: Performance (option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Music: Popular Music and Recording (option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Music Management and Creative Enterprise; BEng (Hons) Acoustical and Audio Engineering (option of foundation year); MEng (Hons) Acoustical and Audio Engineering (4 or 5 years); BEng (Hon) Sound Engineering and Production (option of professional experience year).
MA Music (formerly with named pathways); MA Contemporary Performance Practice; MA Socially Engaged Arts Practice; MSc Audio Production; MSc Acoustics (latter two hosted by School of Science, Engineering and the Environment).
SOAS, University of London – multiple joint BA (Hons) courses with music; no single music course.
MA Music (Ethnomusicology) (formerly MA Ethnomusicology; MA Music in Development).
University of St Andrews – MLitt Sacred Music.
University of Surrey – BMus (Hon) Music (option of sandwich); BMus (Hon) Creative Music Technology; BMus (Hons)/BSc (Hons) Music and Sound Recording (Tonmeister) (4 years; sandwich); BA (Hons) Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Actor Musician; BSc (Hons) Mathematics with Music.
MMus Music (formerly with various named pathways – Composition, Performance, Creative Practice); MA/MFA Musical Theatre.
University of Sussex – BA (Hons) Music; BA (Hons) Music Technology.
MA Music and Sonic Media.
University of Ulster – BMus (Hon) Music; joint courses with Irish, Drama, Education, History; BSc (Hons) Creative Audio. MMus Creative Musicianship (FT or PT) (pathways in Performance Studies; Composition and Creative Audio; Music and Communities).
3. Post-1992 Institutions
Anglia Ruskin University – BA (Hons) Electronic Music Production; BA (Hons) Music Performance; BA (Hons) Music Production; BSc (Hons) Audio & Music Technology; BA (Hons) Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Music and Sound Production. All available as 3 or 4 years, with either foundation or placement year.
MA Music Therapy.
Bath Spa University – BA (Hons) Music (option of placement year); BA (Hons) Professional Music: Performance and Production; BA (Hons) Commercial Music (option of placement year); BA (Hons) Creative Music Technology (option of placement year); BA (Hons) Creative Music Technology (Games and Interactive Media) (option of placement year); BA (Hons) Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Drama (Musical Theatre) (option of Professional Placement Year).
MA Commercial Music; MA Composition; MA Music Performance; MA Sound Design; MA Sound (Arts); MA Sound (Production); MMus Songwriting
University of Bedfordshire – BA (Hons) Musical Theatre (optional qualifier of Film Acting); BA (Hons) Radio and Audio (options of foundation or placement year); BA (Hons) Music Technology Top-up (1 year)
Birmingham City University – BA (Hons) Music Business with Professional Placement Year; BSc (Hons) Music Technology with Professional Placement Year; BSc (Hons) Sound Engineering and Production (option of foundation or professional placement year). (Also courses offered by Royal Birmingham Conservatoire).
Bishop Grosseteste University – BA (Hons) Music and Musicianship.
University of Bolton – BA (Hons) Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Musical Theatre (top-up) (1 year).
Bournemouth University – BA (Hons) Music and Sound Production (sandwich).
University of Brighton – BA (Hons) Digital Music and Sound Arts; BA (Hons) Music Business and Media.
MA Digital Music and Sound Arts.
Buckinghamshire New University – BA (Hons) Music Production and Performance (option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Music Business (option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Music Production and Business (option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Audio and Music Production (option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Electronic Music Production (option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Musical Theatre (option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Professional Dance and Musical Theatre (Dancebox Studios and Theatre Works); BA (Hons) Songwriting (option of foundation year); BSc (Hons) Sound Design (option of foundation year).
MA Music and Audio Production; MA Music Business.
Canterbury Christ Church University – BA (Hons) Music (option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Commercial Music; BA (Hons) Creative Music Production and Technology (option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Musical Theatre.
MMus Master of Music.
University of Central Lancashire – BA (Hons) Music Production (option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Music Production and Performance (option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Electronic Music Production and Performance; BSc (Hons) Live Audio Engineering and Music Production; BSc (Hons) Entrepreneurial Audio Production; BA (Hons) Music Theatre.
MA Music; MA Music Industry Management and Promotion.
University of Chester – BA (Hons) Music Production and Performance; BA (Hons) Popular Music Performance; BA (Hons) Music Production; BA (Hons) Music Journalism (option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Musical Theatre Performance.
MA Popular Music.
University of Chichester – BA (Hons) Music; BA (Hons) Music Performance; BA (Hons) Music Performance (Film Acting); BA (Hons) Commercial Music; BA (Hons) Musical Theatre (many sub-options); BA (Hons) Musical Theatre Performance; BA (Hons) Musical Theatre and Arts Development; BMus (Hons) Performance (4 years); BMus (Hons) Instrumental Teaching (4 years); BMus (Hons) Jazz Performance (4 years); BMus (Hons) Vocal Performance (4 years); BA (Hons) Jazz and Cabaret Performance; BMus (Hons) Vocal Teaching (4 years); MusB (Hons) Orchestral Performance (4 years); Ba (Hons) Song Writing and Cabaret Performance; BA (Hons) Music with Jazz Studies; BA (Hons) Music with Teaching; BA (Hons) Music with Workshop Leadership; BA (Hons) Music with Arts Development; BA (Hons) Audio Production and Music Technologies.
MA Music Performance; MA Music Teaching; MA Composition for Film, TV and Games (formerly MA Music Industry Innovation and Enterprise; MA International Music Business); and through University of the Creative Arts – MA/MSc International Music Management; MMus Composition for Screen (formerly MMus Music Performance through LCCM).
University Centre Colchester at Colchester Institute – BA (Hons) Popular Music: Performance and Production; BA (Hons) Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Music for Performance and Teaching.
Coventry University – BA (Hons) Popular Music Performance and Songwriting.
University of the Creative Arts (Kent/Surrey) – BA (Hons) Music & Sound Production (optional foundation year, taking to 4 years; optional professional practice year, taking to 5 years,4 without foundation year); BA/BSc (Hons) Music Business & Management (optional foundation year and professional practice year, as for Music & Sound Production); BMus (Hons) Composition for Screen (same options of foundation/professional practice year).
De Montfort University – BSc (Hons) Music Production; BA (Hons) Music Technology; BA (Hons) Performance in Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Performance Level 6 Top-up (1 year).
MA Music, Technology and Innovation.
University of Derby – BA (Hons) Popular Music (optional foundation year); BSc (Hons) Music Production (optional foundation year); BSc (hons) Sound, Light and Live Event Engineering.
MA Music Production; MA Music Therapy; MSc Audio Engineering (hosted by College of Science and Engineering).
Edge Hill University – BA (Hons) Music Production; BA (Hons) Musical Theatre.
MA Collaborative Performance Practice.
Edinburgh Napier University – BA (Hons) Music; BSc (Hons) Sound Design (4 years).
MA Music; MSc Sound Design.
Falmouth University – BA (Hons) Music; BA (Hons) Popular Music; BA (Hons) Creative Music Technology; BA (Hons) Creative Music Production (online, 2 years); BA (Hons) Professional Music (Performance); BA (Hons) Professional Music (Songwriting); BA (Hons) Professional Music (Electronic Music); BA (Hons) Professional Music (Production); BA (Hons) Professional Music (Business); BA (Hons) Career Musician (3 years; 2 years online option); BA (Hons) Music Production & Sound Engineering; BA (Hons) Electronic Music & Business (Online, 2 years); BA (Hons) Electronic Music Production (optional online, 2 years); BA (Hons) Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Music & Sound for Film & TV; BA (Hons) Music Business; BSc (Hons) Live Sound; BA (Hons) Songwriting & Music Performance (optional online, 2 years) BA (Hons) Sound Design (3 or 4 year options); BA (Hons) Game Development: Audio (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Music Production & Sound Engineering (Level 6 Top-up) (1 year); BA (Hons) Electronic Music Production (Level 6 Top-Up) (1 year).
MA Music Business.
University of Gloucestershire – BA (Hons) Popular Music; BA (Hons) Sound and Music Production; BA (Hons) Music Placement (optional placement year).
MSc Sound and Music Production; MA by Research Music and Sound.
Glyndŵr University, Wrexham – BSc (Hons) Music and Sound Technology (optional foundation year); BSc (Hons) Professional Sound and Video
University of Greenwich – BA (Hons) Professional Dance and Musical Theatre.
University Centre Grimsby – BA (Hons) Music Production; BA (Hons) Popular Music Performance.
University of Hertfordshire – BA/BSc Music Production; BSc (Hons) Music and Sound Design Technology; BSc (Hons) Music Composition and Technology for Film and Games (sandwich); BSc (Hons) Songwriting & Music Production; BSc (Hons) Audio Recording & Production; BA/BSc Live Sound and Lighting Technology (sandwich).
MA Creative Music Production; MSc Music and Sound for Film and Games; MSc Audio Engineering.
University of the Highlands and Islands – BA (Hons) Applied Music (4 years); BA (Hons) Popular Music (4 years); BA (Hons) Music Business (4 years); BA (Hons) Gaelic and Traditional Music (4 years); BSc (Hons) Audio Engineering (4 years).
MMus Music; MA Music and the Environment.
University of Huddersfield – BMus (Hon) Music (sandwich); BMus (Hon) Music Technology and Composition: BMus (Hon) Music Performance (sandwich); BMus (Hons) Popular Music; BSc (Hons) Sound Engineering and Music Production (sandwich); BA (Hons) Creative Music Production; BSc (Hons) Sound Engineering and Audio Technology (sandwich); BA (Hons) Music and Sound for Screen; BA (Hons) Music Journalism.
MMus Musicology; MMus Music Performance; MMus Popular Music Practice; MA Creative Music Production; MSc Music Technology and Sound Production.
Kingston University – BA (Hons) Music Technology.
MA Music; MA Music Education; MMus Music Performance; MMus Composing for Film and Television.
Leeds Arts University – BMus (Hons) Popular Music Performance.
Leeds Beckett University – BSc (Hons) Music Technology; BA (Hons) Music Production; BA (Hons) Music Performance and Production; BA (Hons) Music Industries Management; BSc (Hons) Audio Engineering.
MA Popular Music & Culture; MA Music Production; MA Music for the Moving Image; MA Sonic Arts; MA Sound Design; MSc Sound & Music for Interactive Games; MSc Audio & Acoustics.
University of Lincoln – BA (Hons) Music; BA (Hons) Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Sound and Music Production.
MRes Performing Arts (Drama, Dance, Music).
Liverpool Hope University – BA (Hons) Music (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Music Production and Musical Theatre (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Music and Music Production (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Dance and Musical Theatre (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Dance and Music; numerous joint courses with Music Production or Musical Theatre.
MA Contemporary Performance.
Liverpool John Moores University – BA (Hons) Musical Theatre Practice; BSc (Hons) Audio and Music Production (sandwich).
MA Musical Theatre; MA Audio and Video Forensics.
University of East London – BA (Hons) Music Performance and Production (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Music Journalism (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Music Technology and Production (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Sound and Music for Theatre (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Sound and Music for Media (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Sound and Music for Games (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Musical Theatre.
MA/MFA Sound and Music for Games; MA/MFA Sound and Music for Media; MA/MFA Sound and Music for Performance; MA/MFA Sound and Music for Production; MA/MFA Sound and Music for Theatre; MA Contemporary Performance Practices.
University of West London* – BMus (Hon) Music Performance (optional foundation year); BMus Popular Music Performance (optional foundation year); BMus Composition (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Songwriting; BA (Hons) Music Technology (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Electronic Music Production (optional foundation year); BSc (Hons) Sound Engineering (optional foundation year); BSc (Hons) Audio Software Engineering (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Recording, Mixing and Production (optional foundation year); BMus (Hons) Performance and Recording (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Musical Theatre (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Musical Theatre Performance; BA (Hons) Sound and Music for Gaming (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Popular Music and Worship; BA (Hons) Hip Hop Performance and Production (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Recording, Mixing and Production (option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Song Writing and Cabaret Performance; BA (Hons) Music Management; BMus (Hon) Performance and Music Management (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Music Technology (Top-Up) (1 year); BA (Hons) International Music Business – Top Up (1 year).
MA Advanced Music Technology; MA Music Industry Management and Artist Development; MA Music and Performing Arts Education; MA Record Production; MMus Performance (Classical, Jazz, Popular); MMus Composition; MMus Electronic Music Composition; MMus Composition for Film and Television.
London Metropolitan University – BSc Music Technology and Production (FT with sandwich, 4 years; or PT, 6 years); BA (Hons) Music Business (FT 3 years; or PT option, including foundation year – 4 years) (4 years).
London South Bank University – BA (Hons) Music and Sound Design.
University of the Arts London – BA (Hons) Music Production; BA (Hons) Sound Arts.
MA Sound Arts.
Manchester Metropolitan University – BA (Hons) Music and Sound Design (optional foundation year).
UCEN Manchester – BA (Hons) Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Music Production and Composition; BA (Hons) Vocal Studies and Performance.
Middlesex University – BA (Hons) Music; BA (Hons) Music Business and Arts Management.
MA Music Business; MA Arts Management; MA Classical Music Business.
University of Northampton – BA (Hons) Popular Music (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Music Production (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Music Production (top-up) (1 year); BA (Hons) Popular Music (top-up) (1 year).
Northumbria University – BA (Hons) Music (optional with foundation and sandwich year, 5 years).
Nottingham Trent University – BA (Hons) Music Production; BA (Hons) Music Performance; BSc (Hons) Sound Engineering and Audio Production; BSc (Hons) Audio and Music Technology; BA (Hons) Music Business.
MA Music Business; MA Music Business (London); MSc Creative Technologies.
Oxford Brookes University – BA (Hons) Music.
University of Plymouth – BA (Hons) Music (sandwich); BA (Hons) Musical Theatre (optional foundation); BSc (Hons) Audio and Music Technology.
MA Music; MA Music Production; ResM Computer Music.
Plymouth Marjon University (= University of St Mark & St John) – BA (Hons) Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Music Business.
Arts University Plymouth – BA (Hons) Sound Arts.
University of Portsmouth – BSc (Hons) Music Technology (sandwich); BA (Hons) Musical Theatre (sandwich); BA (Hons) Creative Music Technology (Top-Up) (1 year).
MA/MSc Creative Technologies.
Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh – MSc Music Therapy.
Ravensbourne University London – BA (Hons) Music and Sound Design.
University of Roehampton – MA Music Therapy.
University Centre Rotherham – BA (Hons) Popular Music Performance and Production.
Solent University (Southampton) – BA (Hons) Popular Music Performance and Production; BMus (Hons)/BSc (Hons) Popular Music Performance (optional foundation year; multiple courses on different sites); BSc (Hons) Popular Music Production; BA (Hons) Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Music Business; BA (Hons) Digital Music (optional foundation year).
Staffordshire University – BA (Hons) Music Production (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Musical Theatre; BSc (Hons) Sound Design (optional foundation year).
MA/MSc Modern Music Practices.
University of Sunderland – BA (Hons) Modern Music Industries; BA (Hons) Music (Top-up) (2 years).
Teesside University – BA (Hons) Music Production; BA (Hons) Musical Theatre (Top-up) (1 year).
University of South Wales – BA (Hons) Popular and Commercial Music; BA (Hons) Music Producing; BA (Hons) Music Business.
University of Wales Trinity Saint David – BA Musical Theatre (2 years); BA Perfformio (Performance) (2 years); BMus Vocal Performance; BA Creative Music Technology; BA (Hons) Theatr Gerddorol (Musical Theatre) (2 years); BMus (Hons) Vocal Performance; BA Commercial Music Producer (Top Up).
MA Advanced Vocal Studies; MA Performance (Repetiteur and Accompaniment) (both at Wales Academy of Voice & Dramatic Arts); MA Sound (Swansea College of Art); MA Commercial Music Producer (including Online Blended option); MA Music Business (including Online Blended option) (latter two at Tileyard Education, London).
University of the West of England – BSc (Hons) Creative Music Technology (sandwich); BSc (Hons) Audio and Music Technology (sandwich).
MA Music Therapy.
University of the West of Scotland – BSc (Hons) Music Technology (4 years); BA (Hons) Commercial Music (4 years).
MA Music (Songwriting/Sound Production/Industries).
University of Westminster – BA (Hons) Music Production, Performance and Business (optional foundation year).
MA Audio Production (FT and PT); MA Music Business Management (FT and PT); MA Live Music Management (FT and PT); MRes Creative Practice (FT and PT).
University of Winchester – BA (Hons) Popular Music: Production and Performance; BA (Hons) Music Production, Performance and Business with Foundation; BA (Hons) Musical Theatre.
University of Wolverhampton – MA Creative Practice and Performance (Music); MA Musical Theater Performance; MSc Audio and Creative Technology (formerly had MA courses in Music and Music Technology).
University of Worcester – BA (Hons) Musical Theatre.
York St John University – BA (Hons) Music; BA (Hons) Music Production; BSc (Hons) Music Technology; BA (Hons) Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Music Production & Music Business; BA (Hons) Music: Community Music.
MA Musical Composition; MA Music Production; MA Community Music; MA Musical Leadership.
University Centre at the Heart of Yorkshire Education Group – BA (Hons) Actor Musician.
4. Others – Colleges of Higher Education, etc.
Bedford College Group – BA (Hons) Music Technology (Top Up) (1 year).
Greater Brighton Metropolitan College – BA (Hons) Music Performance; BA (Hons) Music Production; BA (Hons) Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Music Business and Management.
Burnley College – BA (Hons) Music Production and Performance (optional foundation, but still 3 years).
University Centre Calderdale College –BA (Hons) Creative Arts with Music Production (Top-up) (1 year).
Cardiff and Vale College – BMus Music Performance and Recording (Top-up) (1 year); BA (Hons) Electronic Music Production (Top-up) (1 year).
dBs Institute of Sound & Digital Technologies – MA Electronic Music Production; MA Music Production & Sound Engineering; MA Innovation in Sound (all awarded by Falmouth University).
New College Durham – BA (Hons) Popular Music (Top-Up) (1 year).
Edinburgh College of Art – MPhil Art (has music element).
Glasgow School of Art – MDes Sound for the Moving Image.
South Gloucestershire and Stroud College – BA (Hons) Musical Theatre.
Hereford College of Arts –BA (Hons) Popular Music (Top Up) (1 year).
Hull College – BA (Hons) Music (Popular Performance/Creative Music Production) Top-up (1 year); BA Performance (Musical Theatre) (Top-up) (1 year).
Lincoln College – BA (Hons) Musical Instrument Craft (various sub-options).
City of Liverpool College University Centre – BA (Hons) Performing Arts (Acting/Dance/Musical Theatre) (Top-Up) (1 year); BA (Hons) Music (Popular/Production) (Top-Up) (1 year).
Loughborough College – BA (Hons) Contemporary Music, Performance and Production.
Middlesbrough College – BSc (Hons) Sound and Music Technology.
Morley College – BA (Hons) Music (Performance or Production) (Top Up) (1 year).
National Film and Television School – MA Composing for Film and Television; MA Sound Design for Film and Television
Newcastle College University Centre – BA (Hons) Music Production; BA (Hons) Musical Theatre (Top-up) (1 year).
City College Plymouth – BA (Hons) Music Practitioner (Top-Up).
Rose Bruford College – BA (Hons) Audio Production (Technology/Music/Sound Design); BA (Hons) Actor Musicianship.
MA/MFA Actor Musicianship.
Sheffield College – BA (Hons) Music Performance and Production (Top-up) (1 year).
ThinkSpace Education – MA Professional Media Composition; MA Orchestration for Film, Games & Television; MA Sound Design for Video Games; MA Composing for Video Games; MA International Music Business; MA Songwriting & Music Production; MFA Songwriting, Production and Music Business; MFA Media Composition & Orchestration; MFA Video Game Composition and Orchestration; MFA Video Game and Media Composition; MFA Video Game Music and Audio.
West Suffolk College – BA (Hons) Commercial Music Production (part-time, 6 years).
East Sussex College – BA (Hons) Music Production and Creative Recording (Top-up) (1 year).
Only degree courses, and only in music, are listed here.
Royal College of Music (RCM) – BMus (Hon) Music (4 years).
MPerf Performance; MComp Composition; MMus Performance; MMus Composition; MSc Performance Science; Med Education.
Royal Academy of Music (RAM), University of London – BMus (Hon) Music (4 years); BMus (Hon) Composition (4 years); BMus (Hon) Jazz (4 years).
MA Performance or Composition; MA Musical Theatre; MMus Performance or Composition.
Guildhall School of Music and Drama (GSMD) – BMus (Hons) Music.
MA Music Therapy; MA Opera Making and Writing; MMus/MComp in Composition; MMus/Mperf in Performance (Artist/Orchestral Pathways).
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance – BMus (Hons) Music Performance (4 years; also optional foundation year); BMus (Hons) Music Performance Jazz Studies (4 years); BA (Hons) Music Performance and Industry; BA (Hons) Musical Theatre Performance.
MA Music; MA Music Education and Performance; MMus Music.
Leeds Conservatoire – BA (Hons) Music (Classical) (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Music (Classical with Jazz); BA (Hons) Music (Classical with Popular); BA (Hons) Music (Classical with Folk, Roots and Blues); BA (Hons) (Classical with Production); BA (Hons) Music (Jazz) (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Music (Jazz with Classical); BA (Hons) Music (Jazz with Folk, Roots and Blues); BA (Hons) Music (Jazz with Popular); BA (Hons) Music (Jazz with Production); BA(Hons) Music (Popular Music) (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Music (Popular with Classical); BA (Hons) Music (Popular with Jazz); BA (Hons) Music (Popular with Folk, Roots and Blues); BA (Hons) Music (Popular with Production);BA (Hons) Music (Folk, Roots and Blues); BA (Hons) Music (Folk, Roots and Blues with Classical); BA (Hons) Music (Folk, Roots and Blues with Jazz); BA (Hons) Music (Folk, Roots and Blues with Popular); BA (Hons) Music (Folk, Roots and Blues with Production); BA (Hons) Music Production; BA (Hons) Music (Production with Classical); BA Music (Production with Folk, Roots and Blues); BA (Hons) Music (Production with Jazz); BA (Hons) Music (Production with Popular); BA (Hons) Music (Songwriting) (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Music (Film Music) (optional foundation year); BA (Hons) Actor Musician; BA (Hons) Music (Business); BA (Hons) Music Production (Top-up) (1 year); BA (Hons) Popular Music (Top-up) (1 year).
MA Music; MA Musical Direction; MA Musical Theatre Company; MA Musical Theatre Creatives
Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) – BMus (Hons) Music; BMus (Hons) Popular Music.
MMus Music; MPerf Performance.
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (RBC) – BMus (Hons) Performance (4 years); BMus (Hons) Composition (4 years); BMus (Hons) Jazz (4 years); BMus (Hons) Music Technology (4 years).
MMus Choral Composition; MMus Composition; MMus Instrumental Performance; MMus Jazz; MA Musicology; MA/MFA Professional Voice Practice; MMus Orchestral Performance (Strings); MMus Vocal Performance; MMus Brass Band Conducting; MMus Orchestral Conducting; MMus Experimental Performance; MMus Music Technology.
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) – BMus (Hons) Performance (4 years); BMus (Hons) Composition (4 years); BMus (Hons) Joint Principal Study (4 years); BMus (Hons) Jazz (4 years); BMus (Hons) Traditional Music (4 years); BMus (Hons) Traditional Music – Piping (4 years); BA Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Contemporary Performance Practice (4 years); BEd (Hons) Music (4 years).
MA Psychology in the Arts (Music); MMus/MA Repetiteurship; MMus Keyboard; MMus/MA (no qualifier); MMus/MA Strings; MMUs Opera; MMus/MA Brass; MMus/MA Composition; MMus/MA Guitar and Harp; MMus/MA Piano for Dance; MMus/MA Jazz; MMus/MA Timpani and Percussion; MMus/MA Traditional Music; MMus/MA Piano Accompaniment; MMus/MA Chamber Music; MMus/MA Woodwind; MMus/MA Conducting; MMus/MA Vocal Performance; MMus Performance and Pedagogy; MA Musical Theatre – Performance; MA Musical Theatre – Musical Directing; MEd Learning and Teaching in the Arts.
Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) – BMus (Hons) Music (4 years); BMus (Hons) Jazz (4 years); BA (Hons) Musical Theatre.
MMus Music Performance; MMus Music Performance (Intensive); MMus Orchestral Performance; MMus Orchestral Performance (Intensive); MA Advanced Opera Performance; MMus Chamber Music Performance; MMus Multi-Instrument Woodwind Performance; MMus Collaborative Piano; MMus Orchestral Conducting; MMus Brass Band Conducting; MMus Choral Conducting; MA Repetiteur Studies; MMus Historical Performance; MA Opera 360: The Opera Industry (FT & PT); MA Opera Directing; MA Jazz; MMus Composition; MMus Composition (Intensive); MMus Composer-Performer; MMus Collaborative Creative Practice; MA Musical Theatre; MA Stage & Event Management; MA Arts Management (FT & PT).
6. Private Providers
Only those offering courses via UCAS for 2023-24 entry are listed here. Some others such as the dBS Institute are directly linked with other providers (in that case Falmouth), so are not listed here.
Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM) (Guildford, also with site in London) – BA (Hons) Commercial Songwriting (2 or 3 years, including option of 3 years including foundation year); BA (Hons) Music Composition (2 or 3 years, including option of 3 years including foundation year); BA (Hons) Creative Musicianship ( – Guitar/Bass/Drums/Keys/Other Instruments) (3 years); BA (Hons) Creative Entrepreneurship – Composition/Performance/Songwriting (2 or 3 years); BA (Hons) Music Production (2 or 3 years); BA (Hons) Live Production & Technical Arts (2 or 3 years); BA (Hons) Management & Entrepreneurship (3 years); BA (Hons) Rap & MC (2 or 3 years); BA (Hons) Songwriting (3 years); BA (Hons) Game-Development: Art/Audio/Design/Programming (2 years); BA (Hons) Live Production & Technical Arts (2 years); MCCI Commercial Songwriting (3 years); MCCI Music Composition (3 years); MCCI Creative Entrepreneurship – Composition/Performance/Songwriting/Production (2 or 3 years); MCCI Music Production (3 years); MCCI Live Production & Technical Arts (3 years); MCCI Management and Entrepreneurship (3 years); MCCI Rap & MC (3 years). Degrees accredited by Guildford College, Middlesex University, University of Surrey.
MA/MSc Creative Industries Futures (via Middlesex University).
British and Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMM) University (multiple branches in London, Brighton, Bristol, Birmingham, Birmingham, also in Dublin and Hamburg) – BA (Hons) Electronic Music Production; BA (Hons) Music Production; BA (Hons) Music Production & Music Business; BA (Hons) Sound Production; BMus (Hon) Popular Music Performance; BMus (Hon) Popular Music Performance & Songwriting; BA (Hons) Popular Music Performance and Music Business; BA (Hons) Popular Music Performance and Music Production; BA (Hons) Music Business; BA (Hons) Music Business & Event Management; BA (Hons) Music Marketing, Media and Communication; BA (Hons) Popular Music Performance & Event Management; BA (Hons) Musical Theatre and Dance; BMus (Hons) Songwriting; BA (Hons) Songwriting & Music Business; BA (Hons) Songwriting & Music Production. Degree-awarding powers since 2019; university status since 2022.
MA Popular Music Practice (available at seven locations, including London); MA Learning and Teaching in the Creative Industries (available only at Brighton and Bristol).
Futureworks, Manchester – BA (Hons) Music Production; BSc (Hons) Audio Engineering and Production. Appears to have own degree-awarding powers.
Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (London) – BMus (Hon) Popular Music Performance; BMus (Hon) Popular Music Performance (Bass/Guitar/Drums/Keys/Vocals); BA (Hons) Creative Musicianship; BA (Hons) Creative Musicianship (Bass/Guitar/Drums/Keys/Vocals/Other Instruments); BA (Hons) Songwriting; BA (Hons) Creative Music Production; BA (Hons) Music Production for Film, TV and Games; BA (Hons) Music Production and Entrepreneurship; BA (Hons) Audio Engineering and Production (3 years); BA (Hons) Digital Marketing (and Content Creation) (3 years); BA (Hons) Digital Marketing and Music Management; BA (Hons) Music Business and Entrepreneurship. Appears to have own degree-awarding powers.
MA Songwriting; MA Music Performance; MA Creative Music Production; MA Music Business; MMus Popular Music Performance.
Liverpool Media Academy (LMA) (also has branch in London) – BA (Hons) Musical Theatre; BA (Hons) Music Performance & Industry. Degrees accredited by Staffordshire and Northampton Universities.
London College of Creative Media (LCCM) – BA (Hons) Music Business Management; BMus (Hons) Contemporary Music Performance and Production – Bass, Drums, Guitar, Piano/Keys, Sax, Trumpet, Vocals, Production, Songwriting; BMus (Hons) Commercial Music Technology; BMus (Hons) Composition for Film, Games, and other Media. Degrees accredited by Open University and Falmouth University.
MMus Contemporary Music Production; MMus Contemporary Music Performance.
Point Blank Music School (London, also branches in Los Angeles, Ibiza, Mumbai, Hangzhou) – BA (Hons) Music Production & Sound Engineering (2 years or 3 years; or 3 or 4 with Foundation Year) (also option of 3 years online); BA (Hons) Music Industry Management (2 year, option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Music Production and Sound Engineering (2 or 3 years, option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Music Production & DJ Performance (2 years or 3 years; or 3 or 4 with Foundation Year); BA (Hons) Music Production and Vocal Performance (2 or 3 years; option of foundation year); BA (Hons) Music Industry Management (2 or 3 years, option of foundation year). Degrees accredited by Middlesex University.
SAE Institute (international franchise, originally in Sydney, Australia, British branches in London, Liverpool, Glasgow) – BA/BSc (Hons) Audio Production (2 years). Degrees accredited by Hertfordshire University, formerly Middlesex University.
Waterbear College of Music, Brighton and Sheffield – BA (Hons) Professional Music (Performance); BA (Hons) Professional Music (Production); BA (Hons) Professional Music (Songwriting).
MA Music Performance, Production & Business; MA Music Industry Enterprise (in conjunction with Falmouth University).
There are five principal categories of undergraduate music degrees:
- Plain Music (generally with no other qualifier in the title).
- Music Technology/Production/etc: this term is an umbrella one for most courses focused upon technology.
- Musical Theatre.
- Popular/Commercial Music.
- Music Performance.
There are also other degrees in Music Journalism, Film/Media Music, Music and Gaming and Music Business/Industry, but none of these has as many students across the sector as the above (though Music Business/Industry may be growing).
Russell Group institutions are overwhelmingly centred around plain ‘Music’ courses (offered at every institution), with just a few also offering Popular or Tech courses. Mid-ranking institutions, with the exception of Keele, Kent and SOAS, all offer plain ‘Music’ courses, but are divided between around half centred on these (Aberdeen; Bangor; Brunel; Royal Holloway; Ulster), and others offering music tech or (in three cases) popular music. The post-1992s, only 13 of which over plain ‘Music’ courses (Bath Spa; Canterbury Christ Church; Chichester; Edinburgh Napier; Falmouth; Huddersfield; Lincoln; Liverpool Hope; Middlesex; Northumbria; Oxford Brookes; Plymouth; York St John) are overwhelmingly focused on practice-based subjects, in particular music technology and musical theatre, but also music performance; the Colleges of HE and private providers are similar. The conservatoires are different types of institutions, much more strongly focused around performance.
As regards degree titles, traditionally (from the first major growth of the sector after 1945) there were two: the BMus (Bachelor of Music) and the BA (Bachelor of Arts) in Music. Overall, the BMus had a greater concentration on technical aspects of music, including composition in particular, while the BA placed greater emphasis on reading of literature, and in particular did not grant performance a central role (the role of performance in undergraduate degrees has long been complicated). However, the meanings of the titles morphed considerably in subsequent years, so that today it is often difficult to read much meaning into them except at those institutions which offer both, where the traditional type of divide tends still to apply. BSc degrees became available from the 1970s, usually involving some degree of technology, but were still relatively unusual as late as 1990. These grew considerably in number in the intervening period, though it is relatively rare for departments only to offer them. A small few music technology degrees stressing engineering are also called BEng.
On the basis of figures from 2020-21 (an unusual year, for sure, because of the COVID pandemic, but figures do not differ significantly from those in the few years leading up to it), the balance of students on these is as follows:
University Departments (not Conservatoires)
Music: 1381 (19.5%)
Tech: 2214 (31.2%)
Popular Music: 773 (10.9%)
Musical Theatre: 1558 (22%)
Performance: 453 (6.4%)
Other: 389 (5.4%)
Music: 30 (1.6%)
Tech: 137 (7.4%)
Popular Music: 260 (14%)
Musical Theatre: 115 (6.2%)
Performance: 1000 (54%)
Other: 273 (14.7%)
Music: 1411 (15.8%)
Tech: 2351 (26.3%)
Popular Music: 1033 (11.6%)
Musical Theatre: 1673 (18.7%)
Performance: 1453 (16.3%)
Business/Management: 269 (3%)
Other: 393 (3%)
It is therefore clear that plain ‘Music’ courses are very far from dominating the sector. These, together with those Performance courses offered at conservatoires, are the only ones which would afford a central place for classical music, or music history, analysis, repertoire and in some cases the study of non-Western musics, though most also have significant modules in composition and performance, and also frequently popular music, music technology, music business are available as modular options (more on this in a future post on curricula). However, popular music courses gain significantly fewer students than plain ‘Music’ ones, though this should be offset by the fact that popular music is often a principal concern on music technology courses as well.
Postgraduate taught courses
I am not at present at liberty to share information on the breakdown of student numbers on these courses, so my analysis is of necessity briefer. But it can suffice to say that there has been a significant net increase in PGT students since the introduction of the 2016 Master’s Degree Loan Scheme, enabling PGT students to access student loans for the first time.
The types of courses frequently offered break down into a wider range of categories, as follows (these are not in order of student numbers but type):
(i) Music/Musicology, offered by almost all RG, most mid-ranking, 8 post-92s, 3 conservatoires.
(ii) Ethnomusicology, offered by 3 RGs, 2 mid-ranking.
(iii) Composition/Electroacoustic Composition/Sound Art, offered by 9 RGs, 5 mid-ranking, 6 post-92s, 1 College of HE, 8 conservatoires, and BIMM.
(iv) Performance, offered by 9 RGs, 7 mid-ranking, 10 post-92s, 8 conservatoires, 4 private providers.
(v) Music Technology/Production, offered by 2 RGs, 2 mid-ranking, 18 post-92s, 1 College of HE, 1 conservatoire, 4 private providers.
(vi) Sound/Sound Design, offered by 2 RGs, 5 post-92s, 1 College of HE.
(vii) Popular/Commercial Music, offered by 2 RGs, 1 mid-ranking, 4 post-92s, 2 conservatoires.
(viii) Music/Sound for Film/Video/Games, offered by 3 RGs, 1 mid-ranking, 7 post-92s, 3 Colleges of HE.
(ix) Musical Theatre, offered by 3 mid-ranking, 3 post-92s, 1 College of HE, 4 conservatoires.
(x) Music Industry/Business/Management, offered by 5 RGs, 2 mid-ranking, 10 post-92s, 1 College of HE, 1 conservatoire, 2 private providers.
(xi) Music Psychology, offered by 2 RGs, 1 mid-ranking, 1 conservatoire.
(xii) Music Therapy, offered by 5 post-92s, 1 conservatoire.
(xiii) Music Education, offered by 3 RGs, 2 mid-ranking, 3 post-92s, 3 conservatoires, and BIMM.
Other more occasional courses exist in Historically-Informed Performance/Performance Practice; Music and Science; Musical Instrument Research; Creative Practice (including Music): Arts/Arts and Humanities/Humanities (including Music); Sound and Music Computing/Computer Music; Audio Engineering; Contemporary Music Studies; Socially Engaged Arts Practice; Community Music; Acoustics; Sacred Music; Music and the Environment; Modern Music Practices; Opera Making and Writing; Creative Industries Futures.
The titles MA and MMus are very common for postgraduate taught degrees, though the content can be very heterogenous. By the 1970s the majority of universities offering UG courses also offered PGT ones, but by the 1980s study of advertising for such courses demonstrates how hard individual institutions worked to distinguish theirs from others. The title MSc usually reserved for courses focused on technology and/or computing, but occasionally for Music Business/Industry/Management or Music Therapy. There is no obvious consistency of usage of this term. York may have been the first to offer an MA/MSc in Music Technology and the University of Huddersfield was an earlier pioneer in an MA in Performance or Composition. By the year 2000, still only a small few post-92 universities were offering PGT courses, and the number had not increased that significantly by 2010. However, this has now increased following the introduction of the Master’s Degree Loan Scheme in 2016, as mentioned earlier. A detailed quantitative study commissioned by the government in 2019 to consider the effect of the new scheme on PGT recruitment as a whole (in all subjects) found a 36% increase in overall numbers, though little data to suggest significant changes in the demographic profiles of students.
Some Musings on Music, Meritocracy and MorePosted: April 21, 2023 Filed under: Art, Culture, Music - General | Tags: Alfred Cortot, Bill Haley, brian ferneyhough, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Deborah Annetts, Eddie Cochran, elvis presley, Fats Domino, incorporated society of musicians, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Lloyd Price, Madonna, marketing, meritocracy, promotion, rhythm 'n' blues, rock 'n' roll, thatcher, William Kapell 1 Comment
I am often interested in the question of to what extent musical careers, in all types of music, can be said to be founded upon merit. There are three types of positions with which I am familiar, but all of which seem unsatisfactory. One is that of the simple ‘talent will out’, that if someone is sufficiently talented, or at least has attained a high level of accomplishment, then recognition and success will naturally follow. Another, which another musicologist recently related to me as hearing from students, maintains that ‘if you believe in yourself, you can make it’. A third, sometimes thought by some on the traditional left, would suggest that almost everything comes down to marketing and promotion, and the quality of what is being promoted is at most a secondary concern.
None of these really seem to encompass the multiple factors involved. The first two arguments seem to bracket out all sorts of contingencies. To pursue a successful career in which work is to be found in major urban centres, at the very least one needs the initial wherewithal to live in or near to those urban centres. This factor would have been much harder if I were starting out now rather than when moving to London in the early 1990s. Some have a whole range of contacts through chance of who are their family and friends, which are not available to others, and this can certainly accelerate the process. One needs the freedom to practice, to be available for gigs, which can be difficult if, for example, one has major caring responsibilities. And of course there are many other types of prejudice, racial, sexual, class-based, which it would be foolish and reckless not to acknowledge in terms of career paths sometimes being considerably more difficult for some than others. The Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, Deborah Annetts, recently testified to UK Members of Parliament on the prevalence of sexual harassment and how some female musicians are told to ‘sleep their way to the top’.
The third position, which also informs some sociology of art, brackets out the art itself, or at least reduces it to a rather bland commodity relative to systems of patronage, as well as power structures, and the like. But can anything be ‘sold’ in this way? I am no expert on marketing, but do not believe this, not least because for all successful marketing/promotion campaigns, there are also plenty of those which are unsuccessful, in ways which may not be wholly down to the nature of the marketing. No matter how skilfully marketed was the music of Brian Ferneyhough, I do not believe it would ever reach a mass audience – it is too intricate, requiring of sustained attention, in ways which do not concur with many people’s common approaches to listening, for that.
With this in mind, I do not believe the factors in the first two positions should be discounted. I doubt there are many musicians or music which have achieved some sustained recognition, in which there can not be found some evident of talent or accomplishment, even if not always in the same places. Madonna may not be one of the world’s great singers, but in terms of her other musical choices, dance, ability to move between a range of different styles and respond to changing times, and careful cultivation of visual image, clearly lots of other skills were involved in establishing, developing and consolidating her reputation. Thelonious Monk had as idiosyncratic a piano technique as one could imagine, and would frequently play wrong notes, but at the same time his playing achieved such a striking angular presence, which was a different type of quality. From a wholly different musical context, the same would often be said of pianist Alfred Cortot.
With respect to self-belief, this should surely not be discounted either, even if it is not the whole story. The view that simple determination will breed success is one I associate with the Thatcher era, and comes with the concomitant view that those who are less successful are themselves to blame. But many will experience good and bad times as musicians, and without self-belief, might just choose to abandon their activities during the bad ones. A conviction in the value of one’s work has sustained many a musician in this way. On the other hand, self-belief can also be a substitute for disciplined work, and the limitations of such an approach can quickly become apparent. Just because one believes in one’s own work does not guarantee that others will share this view, though it can inform the conviction with which the work is presented.
The visual aspect of musical performance may be one of the most problematic, however. It is widely recognised that the impact of many popular musicians is the product of numerous factors, definitely including but not limited to the music, as in the case of Madonna mentioned above. In classical, jazz and some other musics, there are different visual conventions, and the visual may not be so obviously foregrounded and developed as a central part of the art, but visual factors are certainly there. But when one accepts the visual as a component, then can one avoid such factors as musicians being judged on their looks as much as their music, as has certainly (and more than understandably) been raised as a source of objection by many female classical musicians in particular? Some popular musicians who may not always be regarded conventionally ‘beautiful’ have nonetheless found ways to generate striking visual images and presentation which have contributed to their success. But this can become more difficult as some get older (examples such as Tina Turner, who sustained a long career right up to her 80s, may be the exception rather than the rule), and of course racial and other prejudices can play a big part. At the height of mid-1950s rock ‘n’ roll, there were major African-American stars (Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Lloyd Price) alongside white ones (Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran), but it was not at all mere chance that a white musician, Elvis Presley, became the biggest star of all – Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records, recognised that it was through Elvis that there was a chance to bring music with a major African-American provenance to white audiences. Fats Domino was asked in the mid-1950s about this new music called rock ‘n’ roll, to which he replied that he called it rhythm ‘n’ blues and had been playing it in New Orleans since 1940. Even if African-Americans certainly played a part in the new movement, it was when white musicians also became involved that much larger audiences were found.
Audiences may be able to be ‘sold’ things, manipulated in various ways and induced to part with money when they might not have done so otherwise. Education can breed ‘ways in’ for more demanding music. But these processes are not, I believe, infinite in their scope, and some will never be persuaded of the value, to them, of certain music and musicians. And furthermore, this may relate to a range of factors over and above the music, including what the musician looks like. Careers can be worked on fruitfully and developed, but there are always other factors involved, not always in the control of the musician or those around them. To take the most dramatic examples: neither Buddy Holly nor classical pianist William Kapell could in any sense have had any meaningful agency relating to both of their tragic early deaths in plane crashes. While in either case these may in part have contributed to some of the mythology around them, obviously they could not continue to develop as musicians after then.
So many factors are involved in developing musical careers: talent, dedication and consequent accomplishment, self-belief, marketing, promotion and shrewd career choices, but equally privilege, prejudice, fortunate circumstances beyond the musician’s control, and so on. Some of these and other factors (or at least particular ‘packages’ of them) may constitute bottom lines, but are rarely the whole story. The models of meritocracy, of the ‘will to success’, or negative ones which deny the role of anything to do with the art, are insufficient.
How to create an inclusive classroom for students of all political persuasionsPosted: December 20, 2022 Filed under: Academia, brexit, Conservative Party, Culture, European Union, Higher Education, History, Labour Party, Musical Education, Politics | Tags: 1996 Education Act, academic freedom, activism, alice sullivan, brexit, british national party, busby berkeley, communism, creative industries, cultural industries, culture industry, daily mail, daniel goldhagen, david miliband, decolonise the curriculum, Ed Miliband, edi, edward said, ethnomusicology, fascism, friedrich hayek, Higher Education, ho chi minh, holocaust, james olsen, john moore, judith suissa, leni riefenstahl, Lenin, lord moore, michel foucault, milton friedman, olufemi taiwo, patrick porter, paul harper-scott, political impartiality, ralph miliband, raoul hillberg, russia, slavery, stalin, stuart hall, tito, trotsky, united states, vladimir putin 6 Comments
This blog post was planned earlier this year in response to a very important question placed on social media, by the account known as Experimental Philosophy (@xphilosopher ), which was as follows:
At this moment in time, this issue seems more vivid than ever, and it is one I myself have considered at length during my university career, both when my own politics were more aligned with the radical left and in terms of the social democratic position which I espouse nowadays.
Teaching is not preaching. In the UK, the 1996 Education Act forbids the ‘promotion of partisan political views’ at primary and secondary level. This is sensible when teaching at that level; a corresponding prohibition at tertiary level would inevitably entail a significant loss of autonomy and academic freedom which would be undesirable. Furthermore, students are generally legally adults, and as such it is reasonable to think that they are in more of a position to be able to recognise and critique such views for themselves.
But what about the duty of academics to make all students feel welcome, and able to express their own views without fear or intimidation? Here there is much reason for concern, not least with respect to political bias amongst academics themselves. There is clear evidence that academics identifying with conservative or right-of-centre positions are in a quite small minority. There have been various attempts to refute this, some involving obfuscation, other balanced appraisals (such as this study), suggesting that the situation varies between countries and disciplines, but without denying this is the case in the humanities in particular. As one working in the humanities, and identifying as left-of-centre, this concerns me very much.
I was distressed and angry by the Brexit vote, and continue to believe that this will soon be seen as one of the worst own goals in this country for a very long time. Nonetheless, I am quite sure that not everyone who supported or continues to support Brexit is simply stupid or ignorant (I think they are wrong, but that is not the same). Furthermore, as 52% of those who voted in the 2016 referendum supported Brexit, this is sure to include at least some who were students at the time, or their families. For a lecturer in class to brand them stupid and ignorant (the views they express outside of the classroom are their own business) would be grounds for legitimate complaint. I dislike a lot about the form of unbridled capitalism in the United States, as well as the meagreness of welfare provision in that country, the gun culture, the fact that this is the only Western country still to execute its own citizens, or the draconian sentencing policies implemented in many of its regions. I do not believe this amounts to a slur on American citizens in general (anymore than drastic opposition to Putin and the actions of the Russian government and military amounts to a slur on all Russians), whilst recognising that to some extent in a democracy the actions of governmental authorities cannot be divorced from the will of its citizens. But I would never think that teaching is a place to try and preach this to students, some of whom may be from the United States.
Some of the responses to the Twitter post above were encouraging (I won’t link to all the tweets, but one can go and view the thread oneself): some suggested that one should avoid making partisan statements in class, avoid making one’s own political opinion clear (I do not necessarily agree with this, but certainly think it needs to be tempered – see below), or interestingly suggested the teacher can present themselves as the advocate for an argument in a paper, perhaps thus inviting the students to find holes in it. But others epitomised what the post was trying to address – one said that conservative students are ‘threatened by rational thought, scientific evidence, and collective determination of invariant truth’ (which I argued is equally true of many on the left), another branded anyone right-of-centre as ‘racist or intolerant’. One suggested that one should become friendly with conservative colleagues, with which I wholeheartedly agree. Others reasonably asked whether this was not equally an issue for conservative academics teaching left-of-centre students, and this certainly needs to be considered too; I would say (including in my own field) there are more than a few who present themselves as politically ‘progressive’, and assume themselves to be left-of-centre, but their neglect of the economic lead them to become quite aggressive advocates of market forces and consumer culture (see my earlier post here and the end of the post here).
This is a blog post rather than a scholarly article, and does not allow for the type of thoroughgoing research required to ascertain the extent to which political activism and intimidation of students with different political views are major factors within higher education. So here I draw upon personal experience, and knowledge imparted by a wide range of other academics and some students or former students. I am not sure I have always been successful with avoiding some of these factors in my teaching, but over the last decade-and-a-bit have thought and worked harder on this.
- Always ensure that your lecture materials, set readings, and so on, draw attention to plural political and other perspectives on the issues at stake.
- As an extension of 1, make sure you set readings which are not just those with which you personally agree.
- If you wish to inform the students of your own position on certain matters, always emphasise that this is your own, should not be given priority over the views of other scholars, and above all stress that students will never be penalised in their assignments for disagreeing with your position, nor win any special favour for agreeing with it.
- When there is a clear majority of students adhering to a particular view in class discussions, make sure you interject alternative views into this, and present these at their most convincing. Otherwise, students whose views are in the minority may feel afraid of not ‘going with the flow’.
- Avoid asking leading questions (this is a wider academic point) on all occasions. This includes assignments – anything along the lines of ‘Show how various forms of culture or knowledge served to sustain the power of particular groups in society’ should be right out. This should be reframed as a question of whether the forms of culture or knowledge in question served such an end. Also, avoid any type of passive-aggressive language which indicates a ‘right’ position to take or could be viewed as denigrating those who might disagree.
- Never present the work of highly politicised and contested figures – whether Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman, or Michel Foucault, Stuart Hall and Edward Said – as if their work represents some type of objective truth. Always draw attention to the critiques which exist of their work.
- As an issue directed towards those of a more right-of-centre persuasion: be aware of how politically loaded some concepts might be (I would include ‘cultural industries’ and ‘creative industries’ in this category, just as much as the Adornian negative conception of the ‘culture industry’). While students will often be working in a capitalist and market-driven world after graduation, that in no way means that education should exclude more critical positions on the marketplace and commercialism. Remember that you are teaching students to be intelligent, mature and independent critical thinkers, not just to adhere to a dominant ideology which you think might serve them well at a later stage.
- Do not appropriate rhetoric about white supremacy simply for the purposes of closing down discussion. This term should not be used lightly, especially not with students. This is no better than using racial epithets against students. Similarly, avoid as far as possible any comparisons with the Nazis unless talking about obvious genuine fascists. Also, be proactive if you see students trying to use similar rhetoric for the same aims.
- Much of the rhetoric about ‘decolonising’ education is toxic; loaded with all sorts of unchallenged assumptions, frequently ahistorical, again used as a means to close down debate and force through a particular political programme, and exploited by particular academic factions in order to bolster their own positions. I have published on the subject here in the context of music here and here; I would also recommend this piece by Patrick Porter, this by James Olsen and this interview with Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò for alternative perspectives to the dominant positions within the academic industry on this subject; the article upon leaving academic from Paul Harper-Scott gives a prime example of how this rhetoric is exploited. This does not mean by any means that the subject of possible intersections between culture, knowledge, institutions and colonialism are not a legitimate area for study; far from it. But whether particular intersections exist, and if so their nature, are critical questions, not opportunities for imposing dogma via questionable claims of EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity – see this article by Alice Sullivan and Judith Suissa on how bodies dealing with this are often hijacked by activists and political extremists). To be able to engage with such questions, teach students about the history of colonialism (including that from non-European powers) and slavery (likewise), introduce them to culture, thought, from non-Western culture, but allow them to arrive at their own conclusions. To put some non-Western cultural work, social practice or variety of knowledge on a pedestal, as if beyond criticism, is as demeaning and dehumanising to the heterogeneous people and social groups in any such region as anything from a far-right racist.
- Equally pernicious is the argument that ‘everything is political’, used to suggest that one person’s teaching cannot be more ‘politicised’ than another’s. This is aggressive and belligerent rhetoric which could equally be exploited by those on the far right.
- There are not that many subjects which lie outside of the boundaries of legitimate debate – those which involve dehumanisation and denigration of people on the grounds simply of what they were born, or those which involve cynical denial of genocidal events, are amongst the few. Even some for which academics may feel most passionately – about the extent to which a government should allow admission to those seeking to immigrate or claiming asylum, or whether the termination of a pregnancy is purely a matter of a woman’s own body, or whether the unborn child has rights and deserves protection too – elicit multiple views which exist within the boundaries of democratic debate. In some cases this may prove extremely difficult – how to respect, for example, the religious sensibilities of those who have firm views on the place of women, or on homosexuals, which would be beyond the realms of acceptable discourse for many others. Here I do not have a solution other than to argue that tertiary education should be conducted from a secular perspective, and no religion deserves special treatment.
More broadly, the use of teaching as a vehicle for propaganda and political activism should be entirely unacceptable, and students should receive independent advice to become aware of this and be provided with appropriate channels to register their unhappiness about it.
I have found many in academia may pay lip service to ‘critical thinking’, but this is tempered in one of two ways. For many, such critical thinking does not apply to many of the assumptions underlying their own field of work. Numerous ethnomusicologists, in my experience, can be especially wedded to axiomatic assumptions about the relationship between music and its social/cultural context (not to mention frequently treating the works of their own set of canonical thinkers practically as sacred texts). They are of course perfectly entitled to their own views and to express them, but students should not be made to adhere to and avoid critique to such thinking under fear of ostracisation or penalisation of their work. For others, their concept of ‘critical’ means absolute adherence towards a particular political view which they deem ‘critical’. Critiques of the NHS, of trade unions, of factions within the left, of antisemitic ideologies in the same place, can be just as ‘critical’ as those of capitalist institutions, the military, the monarchy or the church (and I say this as a dedicated trade unionist, with huge pride in the NHS, also very sceptical of the monarchy, many churches, and certainly of unregulated power given to the forces of capital).
There are of course limits – it would be foolish to think that a position advocating slavery, or expressing support for Nazism or Stalinism, should be treated just like any other political position. But even in these cases there is much more to education than simply telling students how bad these things are. There are many questions relating to the workings of the Western slave trade, the extent of complicity or active involvement of many in various fields of life, the extent to which assent towards this was dominant within political discourse or the extent to which it engendered significant opposition, and the sensitive issue of active complicity of some members of the societies from which slaves were taken (just as Holocaust scholar Raoul Hillberg encountered great controversy when investigating the involvement of some Jewish organisations in facilitating the machinery of genocide, now a perspective accepted by a wide range of historians). Nazism, wider fascism and the Third Reich form parts of my own research areas; I see how important it is in education to consider historical conceptions of fascism (far from the crude way the term is often bandied about nowadays), but also consider not just the extent to which it formed/forms a continuity with the pre- and post-fascist histories of the societies in question, to what extent there was popular approval for the movement (equally a question for Stalinism), including during the times of the worst atrocities, and how and why this might have been true, if there was indeed considerable support (the extent continues to divide historians, especially in the wake of the work of Daniel Goldhagen). I have taught a module entitled Music, Fascism, Communism for over a decade. In this, I frequently show students a section from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens (1935), focused around a Nuremberg Rally, presenting the Führer almost like an angel sent from on high, and with mesmerising choreographed scenes of sacralised, ritualistic displays of militaristic power. It would be easy just to tell students why this is so terrible; but actually I would like them to consider what it was about these types of spectacles (if indeed they did resemble Riefenstahl’s portrayals, which is a big ‘if’) might have proved so compelling, and by extension consider how cultural forms (I often juxtapose the Riefenstahl with some choreographed scenes from Busby Berkeley – others have commented on the similarities, and Riefenstahl herself acknowledged the influence of Berkeley) can operate upon the spectator (and listener) in such an atavistic manner, appealing in a purely sensuous and emotive manner, not to rational and critical faculties, and how this strategy has proved as effective in steering consumer habits as in bolstering emotional identification with fascism – though of course also registering dissenting views towards this interpretation. This is about attempting to encourage wider critical analysis of the phenomena in question and related ones, not simply to bolster support for a viewpoint with which no reasonable person would disagree (that Nazism was a disastrous and genocidal movement). Knowledge of Stalinism or more widely of documented atrocities under actually-existing communism seems to become thinner with every year that passes since the end of the Cold War; it is vital that students are aware of what has been documented beyond reasonable doubt, but there remain many different interpretations to explore, concerning such issues as whether Stalinism and its counterparts elsewhere were an inevitable consequence of any type of social upheaval following the principles laid down by Marx and Engels, or whether it was a distortion of these and this historical trajectory could have been avoided, the role of personalities such as Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Tito, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and many others, and in a cultural context whether there was any necessary connection between this type of politics and radical artistic movements (see my latest piece in The Spectator for some thoughts on this).
At one institution where I once did some teaching, I found that one student with whom I was working was a supporter of the British National Party. However, so long as this did not lead to the expression of overtly racist views in front of others, I did not see any reason for this to affect things. In another somewhat less loaded case, when teaching about performing some music explicitly linked to a specific left-wing political programme, with associated texts alluding to global events, I realise that some students there who had grown up in Eastern European countries under communism were uncomfortable with any suggestion that one should share the view of the composer in question, so I tried to adapt teaching from then onwards to make clear this needn’t be the case. I have also (briefly) taught a student who went on to become a Brexit Party MP; I have no idea what they think about my teaching, but hope at least that it didn’t make them feel politically excluded.
But let me end with an inspiring example from the past: the case of Ralph Miliband, father of David and Ed. Miliband was born to a Jewish refugee parents from Poland, who had settled in Belgium, and in turn had to flee the country to escape persecution at the hands of the Nazis and their Belgian allies. Miliband was a major political theorist who taught at the London School of Economics, the University of Leeds, and various US institutions. His positions were associated with particular factions of the Marxist left (and he had little time for the idea that change could be achieved through the Labour Party), unlike both of his sons, though this fact was used to discredit Ed Miliband in particular by association in pernicious journalism in the Daily Mail, calling the elder Miliband ‘The man who hated Britain’. But one who defended Miliband most strongly was Lord Moore, formerly John Moore, known in the 1980s as a right-wing member of Thatcher’s cabinet (associated in particular with major cuts to social security). Beyond defending Miliband against the charge that he hated Britain, he recalled studying under Miliband at the London School of Economics, where Moore was a student in the late 1950s:
Ralph Miliband taught me and I can say he was one of the most inspiring and objective teachers I had. Of course, we had different political opinions but he never treated me with anything less than complete courtesy and I had profound respect for his integrity.
I cannot imagine any stronger tribute to the fairness of one’s teaching than to have such a testimony from someone at the other end of the political spectrum, nor more worthy aim for academics than to be as fair and balanced to one’s own students as Miliband was to his.
Academic Freedom: definitions and risksPosted: September 27, 2022 Filed under: Academia, Art, Culture, Germany, Higher Education, History, Music - General, Musical Education, Musicology, Practice-Research | Tags: 1988 education reform act, 1997 unesco recommendation concerning the status of higher eduaction teaching personnel, 2017 higher education and research act, 2021 higher education (freedom of speech) bill, academic freedom, Academic Freedom and Internationalisation Working Group, activism, akua reindorf, alice sullivan, arif ahmed, brexit, brian ferneyhough, charles sanders pierce, christopher wiley, collegiality, david ruebain, decolonisation, edi, estelle morris, free speech, higher education policy institute, hillhead amendment, j.p.e. harper-scott, judith suissa, kathleen stock, laura favaro, lord jenkins, Model Code of Conduct for the Protection of Academic Freedom and the Academic Community in the Context of the Internationalisation of the UK Higher Education Sector, music and the university, nick hillman, office for students, philip ewell, quality assurance agency, quillette, researching and writing on contemporary art and artists, roy jenkins, royal holloway, schenkergate, tenure, times higher education supplement, timothy jackson, unesco, university college london, university of birmingham, university of southampton, university of sussex, wilhelm von humboldt, william cheng, wlliam matthews, writing about contemporary musicians 4 Comments
Last week I attended the debate ‘How can universities promote academic freedom? Insights from the front line of the gender wars’, at University College London’s Institute of Education. This was a stimulating and thoughtful event, organised in conjunction with the publication of a booklet of the same name by philosopher Professor Judith Suissa and sociologist Professor Alice Sullivan (both from UCL) (free to download). Suissa and Sullivan gave short introductions then responses to the booklet came from Baroness Estelle Morris (former Labour Secretary of State for Education), Professor David Ruebain (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Culture, Equality and Inclusion at the University of Sussex), Professor Arif Ahmed (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge) (Akua Reindorf was unable to be present). With a debate focused upon the issues of biological sex against gender, it would be hard to deny that the panel was dominated by those believing that the former is not simply subsumed within the latter, though I gather various proponents of the primacy of gender and/or trans individuals (the lack of which was noted by Ruebain) were invited but declined to participate. The discussion centered around the evidence and arguments in the booklet for concerted attempts to silence, no-platform and ostracise ‘gender-critical’ scholars, a phenomenon also identified in a recent Times Higher Education Supplement article by early career scholar Laura Favaro (also available at this link), based upon interviews with 50 academics involved with gender studies. Favaro found many examples of a culture of fear, self-censorship, gatekeeping within journals and academic networks, and a total lack of frank and open discussion on what are undoubtedly contested areas. Various panellists and members of the packed audience at the event related similar experiences. What I have not seen is gender-critical feminists attempting to have their opponents censored, no-platformed, or hounded from their positions, though some have naturally responded very negatively to highly abusive comments towards the former, sometimes advocating sexual or other violence.
Morris argued that the disputes relating to sex and gender were about ideology versus evidence-based reasoning. Sullivan argued that some university Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) organisations can be and have been infiltrated by those from activist groups with extremist views. Ahmed, who paid tribute to Suissa and Sullivan, recognising the concerted hostility they will have faced, also noted other areas of intolerance, such as a tendency to brand anyone in a university who was or is a supporter of Brexit as a bigot. Despite being a 200% Remainer myself, I would be hard-pressed to disagree that this is the case, and can see how much of a problem it is. Ruebain was the one panellist giving a somewhat different view, arguing that we need to understand the contexts in which contested examples of academic freedom occur, and also suggesting that the issues here are so intensely personal and emotionally felt by many that it is hard to subject them to the usual processes of academic critique. This may be the case, but personal feelings do not seem to be a concern for those engaged in quite vicious and abusive hate campaigns against those associated with gender-critical views, often trying to force them out of their job, as occurred with philosopher Professor Kathleen Stock at the University of Sussex, after facing a huge mobbing campaign from by students and colleagues. Ruebain also compared current debates with the fervent disputes between second-wave feminists and disability activists in the 1980s over such issues as abortion rights. One questioner argued that the situation depended a lot on the institution at which one was based, noting that UCL’s record on defending academic freedom and staff was exemplary, but the situation was rather different at the Universities of Birmingham or Sussex. A somewhat more ambivalent account of the debate was published by Jim Dickinson for Wonkhe.
Academic freedom is in my view an utterly essential component of university life, a non-negotiable prerequisite of scholarly rigour and integrity. I nonetheless find it disappointing to find that there are more than a few academics, including some in senior positions, who have a rather dismissive view of the whole concept. In part I believe this is relates to one of the most troubling recent phenomena in academia, its infiltration by activists, uninterested in any scholarly knowledge other than that which bolsters their a priori positions, who attempt to recruit in their own image, limit curricula and teaching materials to those things which concur with their activist beliefs, and can act shockingly towards other scholars or students who dare to disagree (more to follow on fair engagement with students of multiple political perspectives in a subsequent blog post). Also at stake is the legacy of postmodernism, sometimes imagined now to be a dated movement of the 1980s and 1990s which no longer carries any sway, but some of the aspects of which, in particular extreme relativisation of concepts of ‘truth’ (often in opposition to straw man characterisations of positions supposedly insisting on 100% objectivity), and the somewhat later dissolution of scholarship into politics, continue to be major presences on the academic landscape.
Stock has written of her memories of pugilistic debate from faculty members (mostly men) with visiting speakers from when she was a Masters philosophy student, which seemed frightening at the time and designed to humiliate the speakers. But for all the problems with this (and it is certainly possible to conduct robust debate in a more civilised fashion), she believes that what came later was worse. Stock observed an exaggerated synthetic ‘niceness’ in debates, but combined with unctuous name-dropping, endless rules around debate, rather arcane rituals for raising hands and fingers, and often banal questions. This did not however remove the aggression, but simply directed it elsewhere. In the absence of proper open debate, many would revert to surreptitious means to undermine others, through mass denunciations on social media, many ad hominem attacks, complaints, hidden campaigns, and so on. As so often, those enforcing an agenda ostensibly about ‘kindness’ could be amongst the most vicious in trying to silence those who disagree with them on anything. One professor has even described debate per se as ‘an imperialist capitalist white supremacist cis heteropatriarchal technique that transforms a potential exchange of knowledge into a tool of exclusion & oppression.’
Suissa and Sullivan (whose excellent booklet I will not describe in detail here, as I would prefer that people read it themselves) find ample evidence of both students and academics attempting to suppress free speech and academic freedom, and make various key recommendations. These include the maintenance of the university as a pluralistic space which welcomes diverse views, avoiding official ideological viewpoints on behalf of institutions and the use of political lobby groups in shaping policy or providing training, and while recognising that activist networks have a place in academia, they must be independent of the university administration. They also advocate education of staff and students on academic freedom and the value of productive disagreement, including its legal and philosophical bases, the promotion of academic freedom alongside equality, including the appointment of a champion for academic freedom within the senior leadership team, further promotion of collegiality (sometimes a misused term taken to signify concurrence with a dominant ideology or promotion of a collective ‘brand’ – see below) and tackling harassment, providing security of tenure, signalling institutional support for academic freedom, and defence of the pursuit of truth. An article on the booklet, in particular the need for appointment of champions of academic freedom, can be read here.
What does ‘academic freedom’ mean? Many at the debate agreed that it was a different concept to ‘free speech’, though the two do overlap. In a paper I gave in ‘Musicology and Academic Freedom’ at the Music and the University Conference at City, University of London in July, I enlisted several definitions which I wanted to share here as well as some other arguments made in this paper. Whilst the concept can be dated back many centuries, it is generally accepted that the moder definition has its roots in the work of Wilhelm von Humboldt and the founding of the Berlin Universität in 1810. Humboldt published an essay entitled ‘Über die innere und äussere Organisation der höheren wissenschaftlichen Anstalten zu Berlin’ (1809-10), which has been translated as ‘On the Spirit and the Organisational Framework of Intellectual Institutions in Berlin’, Minerva, vol. 8, no. 2 (April 1970), pp. 242-250. The following are amongst the most pertinent passages:
Since these institutions [universities] can only fulfil their purposes when each of them bears continuously in mind the pure idea of science and scholarship [these two terms are used to translate Wissenschaft], their dominant principles must be freedom and the absence of distraction (Einsamkeit).
At the higher level, the teacher does not exist for the sake of the student; both teacher and student have their justification in the common pursuit of knowledge. The teacher’s performance depends on the students’ presence and interest – without this science and scholarship could not grow. If the students who are to form his audience did not come before him of their own free will, he, in his quest for knowledge, would have to seek them out. The goals of science and scholarship are worked towards most effectively through the synthesis of the teacher’s and the students’ dispositions.
The state must always remain conscious of the fact that it never has and in principle never can, by its own action, bring about the fruitfulness of intellectual activity. It must indeed be aware that it can only have a prejudicial influence if it intervenes. The state must understand that intellectual work will go on infinitely better if it does not intrude.
Now as regards the organisational and material side of the relationship of the institution to the state, the only concerns of the latter must be profusion (in the sense of mental power and variety) of intellectual talents to be brought together in the institution. This can be achieved through care in the selection of persons and the assurance of freedom in their intellectual activities. This intellectual freedom can be threatened not only by the state, but also by the intellectual institutions themselves which tend to develop, at their birth, a certain outlook and which will therefore readily resist the emergence of another outlook. The state must seek to avert the harm which can possibly arise from this source.
The heart of the matter is the appointment of the persons who are to do the intellectual work.
The state must not deal with its universities as Gymnasia or as specialised technical schools; it must not use its academy as if it were a technical or scientific commission. It must in general – with certain exceptions among the universities which will be considered later – demand nothing from them simply for the satisfaction of its own needs. It should instead adhere to a deep conviction that if the universities attain their highest ends, they will also realise the state’s ends too, and these on a far higher plane. On this higher plane, more is comprehended and forces and mechanisms are brought into action which are quite different from those which the state can command.
The young person, on entry into university, should be released from the compulsion to enter either into a state of idleness or into practical life, and should be enabled to aspire to and elevate himself to the cultivation of science or scholarship which hitherto have only been pointed out to him from afar.
The way thereto is simple and sure. The aim of the schools must be the harmonious development of all the capacities of their pupils. Their powers must be focused on the smallest possible number of subject- matters but every aspect of these must be dealt with to as great an extent as possible. Knowledge should be so implanted in the mind of the pupil that understanding, knowledge and creativity excite it, not through any external features, but through their inner precision, harmony and beauty. [. . . ] A mind which has been trained in this way will spontaneously aspire to science and scholarship.
Humboldt’s writings should be read in the context of the traditional German division between universities on one hand and academies of the sciences and arts on the other. He definitely favoured the former, and suggested that the latter have only really flourished where there are few universities. Academies had less strict requirements for selection of staff, compared to the habilitation required in a German university. Humboldt also believed the state should take exclusive control of appointments, rather than faculties:
Although disagreements and disputes within a university are wholesome and necessary, conflicts which might arise between teachers because of their specialised intellectual interests might unwittingly affect their viewpoints.
This important point is at odds with common processes for selection in the UK today.
From Humboldt’s ideas came the twin concepts of Lehrfreiheit (freedom to teach) and Lernfreiheit (freedom to learn), as subsets of Wissenschaftsfreiheit or Akademische Freiheit. These concepts developed through the course of the nineteenth century.
Another hugely important intervention in the development of the concept came from philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce, in his lectures delivered at Cambridge, MA in 1898 (collected in the 1992 Harvard University Press volume Reasoning and the Logic of Things: The Cambridge Conferences Lectures of 1898), in particular that entitled ‘The First Rule of Logic’, in which he compared the situation in American universities deeply unfavourably with their German counterparts in terms of free intellectual inquiry and in particular the link between this and teaching:
…inquiry of every type, fully carried out, has the vital power of self-correction and of growth. This is a property so deeply saturating its inmost nature that it may truly be said that there is but one thing needful for learning the truth, and that is a hearty and active desire to learn what is true. If you really want to learn the truth, you will, by however devious a path, be surely led into the way of truth, at last. No matter how erroneous your ideas of the method may be at first, you will be forced at length to correct them so long as your activity is moved by that sincere desire. Nay, no matter if you only half desire it, at first, that desire would at length conquer all others could experience continue long enough. But the more voraciously truth is desired at the outset, the shorter by centuries will the road to it be.
In order to demonstrate that this is so, it is necessary to note what is essentially involved in The Will to Learn. The first thing that the Will to Learn supposes is a dissatisfaction with one’s present state of opinion. There lies the secret of why it is that our American Universities are so miserably insignificant. What have they done for the advance of civilization? What is the great idea or where is [a] single great man who can truly be said to be the product of an American University? The English universities, rotting with sloth as they always have, have nevertheless in the past given birth to Locke and to Newton, and in our time to Cayley, Sylvester and Clifford. The German universities have been the light of the whole world. The medieval University of Bologna gave Europe its system of law. The University of Paris, and that despised Scholasticism took Abelard and made him into Descartes. The reason was that they were institutions of learning while ours are institutions for teaching. In order that a man’s whole heart may be in teaching he must be thoroughly imbued with the vital importance and absolute truth of what he has to teach; while in order that he may have any measure of success in learning he must be penetrated with a sense of the unsatisfactoriness of his present condition of knowledge. The two attitudes are almost irreconcilable.
A range of statements followed from the American Association of University Professors, of which the most important is the ‘1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure’, which was and is endorsed by a wide range of US institutions:
- Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.
- Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject [my emphasis]. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.
- College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.
The idea of limitations on academic freedom with deference to religious or other related principles now seems archaic in the modern secular university, but is understandable in the context of its time. What exactly is entailed by the phrase ‘respect for the opinions of others’ is open to much interpretation (certainly it is hard to see how this is true of those who regularly brand their opponents fascists, communists, colonialists, white supremacists, and so on), but there can be proper arenas and frameworks for this, through scholarly forums and the like, in which any aspect of someone’s arguments can be rigorously debated so long as this does not trespass into the realms of personalised attacks on an ad hominem basis, invoking factors irrelevant to the work. Most arguments, within reason, should be allowed a fair hearing but so should challenges to such arguments. To separate individual from work is harder than ever, however, in a time of intense subjectivity in scholarship, in which some make their case essentially on the basis of who they are and the experiences they have had, rather than the cogency of their arguments, as identified in William Matthews recent article for the THES.
In the UK, the most significant definition of academic freedom in recent times came about in the 1988 Education Reform Act, specifically in the so-called ‘Hillhead amendment’, named after Lord [Roy] Jenkins of Hillhead, which appeared within Section 202. This concerned the appointment of a body of University Commissioners (following the abolition of tenure), who would have various tasks:
to ensure that academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at their institutions;
Similar principles, presented in a more elaborate fashion, can be found in the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel:
III. 4: Institutions of higher education, and more particularly universities, are communities of scholars preserving, disseminating and expressing freely their opinions on traditional knowledge and culture, and pursuing new knowledge without constriction by prescribed doctrines. The pursuit of new knowledge and its application lie at the heart of the mandate of such institutions of higher education. In higher education institutions where original research is not required, higher-education teaching personnel should maintain and develop knowledge of their subject through scholarship and improved pedagogical skills.
VI. 26: Higher-education teaching personnel, like all other groups and individuals, should enjoy those internationally recognized civil, political, social and cultural rights applicable to all citizens. Therefore, all higher-education teaching personnel should enjoy freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression, assembly and association as well as the right to liberty and security of the person and liberty of movement. They should not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as citizens, including the right to contribute to social change through freely expressing their opinion of state policies and of policies affecting higher education. They should not suffer any penalties simply because of the exercise of such rights. Higher-education teaching personnel should not be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention, nor to torture, nor to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In cases of gross violation of their rights, higher-education teaching personnel should have the right to appeal to the relevant national, regional or international bodies such as the agencies of the United Nations, and organizations representing higher-education teaching personnel should extend full support in such cases.
VI. 27: The maintaining of the above international standards should be upheld in the interest of higher education internationally and within the country. To do so, the principle of academic freedom should be scrupulously observed. Higher-education teaching personnel are entitled to the maintaining of academic freedom, that is to say, the right, without constriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom of teaching and discussion, freedom in carrying out research and disseminating and publishing the results thereof, freedom to express freely their opinion about the institution or system in which they work, freedom from institutional censorship and freedom to participate in professional or representative academic bodies. All higher-education teaching personnel should have the right to fulfil their functions without discrimination of any kind and without fear of repression by the state or any other source. Higher-education teaching personnel can effectively do justice to this principle if the environment in which they operate is conducive, which requires a democratic atmosphere; hence the challenge for all of developing a democratic society.
VI. 28: Higher-education teaching personnel have the right to teach without any interference, subject to accepted professional principles including professional responsibility and intellectual rigour with regard to standards and methods of teaching. Higher-education teaching personnel should not be forced to instruct against their own best knowledge and conscience or be forced to use curricula and methods contrary to national and international human rights standards. Higher-education teaching personnel should play a significant role in determining the curriculum.
VI. 29: Higher-education teaching personnel have a right to carry out research work without any interference, or any suppression, in accordance with their professional responsibility and subject to nationally and internationally recognized professional principles of intellectual rigour, scientific inquiry and research ethics. They should also have the right to publish and communicate the conclusions of the research of which they are authors or co-authors, as stated in paragraph 12 of this Recommendation.
VI. 30: Higher-education teaching personnel have a right to undertake professional activities outside of their employment, particularly those that enhance their professional skills or allow for the application of knowledge to the problems of the community, provided such activities do not interfere with their primary commitments to their home institutions in accordance with institutional policies and regulations or national laws and practice where they exist.
The UK 2017 Higher Education and Research Act (which came in the wake of a wide range of changes to Higher Education from 2010 onwards and established the Office for Students, superseding the earlier Higher Education Funding Council for England and Office for Fair Access), contained relevant material on academic freedom in Section 2(8):
In this Part, “the institutional autonomy of English higher education providers” means—
(a) the freedom of English higher education providers within the law to conduct their day to day management in an effective and competent way,
(b) the freedom of English higher education providers—
(i) to determine the content of particular courses and the manner in which they are taught, supervised and assessed,
(ii) to determine the criteria for the selection, appointment and dismissal of academic staff and apply those criteria in particular cases, and
(iii) to determine the criteria for the admission of students and apply those criteria in particular cases, and
(c) the freedom within the law of academic staff at English higher education providers—
(i) to question and test received wisdom, and
(ii) to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions,
without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at the providers.
For wider reasons beyond the scope of this article (but which will appear in a piece to be published in the THES in the week beginning 3 October), I do question some aspects of complete autonomy of higher education providers, which I do not believe has ever been wholly meaningful in light of wider bodies dedicated to the maintenance of standards (until recently by the Quality Assurance Agency). Furthermore staff deserve wider protection in terms of selection, appointment and dismissal practices, through employment laws which exceed the priorities of individual providers. Nonetheless, sections (a) and (c) are sound bases for the conducting of academic work.
In 2020, The Academic Freedom and Internationalisation Working Group produced a document entitled ‘Model Code of Conduct for the Protection of Academic Freedom and the Academic Community in the Context of the Internationalisation of the UK Higher Education Sector’. Whilst recognising the difficulties inherent in defining academic freedom satisfactorily, this group emphasise the following freedoms, drawing upon the 1988, 1997 and 2017 provisions:
- teach, discuss, assess, define the curriculum and study within their areas of academic expertise and/or inquiry;
- promote and engage in academic thinking, debate and inquiry;
- carry out research, and publish the results and make them known;
- freely express opinions about the academic institution or system in which they work or study;
- participate in professional or representative academic bodies;
- not be censored; and,
- fulfil their functions without discrimination or fear of repression.
These should not supplant the earlier definitions, but can be combined with them to demonstrate the priorities, and this provides a good basis for formulating working definitions.
Finally, the 2021 Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) bill (based on the white paper ‘Higher Education: Free Speech and Academic Freedom‘) from the UK Department of Education, still going through Parliament, lists the following duties for Higher Education Providers (HEPs):
A1 Duty to take steps to secure freedom of speech
(1) The governing body of a registered higher education provider must take the steps that, having particular regard to the importance of freedom of speech, are reasonably practicable for it to take in order to achieve the objective in subsection (2).
(2) That objective is securing freedom of speech within the law for—
(a) staff of the provider,
(b) members of the provider,
(c) students of the provider, and
(d) visiting speakers.
(3) The objective in subsection (2) includes securing that—
(a) the use of any premises of the provider is not denied to any individual or body on grounds specified in subsection (4), and
(b) the terms on which such premises are provided are not to any extent based on such grounds.
(4) The grounds referred to in subsection (3)(a) and (b) are—
(a) in relation to an individual, their ideas, beliefs or views;
(b) in relation to a body, its policy or objectives or the ideas, beliefs or views of any of its members.
(5) The objective in subsection (2), so far as relating to academic staff, includes securing their academic freedom.
(6) In this Part, “academic freedom”, in relation to academic staff at a registered higher education provider, means their freedom within the law—
(a) to question and test received wisdom, and
(b) to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves at risk of being adversely affected in any of the ways described in subsection (7).
(7) Those ways are—
(a) loss of their jobs or privileges at the provider;
(b) the likelihood of their securing promotion or different jobs at the provider being reduced.
(8) The governing body of a registered higher education provider must take the steps that, having particular regard to the importance of freedom of speech, are reasonably practicable for it to take in order to achieve the objective in subsection (9).
(9) That objective is securing that, where a person applies to become a member of academic staff of the provider, the person is not adversely affected in relation to the application because they have exercised their freedom within the law to do the things referred to in subsection (6)(a) and (b).
(10) In order to achieve the objective in subsection (2), the governing body of a registered higher education provider must secure that, apart from in exceptional circumstances, use of its premises by any individual or body is not on terms that require the individual or body to bear some or all of the costs of security relating to their use of the premises.
(11) In this Part—
references to freedom of speech include the freedom to express ideas, beliefs and views without suffering adverse consequences;
“registered higher education provider” and “governing body”, in relation to such a provider, have the same meanings as in Part 1 of this Act
A3 Duty to promote the importance of freedom of speech and academic freedom
The governing body of a registered higher education provider must promote the importance of—
(a) freedom of speech within the law, and
(b) academic freedom for academic staff of registered higher education providers and their constituent institutions,
in the provision of higher education.
The bill goes on to list responsibilities for students unions, governing bodies and the Office for Students in these respects and in particular the creation of a Director of Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom to monitor that such commitments on the part of HEPs are upheld.
While the bill is certainly not without problems, and may undergo further amendment before becoming law, I do believe overall it is a step forward. Those on the left who are committed to free speech and academic freedom should be prepared to concede some value in a piece of legislation introduced by a Conservative government.
Risks to Academic Freedom
In my own field of music/musicology, various recent events have highlighted issues of academic freedom. One is the affair known as ‘Schenkergate’, relating to the publication of a special issue of The Journal of Schenkerian Studies in 2020 in reference to the article by Philip A. Ewell, ‘Music Theory and the White Racial Frame’, Music Theory, vol. 26, no. 2 (September 2020). The controversy related in particular to an article by Schenker scholar Dr Timothy Jackson, making arguments about the prevalence of anti-semitism amongst African-Americans, and also arguing that the lack of involvement of African-Americans in music theory had much to do with the low incidence of classical music in the common upbringing of members of this community. Jackson found himself removed from the editorship of the journal as a result. He contested this in court and a Judge determined that this may violate his First Amendment rights. Prior to this, Jackson responded with an article for Quillette (‘The Schenker Controversy’, 20 December 2021) arguing for many fallacies in Ewell’s argument and reasoning.
The second affair was the resignation from a chair in musicology at Royal Holloway in the summer of 2021 of Professor J.P.E. Harper-Scott (who I will refer to as ‘Paul’, as that is how all who know him address him), about which I blogged earlier. Paul published an article online about his reasons for leaving academia, which included the following:
Without direct experience of academics until I went (as the first of my family) to university, I naively imagined them to be how they were presented in novels and TV programmes: sometimes quite bumbling and unworldly, but always committed to the pursuit of truth, never trusting in a commonplace ‘fact’ without subjecting it to the most serious sceptical scrutiny. This did not turn out to be true.
[…] It is a place filled with generally quite well-meaning people, but on the whole not with brave people, not people who are willing to follow the truth wherever it leads.
[….] I would put the problem in this (Kantian) way: I wrongly supposed that universities would be critical places, but they are becoming increasingly dogmatic.
This was followed by an example of a statement on the need to ‘decolonise’ the classical musical canon (on which subject I published an article in The Critic in July of this year), which was an example of what Harper-Scott deemed dogmatic, with a suggested alternative which he felt was more in the spirit of critical scholarly inquiry.
I share many of Paul’s concerns, and am also concerned with the trajectory of events relating to Schenkergate. But these relate to what I perceive as a range of factors which serve to limit and condition academic freedom in academia. So I offer the following list of these, some of which would concern those on the left, some those on the right, but all of which I think should concern anyone for whom academic freedom, defined more or less in the ways above, is a defining aspect of a university.
External Pressures from Industries and Institutions
I wrote more extensively about this subject in earlier blog posts here and here, but wish to emphasise (in line with the arguments in the later blog post), that in no sense should this be taken to imply that I oppose external engagement. I am referring to the situation whereby academics enter into partnerships with external institutions and bodies, which may be commercial, state-supported or partially state-supported. These partnerships may relate to research, teaching or both. In particular, I have in mind the situation in which the external institutions provide some financial support for these activities. If there is no such thing as a free lunch, there may also be no such thing as a free teaching or research grant. For such institutions to ask that their finance or other support entail concentration on certain areas is fair and to be expected. But what if the results are not necessarily what the external body wishes to hear?
The point may be made most clearly through reference to wider examples. Suppose that some major manufacturing corporation sponsors some research into the effects of particular types of manufacturing upon the environment. Perhaps the researchers in question may find their work leads them to the inexorable conclusion that this specific corporation are responsible for a range of environmentally damaging actions in the course of their regular activities, contrary to their own promotional material which argues that they are an environmentally-friendly corporation, also drawing attention to the fact that they sponsor this research in order to bolster such a thing. If the researchers felt under pressure to artificially modify or not publish their findings, for fear of not upsetting the corporation, this would in my view severely compromise academic freedom and integrity.
There needs to be some commonly agreed set of principles which become a basic prerequisite for academics entering into some partnership with an external institution, whereby they are free to follow where their research leads them without fear of the institution blocking their access or terminating the partnership prematurely, and also so that future partnerships will not discriminate against those who may have written critically about the institution in the past.
The Complex Relationship between Research and External Practice
This relates to concerns explored in some depth in the conference on ‘Writing on Contemporary Artists’ at the University of Surrey in 2017, organised by Christopher Wiley and myself, and features both in the 2020 Palgrave Macmillan, volume we edited, Researching and Writing on Contemporary Art and Artists: Challenges, Practices and Complexities, while in a specifically musical context will feature in our forthcoming Routledge volume Writing about Contemporary Musicians: Promotion, Advocacy, Disinterest, Censure. This subject is also discussed at more length in the two earlier blog posts linked to in the previous section.
What happens when academics are dealing with living or recently living practitioners or their estates – writers, composers, artists, directors of institutions, critics, promoters, and so on? Or if they have strong external connections with some of these people beyond academia? How free can they feel to write and research these independently, at least considering perspectives on them and their work which may not necessarily coincide with their own self-presentation, that of their publishers, and so on?
Is the role of academics to be ‘advocates’ for these figures, or is it the case, as I believe, that a too-strong application of this principle (as opposed to simply researching things to which one is sympathetic, which is a different matter) can easily result in hagiographic treatment? How do academics maintain critical independence without the fear of being frozen out of some of these people’s circles, their materials, and so on (a situation I know various scholars have experienced)? I have certainly felt the pressure when writing about a range of living composers whose work I also play, and to some extent upon whom I rely upon for some good favour, writing new works for me, recommending me to festivals to play their work, and so on. I am still unsure about the feasibility of reconciling this with being a critical scholar.
One of the factors afflicting a fair amount of writing on new music, in my view, is a failure to consider this. As I have written about in the case of various such writings, a position of defensive advocacy, coupled to attempts to pathologise any who disagree with a 100% favourable view, leads to something more akin to promotional material than more sober scholarly work.
There are of course also plenty of practitioners themselves active within academic arts departments. Whilst some are engaged in the type of more dispassionate scholarship characteristic of the humanities – and I would like to count myself in that category – in other cases the work is of a different nature, framing practice in terms of research questions and context, with the use of verbal material essentially to articulate the ways in which it qualifies ‘as research’. Artistic practitioners frequently have external careers, working in an alternative economy in which critical thinking is by no means necessarily respected or admired. Sometimes simply saying the right thing to the right people, those in positions of power able to do favours, and not questioning all sorts of dominant ideologies operative in these circles, is a much better bet than asking more difficult questions. This can lead to a situation which I conceive as ‘two cultures’ of scholars and practitioners in terms of the attitude and approaches they take.
These issues do, for sure, also apply to those who, as I do, seek to write in non-academic arenas about the arts (or other disciplines), for various reasons, not least because of the differing role that value judgement might play therein. But I think it is possible to differentiate between academic and other writing and not confuse the two. It is less clear where the distinction lies with non-written forms of practice.
Top-down demands by institutions.
In any institutions with a degree of central control of teaching and research, individual academics may find themselves in conflict with the explicit demands or requirements of their department, school, or whole university. Some may try to specify the contents of curricula, or require academics to fashion teaching in general towards generalised criteria of employability. In other cases, support and internal funding for research may rely upon its falling within certain areas, which may be fair enough, but could also require the employment of certain methods which themselves might be more likely to produce certain types of results. These factors might affect the extent, for example, to which teaching can realistically focus on critical perspectives upon the industries or institutions for which students might be looking to work, to link to the first point.
Elsewhere, policies relating to diversity or ‘decolonisation’ might dictate choices or approaches to their teaching, at worst precluding critical treatment of certain types of subjects, and conversely requiring only negative or pejorative attitudes towards others. It is notable in my experience that some who are ferociously defensive of their independence in other contexts can also be supportive of top-down policies in these respects.
But I believe it is important to maintain independence right down to singular academics when it comes to precisely how they conduct their teaching and research. It is fair that departments need to require that certain things are taught as part of a programme, and that certain knowledge and skills are imparted, but the approach to so doing should be left to the individual academic as far as possible. In this respect I have a lot of sympathy with the 2021 Higher Education Bill.
This said, as I will argue in next week’s THES, I do believe that there is a requirement for provision of certain core subjects to a recognised level in all regionalities of the country (not least to facilitate ‘commuter students’, not wishing to incur huge amounts of debt through moving away from home to study), and in this article will advocate some type of tertiary ‘national curriculum’, a more rigorous form of the types of subject benchmarks previously provided by the QAA. Nonetheless, it should still be possible to maintain freedom of individual academics within a framework of encouraging pluralistic perspectives and debate.
Different academics, sometimes of very different or opposing views, work together in departments. A further concern in terms of academic freedom has to do with pressures to conform with prevailing orthodoxies within a department, not questioning these or colleagues who propagate them, so as to maintain a consistent ‘brand’ for a department which is competing with others for students.
Sometimes the term employed here to put pressures on individual academics is ‘collegiality’, understood as working within a set of parameters, not markedly questioning them in ways which are incompatible with a group view. But this is not consistent with what I think is a decent definition provided in the UNESCO 1997 document:
UNESCO 1997, VI. 32: The principles of collegiality include academic freedom, shared responsibility, the policy of participation of all concerned in internal decision making structures and practices, and the development of consultative mechanisms. Collegial decision-making should encompass decisions regarding the administration and determination of policies of higher education, curricula, research, extension work, the allocation of resources and other related activities, in order to improve academic excellence and quality for the benefit of society at large.
All of this is entirely compatible with permitting academics to work without feeling pressure to conform or fashion their work in line with some ‘majority view’ in their department, and I think this is also essential.
Need to concentrate work in particular fields.
Securing academic jobs depends a good deal on one’s particular field and the job opportunities available. In the UK, fewer than 20% of students take traditional BMus or BA courses with a humanities approach which includes historical, analytical, critical and other types of musicology. The remainder take courses in musical theatre, music technology, popular music to a lesser extent, and certain types of musical performance, all of which are primarily vocationally oriented. As a result, the openings for historical musicologists (especially those working on early music), music analysts, and indeed ethnomusicologists working on the non-Western world are limited. Even those already holding university positions can come under pressure to shift in certain directions in light of changing provision, and some have encountered redundancies as a result. To link to a point made earlier, in some contexts a more critical view of the music industry, compared to some presentations of it as a model of diversity and inclusivity, may create problems for the individual academics if they are seeking work in institutions wedded to such a view.
Here I would look back to the Humboldt model and make what now seems a radical suggestion, which is that appointments should be administered centrally by the state rather than individual institutions, so as to ensure a fair distribution and representation of plural areas of teaching and research. Individual departments may recruit ‘in their own image’, and this can have the effect of shutting out openings for academics who once again do not fit with the dominant ‘brand’.
Here I have in mind the view put forward by William Cheng, in his 2016 book Just Vibrations, which has received positive endorsement from a range of leading musicologists (see for example here and here), though others have written very critically about this (see also here). Cheng is dismissive of academic freedom and even of ‘the belief that academics have a right to pursue their work free from political pressures and without fear of termination’. In place of this he advocates a musicology which he says ‘upholds interpersonal care as a core feature’. This is hardly compatible with Cheng’s own dismissive remarks about other musicologists and musicology, but is part of a certain view, usually linked to the term ‘social justice’, seemingly innocuous, but which in reality requires that researchers comply with an unyielding political agenda and fashion their work towards this. A recent position advertised at the University of Southampton Music Department which included ‘social justice’ in the job title. I do not see the difference between this and advertising a position in ‘Music and Support for Jeremy Corbyn’, ‘Musicology and Brexit Advocacy’, and so on – it appears entirely unreasonable and a constraint on academic freedom to specify a specific political outlook in a job description, and this should be investigated in terms of employment law. The view of Cheng and others reminds me strongly of the dictates in various undemocratic countries, in which academics and artists found themselves under strong pressure to propagate particular political ideologies, or find themselves facing censure, termination or worse. This should be utterly unacceptable to anyone concerned about academic freedom.
A new study conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Nick Hillman, ‘“You can’t say that!” What students really think of free speech on campus’ (June 2022)) suggests that very significant numbers of UK students prioritise what they regard as demands for safety and protection from discrimination over free speech, wish to place issues such as sexism and racism outside of the boundaries of legitimate debate, would limit expression of views which offend certain religious groups, and so on.
We hear in many places about the vital role of students as ‘consumers’ who make the activities of universities possible, definitively placing teaching rather than research at the centre of their activities. The pressure on institutions to respond to demands from these ‘consumers’ can be intense, and it is by no means guaranteed that they will always act to protect the freedoms of academics in the face of student pressure.
Here I think we do need statutory measures implemented and enforced by the state, and also welcome some of the proposals in the 2021 act for this reason. For students to be able to hound out academics because they do not like some of what they have to say (as opposed to illegal activity or other things which transgress the inevitable constraints on free speech which need to be enforced by law) is to produce a culture more reminiscent of Mao’s China during the Cultural Revolution.
While formal disciplinary mechanisms precluding academic freedom in the Western world may not be that extensive, there are other pressures which can lead to self-censorship. These include increasingly precarious employment. In the UK there is no tenure system, and – as we are witnessing in other areas of the arts and humanities at present – academics can find themselves dispensable.
Some on the left often advocate for silencing of those they deem racist, transphobic, etc., but are highly defensive when others are accused of anti-semitism (or when those associated with genderist politics are accused of misogyny). Some on the right focus on anti-semitism (which ought to be an issue for those of all political persuasions) or advocacy of views they associate with terrorism, but are more defensive with respect to other things. I believe that only in very blatant and explicit cases should any of these be used as a justification for limiting academic freedom. Anti-Zionists and gender-critical feminists should not feel that their view is illegitimate in academia.
Critical subjects should remain a presence in all universities. All academics must be free to follow where their research and convictions take them, even if their conclusions are not what their institutions, external partners, or colleagues want to hear. To fashion one’s work according to the demands of any of these is another fundamental betrayal of academic freedom.
Critical Engagement with Practice is not the same as subservience, or being a practitionerPosted: August 3, 2022 Filed under: Academia, Culture, Higher Education, Music - General, music analysis, Musical Education, Musicology | Tags: artistic research, autoethnography, C.P. Snow, critical thinking, ethnography, musicology, practice, practice-as-research, Practice-Research, ref, research excellence framework, terry eagleton, two cultures 5 Comments
Over a long period, I have repeatedly considered the question of ‘practice’ in an academic context, its meanings and implications, following on from earlier writings on the relationship between practice and research (see an index to earlier blog posts on this subject here), then most recently two articles in the Times Higher Education Supplement arguing for the need of different means to integrate practitioners into academia (see here and here) and then a blog article intended as a dialectical response to those articles, drawing upon a wider debate of the relationship between ‘advocacy’ and ‘criticism’, mapped by some onto ‘practitioners’ and ‘scholars’ respectively.
These subjects remain not only complex, both in theory and literally in ‘practice’, but also touch upon raw nerves amongst various scholars and practitioners. I have encountered significant rage from some composers at the suggestion that perhaps, just as few would suggest that musicological scholars are experts in the practice of composition, they might show some humility towards musicologists as well, rather than assuming they know just as much about their discipline and are equally adept at teaching it. Much of this anger likely relates to competition for positions in an ever-more competitive and narrowing academic job market, especially at the current time, when at least in some other arts/humanities subjects (not music as of recently, though over the last two decades a significant number of music departments and programmes have closed), departments have been making sweeping cuts (for example Roehampton University).
There are those who choose to view the humanities on one hand, and practical work and the sciences on the other, as fundamentally opposing groups of disciplines, not only in their subject matter, but also in approach, method, ethos, and so on, so that any teaching which relates to the former is antithetical to the latter. I fundamentally disagree, and believe this view is at odds with the defining aspect of a university (as also argued back in 2010 in an article by Terry Eagleton, claiming that a university without humanities would be like ‘a pub without alcohol’). But that issue, which leads back to C.P. Snow’s 1959 essay on The Two Cultures, is extensive and for another article.
What I want to consider here is the role of universities in terms of engagement with practice, both practice undertaken by academics themselves, and that conducted in external institutions. In many ways I believe this is not just important but quite vital in a range of disciplines. Those working in medicine or other health sciences need to draw upon knowledge garnered through practical medical work, and conversely develop research with practical application. The same is true in study of business and the law. A literary scholar is engaging at a deep level with literary practice, just as is a music analyst with the musical equivalent. The extent to which academic research into the arts does or should feed into practice is more open to question, however. Certainly in the case of music there is a body of musicological opinion which is markedly sceptical about the value of performers using the findings of analytical and other research to inform their own performances, noting the very limited to which a great many important performers have done so over history, and how often their performances are quite distinct from what might be implied by such research. The same is true of composition – someone once wrote sardonically about composers who think that if one can analyse music, one can compose it, it is just a matter of doing the process in reverse! Nonetheless, in other ways performers do frequently draw upon knowledge in the business of crafting a performance (sometimes simply that garnered from listening to other performances), as do composers, and so such criticisms may in reality relate more to specific strategies than the use of external knowledge per se in the process of artistic creation.
Some areas such as pure maths (at the heart of my own first degree) may be different with respect to practical engagement; certainly from what I recall 35 years on a good deal of pure mathematical research was undertaken without primary consideration for its potential application, which was something to be discovered later on. I believe (but am no expert) that a similar approach underlies some work in other ‘pure’ sciences, and this is certainly true of those non-empirical branches of philosophy which believe in the possibility of synthetic a priori knowledge.
But in fields for which large areas of practical activity exist, it would be foolish to deny the value of engaging with knowledge drawn from this realm. I will from this point limit my discussion to artistic areas, as they are those which I know best. The key issue, in my view, is not whether but how one should do so. And this is where I would emphasise the vital aspect of a critical engagement with practice, and also of academic independence. When dealing with external practitioners or institutions dedicated to practice, one is confronted with those who have their own distinct desires, needs, economic imperatives, possible rivalries with others, and so on. Not all of these things would make for good scholarship if taken at face value. An artist may prefer a scholar to focus exclusively on their most successful work, not that whose merits might be more questionable, but a scholar who did so and claimed to be examining the work in its entirety would be disingenuous. The same is true of one examining a theatre and the responses of its audiences, who chose to bracket out from their study those audience responses which were less positive, in order to avoid upsetting the theatre owners. To use a dichotomy underlying a blog post from almost a decade ago, this is the difference between scholarship and PR. The scholar’s task is to follow where the results of their research lead them; to bury some of these in order to keep an external partner happy, or for that matter to undertake the research in such a way as to make such an outcome inevitable (as I have criticised sharply in some varieties of ethnographic work which eschew a critical view of the views and perceptions of their subjects, and as such can amount to hagiography), is to foresake one of the most fundamental aspects of being a scholar.
What I am arguing here is that critical scholarly engagement with practice (which can certainly involve partnerships and the like) should not be confused with a subservient relationship to this. This may not be the preference of some external practitioners, but if they wish for academic input, they need to respect the integrity of the academics involved.
But what about if the scholar is also the practitioner, as is the case in various forms of practice-as-research, artistic research, and so on? I have argued repeatedly that the question of whether certain practice is research is rather banal. In some ways most practice can be construed as such (as most practice requires answering certain types of questions to which there are multiple possible answers, and a range of methods for doing so), but what really matters is the quality of the research. This is not necessarily synonymous with what satisfies other aesthetic criteria (in an artistic context), but has to do with the generation of new knowledge expressed in the form of practice, which can have at least potential application for others. So an artist who develops new approaches which are found to bear aesthetic fruit, and upon which others can draw, would in an academic context generally be thought of as having done valuable research of a type.
Not all do accept this view of research (certainly artistic researchers have on the whole rejected the idea that research can simply be located in practice itself). I do accept it, but I am less sure of the extent to which it maps onto other forms of research, or qualifies the practitioner to undertake the latter, other than in some exceptional circumstances. Furthermore, while the quality of such research can, I believe, be gauged simply by close inspection of the practical work engendered, I wonder of the extent to which those engaged in assessment really do those to an intense degree (hardly possible if one has a wide range of things to assess), or whether the research quality is based upon finding the work more-or-less seems to resemble some of the qualities presented in associated verbal material (see my post on the 300-word statements that are essentially mandatory for submission of practice-based outputs to the REF).
Once again, I return to the question of critical engagement, or self-critical engagement. A practitioner can describe their work, even give a significant amount of detail about how it was put together, upon which ideas, philosophies or other determinants they have drawn (as one will find in many an ‘artist’s statement’), but that does not amount to this form of engagement. What can be difficult for practitioners is an attempt to ‘stand outside’ of their own work (and the immediate concerns of their own self), especially when in other contexts they are required to ‘sell themselves’ and in the process hide any acknowledgement of weaknesses, doubts or other more ambivalent self-reflection. Of course academics are far from immune to the latter tendency, which can sometimes dampen the possibilities of their own self-criticism, but they do function in scholarly arenas where if they do not do so, others can and often will follow up on vulnerabilities in their work, which is not always the case in more precious artistic circles.
The much-debated and contested field of autoethnography appears to me to hinge on the critical element; critical self-reflection upon personal experience, for the purposes of generating new knowledge which wider potential application is not the same thing as simply writing about oneself (which would be closer to autobiography), though a fair amount of writing and lectures I have encountered which is billed as autoethnography comes closer to the second category.
One anecdote may explain how these different attitudes and approaches can also inform teaching and its relationship to external practice. At a former institution, I was once tasked with developing a module on ‘Music and the Marketplace’, which I conceived as a broad consideration of the ways in which market forces inform music and music-making over a period of history, how other forms of music-making less subject to market forces might be different in nature, and so on. I had to be away for a period for some external performing work, so someone else took over the module design in my absence. When I returned, it had been changed to something like ‘How to get ahead in the musical marketplace’, which was a long way from my original design. What is the difference exactly? The module as originally conceived was about a critical engagement with the practice of music-making and its economic context. This by no means need imply a primarily negative view of market forces or their effect upon music, but should have been able to entertain a plurality of possible perspectives based upon careful and critical study of the phenomenon. The latter would have been entirely an ’employability’ module. Now I am certainly not going to deny the importance of such things. Some aspects of such teaching, such as how to write a CV or design a business plan, I would categorise as ancillary rather than academic skills – certainly they are things which do not necessarily require a university in order to be learned. But if employability skills become the only or primary things taught in a university context, or the attitude associated with them underlies the majority of teaching, I wonder then if a university degree has become more of a training course, lacking true intellectual inquiry and critical thinking that is more than purely functional. This touches on the question of a humanities approach – critical thinking in that context I would associate with a relatively dispassionate search for ‘pure’ knowledge, rather than subsuming that knowledge to narrow external criteria such as ‘how do I get ahead?’ or ‘how do I keep certain people happy?’
Any academic department without critical scholars will be impoverished in terms of the wider mission of a university. Practitioners can be critical scholars/thinkers as well, as can external partners, but one should not assume this is necessarily the case and certainly not ignore the possibility that other agendas may condition their thinking, either as expressed explicitly or implicitly assumed. In order that universities fulfil their central mission, it is vital to engage with practice, but in a critical and independent manner, whilst recognising that simply undertaking practice and promoting it in a certain way is not at all the same thing. And institutions must take care to guard and protect scholars’ independence from external pressures, simply to ensure that what they do remains scholarship. Then there is no reason to worry that engagement with practice entails any necessary conflict with the imperatives of research.
Musicological Observations 12: Articles and links relating to Practice-ResearchPosted: August 2, 2022 Filed under: Academia, Culture, Higher Education, Music - General, Musical Education, Musicology, New Music, Practice-Research | Tags: camden reeves, christopher fox, christopher frayling, christopher leedham, david pocknee, huib schippers, james bulley, joanne 'bob' whalley, john croft, lauren redhead, lawrence dunn, linda candy, luk vaes, martin parker dixon, martin scheuregger, nicholas till, Ozden Sahin, piers hellawell, practice reearch, practice-as-research, praguk, TEMPO 3 Comments
In advance of writing a new blog post on academic engagement with practice, I thought it might be useful to give links to my various writings on practice-research and other important links in one place here, much from the period following the publication of John Croft’s article ‘Composition is not Research’, Tempo, Vol. 69, Issue 272 (April 2015), pp. 6-11.
Here is Croft’s article and my response:
John Croft, ‘Composition is not Research’.
Ian Pace, ‘Composition and Performance can be, and often have been, Research’.
The following articles appeared in the same issue of Tempo as my response to Croft. Unfortunately there do not appear to be open access versions of them available.
Camden Reeves, ‘Composition, Research and Pseudo-Science: A Response to John Croft’.
John Croft, ‘Composing, Research and Ways of Talking’ (a response to both Reeves and myself)
Musicology is not Musical PR. A post from 2013, from when I started to think hard about the different value-systems and expectations of scholarship from practitioners and musicologists.
Research Forum, ‘Can Composition and Practice be Research? Critical Perspectives’, City University, November 25th, 2015. This was a post in advance of the debate.
‘Musicological Observations 4: Can Commercial Music be Research?’ This was an earlier article asking about the relationship between commerce and research in a musical context.
Performance-as-Research – A Reply to Luk Vaes. This was a response to an article by artistic researcher Luk Vaes (linked to in the post) in advance of the debate.
Video of Research Seminar on Composition and Performance as Research, and some wider responses to John Croft and others. This contains the full video of the debate, some of my text presented there (the information on university music departments is rather dated, and will be supplanted by new information posted on this blog soon), and wider responses to Croft’s response.
Some final thoughts on composition, performance, the REF, and teaching. Subsequent reflections following the debate.
Those 300-word statements on Practice-as-Research for the RAE/REF – origins and stipulations – ‘academic butt-covering’ or more problematic? Specifically on the role of 300-word statements accompanying practice-based outputs.
The RAE and REF: Resources and Critiques. An article written during the period of the 2018 industrial action in academia, collating a wide range of views on these institutions mostly expressed on social media, with wider links to literature on the subject. This contains a small amount relating to practice-research and the REF.
Musicological Thoughts 9: Practitioners and Scholars – Advocacy vs Criticism? A much more recent post, entailing some revision of earlier positions and somewhat more sceptical about the extent to which practitioners and scholars are able to find genuine common ground.
Musicological Thoughts 10: The Value of Empirical Musicology for the Performer? A piece written during the 2022 Performance Studies Network conference, after a mixture of listening to papers and practising, considering the relationship between practice and a particular musicological sub-discipline.
Two other articles, not blog posts, which I wrote earlier this year for the Times Higher Education Supplement, are also relevant in this context:
‘We need a Research and Practice Excellence Framework’ (10 May 2022)
‘University departments need a broad range of performing artists’ (22 May 2022) (written in response to Victoria Kelley, ‘The REF does not disadvantage practice-based subjects’ (13 May 2022)).
The blog post on ‘Practitioners and Scholars’ above is in part an attempt to offer a further side to this debate, not possible within the word-count of the THES articles.
The following are a range of further weblinks available at the time of the debate.
Piers Hellawell, ‘Treating Composers as Researchers is Bonkers.’
Luk Vaes, ‘When Composition is not Research.’
Lawrence Dunn, ‘Squaring the damn composition-research circle.’
Martin Parker Dixon, ‘Composition can be research (some comments on John Croft’s recent article).’
David Pocknee, ‘Composition Is Not A Jaffa Cake, Research Is Not A Biscuit: A Riposte to John Croft.’
Lauren Redhead, ‘Is Composition Research?’
Nicholas Till, ‘Opus versus Output’
Huib Schippers, ‘The Marriage of Art and Academia: Challenges and Opportunities for Music Research in Practice-based Environments.’
Christopher Fox, ‘Music for a Dis-Uniting Kingdom?’ (Including some reflections on composition as research).
The following book chapter continues some of the important themes. Unfortunately it is not available open access, but can be requested from the authors at the link below.
Martin Scheuregger and Christopher Leedham, ‘The Purpose of the Written Element in Composition PhDs’, in Researching and Writing on Contemporary Art and Artists, edited Christopher Wiley and Ian Pace (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), pp. 65-90.
The website for PRAGUK (Practice Research Group UK) includes a good list of major texts on the subject. Especially important, coming out of this group, is the following:
James Bulley and Özden Şahin, ‘Practice Research’ (2021).
And the following are some earlier relevant articles more widely on practice and research:
Christopher Frayling, ‘Research in Art and Design.’
Linda Candy, ‘Practice Based Research: A Guide.’
Joanne ‘Bob’ Whalley and Lee Miller, ‘Partly Cloudy, Chance of Rain: A Case Study’, in John Freeman (ed) Blood, Sweat and Theory: Research through Practice in Performance. (Middlesex University Press, London, 2010), pp. 218-232.
New Music 1 – A Niche WorldPosted: July 29, 2022 Filed under: Academia, Culture, Music - General, Musical Education, Musicology, New Music, Uncategorized | Tags: anne boissiere, arnold schoenberg, atonality, berlin novembergruppe, bjorn heile, charles wilson, cold war, Dick Hebdige, Donald Martino, gary e. mcpherson, makis solomos, Martin Iddon, milton babbitt, moderne, modernism, modernisme, modernismo, New Modernist Studies, New Music, nicholas cook, oxford handbook of music performance, paul bekker, richard taruskin, richard toop, robert walker, roger sessions, routledge research companion to modernism in music, subculture, susan mcclary, terminal prestige, the composer as specialist, theodor adorno, universities, who cares if you listen? 4 Comments
In several recent writings and various upcoming ones I have been considering in a more sustained fashion wider aspects of the culture of new music, both historically and in the present day. My long chapter, just published, ‘New Music: Performance Institutions and Practices’, in The Oxford Handbook of Music Performance, Volume 1, edited Gary E. McPherson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2022), pp. 396-455, traces the growth of a network of festivals, concert series and other aspects of a new music infrastructure from after the end of World War One, as well as the development of specialised performance skills on the part of individual interpreters and ensembles, all as part of a specific culture of ‘new music’ which developed with a degree of autonomy from a more mainstream culture of art music performance (as represented by orchestral, chamber, choral, solo concerts of repertoire primarily from the common practice period) over the course of a century. This very fact of inhabiting a separate realm is to me a defining aspect of new music, a term which has developed ever since the publication of Paul Bekker’s vital essay ‘Neue Musik’ (1919), advocating a range of new approaches to music, some of them then still relatively latent, which constituted a significant break with or at least shift of emphasis from the immediate past, one which was amplified at a time which saw the collapse of various aspects of the pre-war order, revolution in Russia, and an attempt revolution in Germany, which members of the influential Berlin Novembergruppe sought to sublimate into artistic creation.
In ‘Modernist Fantasias: The Recuperation of a Concept’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, vol. 144, no. 2 (2019), pp. 473-493, starting from a detailed critical examination of The Routledge Research Companion to Modernism in Music, edited Björn Heile and Charles Wilson (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2019), I consider the provenance and development of the term ‘modernism’ (and its equivalents such as French modernisme, German Moderne, Spanish modernismo and so on) both in music and other arts, not least in terms of recent attempts to frame the concept more broadly than hitherto (in some cases to date it back to the French Revolution) as well as to recapture it as a living force deserving of reconsideration, as informed the so-called New Modernist Studies in literary and cultural scholarship beginning in 1999, which has been matched more gradually by the growth of parallel scholarship in music. I have also been working on a book chapter considering the historiography of new music since 1989, and recently gave a lecture looking more broadly at historiographical issues through the 20th and 21st century, which have also been the theme of other lectures and publications considering the ways in which ‘experimental’ and ‘minimal’ music have informed such historiography.
All of this work, combined with my ongoing work on the creation and development of the infrastructure for new music in post-1945 Germany, have brought to the fore difficult questions relating to new music as a whole and its place today. I have been professionally active as a pianist in the world of new music for three decades, and have become intimately aware of its range of mores, orthodoxies, internal politics, and so on, and the ways in which its institutions and those operating those tend to work. It remains a field of cultural activity which in my opinion has immense value, but claims for its wider importance and significance are less easy to articulate in a manner which might convince those who need convincing. But this latter activity, if one believes this importance to be the case (which I do, but in a less unequivocal manner than I might have done 15-20 years ago), is vital if those engaged with new music seek an impact and respect beyond the narrow realms of fellow travellers. This is not so often to be found, and a reticence to engage with the wider issues concerned suggests either dangerous complacency or even a wilful disregard married to a sense of entitlement, which I believe should be challenged.
I am fully aware that there are a great many who would describe a lot of the atonal music I play (and even some of the more dissonant late tonal music as well), and which those I know compose, at the politest as ‘not music’, often through much harsher derogatory epithets. These will include some friends, some students and many other members of the wider public with no personal investment in this work nor necessarily any desire for such. It is much too easy to dismiss those who think in such a way as idiots, philistines, etc., in the process writing off large swathes of any population. But in my experience those who think such a way do not particular care unless they feel made to listen to such music, whether in a performance situation where it is not their reason for being there, feeling it is imposed upon them in education, or in the face of stentorian claims about its importance.
Yet one might struggle to be aware of this within the rarefied circles of those professionally involved in new music. That a great many people might be not simply indifferent but actively hostile to their music in the contexts described above can seem a subject which it is unacceptable even to consider. That the work of musicians involved must be vital and must deserve the widest support is an article of faith, or at least amongst different factions of individuals, who do not necessarily extend this view to members of rival factions. Some looking from outside might be shocked to see the extent of the personalised vitriol extended by some towards anyone (not least critics, but also various others) who aver an opinion that they do not find some piece of music engaging, moving, or some other quality they seek. The response can be to pathologise those who think such a way, or seek to disallow their opinions from being heard. Following the recent death of Richard Taruskin, there was a furious set of posts on social media about a highly critical review he wrote of two CDs of the American composer Donald Martino, which extended into a wider critique of aspects of new music (see below). The view seemed to be that the only type of legitimate review is one which praises this type of work, and anything else should not be allowed to be printed. It would be interesting to see this principle applied to restaurant reviewing – I am sure some restaurant owners would be more than happy.
There are ways to frame new music and its particularity which avoid the need to make wider claims for its public significance. In a 2014 article, Martin Iddon conceptualised new music as a type of ‘subculture’, drawing upon the concept propounded most notoriously by Dick Hebdige in his 1979 book Subculture: The Meaning of Style. I have used this concept myself in my ‘New Music’ article mentioned above, but have doubts (some reservations expressed in a footnote there did not make it into the final version!). Certainly new music has from the outset entailed a realm of activity distinct from a ‘mainstream’, as is true of many subcultures explored and theorised by Hebdige and others (space does not allow consideration here of the later concept of ‘post-subculture’). But its economic situation is not at all comparable with the subculture of the mods, rockers, punks or whatever. In large measure, new music activity relies heavily on subsidy for its continued operation; it would not be financially viable via ticket sales alone, other than very small operations. This subsidy comes either from public money generated through taxation and distributed in various ways via local, regional and state arts organisations, as is the case in much of Western Europe and to a lesser extent the UK (though considerably less so in the United States), or through the patronage of universities, in which those involved in new music production may find employment and some concomitant financial support for their activities. These things lend such music a level of institutional or official prestige which is quite uncharacteristic of other forms of subculture. If one could imagine a group of death metal fans receiving regular government grants to develop their music, clothing, writings, and so on, and present these in major government-backed venues, this would surely seem a long way from the conventional idea of a subculture.
Here subcultural theory does present one phenomenon which is familiar in part: numerous studies observe how subcultures, despite defining themselves in opposition to some mainstream, exhibit marked homologous tendencies and appear to require a degree of discipline and unity from their own members, with little tolerance for internal dissent. In the case of new music circles, it would be untrue to deny the existence of divisions, because of the opposing factions mentioned earlier. But these are divisions between different groups competing for the mantle of new music, seen as representing progress, the one true way forward, the most supposedly enlightened form of music, and so on. It would be much more rare to hear many within any faction questioning the status of new music as a whole, or the purpose of its institutions. Some who have done – not least various of the key figures viewed as ‘minimalist’ (Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Adams, etc.) – have tended to operate to a large degree outside of these circles, while others holding to a neo-romantic or other related late tonal aesthetic have sought and sometimes found recognition within more mainstream performance circles.
In subsequent posts, I will consider wider issues to do with the institutionalisation of new music, the means by which it is legitimated (not least, in present times, by attachment to various political causes), and look more widely at the question of why new music and its practitioners enjoy a status in universities not always granted to other types of musicians and scholars. But here I want to consider some of the starkly opposed views from musicians scholars regarding the prestige of new music.
Milton Babbitt was one of the most articulate advocates of the benefits of new music composition in a university setting, allowing some degree of autonomy from audience indifference or hostility, or commercial pressures. This was outlined in his essay ‘The Composer as Specialist’ (1958), first published in High Fidelity, vol. 8, no. 2 (February 1958) to which editors (rather than Babbitt himself) gave the title ‘Who Cares if you Listen?’
Why should the layman be other than bored and puzzled by what he is unable to understand, music oranything else? It is only the translation of this boredom and puzzlement into resentment and denunciation that seems to me indefensible. After all, the public does have its own music, its ubiquitous music: music to eat by, to read by, to dance by, and to be impressed by. Why refuse to recognize the possibility that contemporary music has reached a stage long since attained by other forms of activity? The time has passed when the normally well-educated man without special preparation could understand the most advanced work in, for example, mathematics, philosophy, and physics. Advanced music, to the extent that it reflects the knowledge and originality of the informed composer, scarcely can be expected to appear more intelligible than these arts and sciences to the person whose musical education usually has been even less extensive than his background in other fields. But to this, a double-standard is invoked, with the words “music is music,” implying also that “music is just music.” Why not, then, equate the activities of the radio repairman with those of thetheoretical physicist, on the basis of the dictum that “physics is physics”? It is not difficult to find statements like the following, from the New York Times of September 8, 1957: “The scientific level of the conference is so high . . . that there are in the world only 120 mathematicians specializing in the field who could contribute.” Specialized music on the other hand, far from signifying “height” of musical level, has been charged with “decadence,” even as evidence of an insidious “conspiracy.”
I dare suggest that the composer would do himself and his music an immediate and eventual service by total, resolute, and voluntary withdrawal from this public world to one of private performance and electronic media, with its very real possibility of complete elimination of the public and social aspects of musical composition. By so doing, the separation between the domains would be defined beyond any possibility of confusion of categories, and the composer would be free to pursue a private life of professional achievement, as opposed to a public of unprofessional compromise and exhibitionism.
But how, it may be asked, will this serve to secure the means of survival for the composer and his music? One answer is that, after all, such a private life is what the university provides the scholar and the scientist. It is only proper that the university, which—significantly—has provided so many contemporary composers with their professional training and general education, should provide a home for the “complex,” “difficult,” and “problematical” in music. Indeed, the process has begun; and if it appears to proceed too slowly, I take consolation in the knowledge that in this respect, too, music seems to be in historically retarded parallel with now sacrosanct fields of endeavor. In E. T. Bell’s Men of Mathematics, we read: “In the eighteenth century the universities were not the principal centers of research in Europe. They might have become such sooner than they did but for the classical tradition and its understandable hostility to science. Mathematics was close enough to antiquity to be respectable, but physics, being more recent, was suspect. Further, a mathematician in a university of the time would have been expected to put much of his effort on elementary teaching; his research, if any, would have been an unprofitable luxury.” A simple substitution of “musical composition” for “research”, of “academic” for “classical”, of “music” for “physics,” and of “composer” for “mathematician,” provides a strikingly accurate picture of the current situation. And as long as the confusion I have described continues to exist, how can the university and its community assume other than that the composer welcomes and courts public competition with the historically certified products of the past, and the commercially certified products of the present?
Perhaps for the same reason, the various institutes of advanced research and the large majority of foundations have disregarded this music’s need for means of survival. I do not wish to appear to obscure the obvious differences between musical composition and scholarly research, although it can be contended that these differences are no more fundamental than the differences among the various fields of study.
Babbitt’s article demonstrates an unerring faith of a notion of musical ‘progress’, which he maps onto scientific research. But he does not ask what purpose the ‘complex’, ‘difficult’ and ‘problematical’ in music serves? It is not so difficult to demonstrate the wider impact and application of various types of science, but what is the equivalent for music? Over a hundred years on, Schoenberg’s atonal and dodecaphonic explorations have won only a modest following even amongst musicians, certainly compared to the more widespread valuing of music of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bartok, and others who were once viewed as members of avant-gardes. Some might cite the occasional use of atonal material in film or video games for particular effect, but this seems very modest in comparison to the claims made by Babbitt.
The polar opposite of Babbitt’s view can be found in feminist scholar Susan McClary’s essay ‘Terminal Prestige: The Case of Avant-Garde Music Composition’, Cultural Critique, No. 12 (Spring 1989), pp. 57-81, somewhat notorious in musicological circles. McClary considers the views of Arnold Schoenberg, Roger Sessions and Milton Babbitt on certain valorisations of ‘difficult’ music and its distance from mainstream audiences (though she has relatively little to say on the music itself):
Perhaps only with the twentieth-century avant-garde, however, has there been a music that has sought to secure prestige precisely by claiming to renounce all possible social functions and values [….]
This strange posture was not invented in the twentieth century, of course. It is but the reductio ad absurdum of the nineteenth-century notion that music ought to be an autonomous activity, insulated from the contamination of the outside social world. […]
In this century (especially following World War II), the “serious” composer has felt beleaguered both by the reified, infinitely repeated classical music repertory and also by the mass media that have provided the previously disenfranchised with modes of “writing” and distribution-namely recording, radio, and television. Thus even though Schoenberg, Boulez,and Babbitt differ enormously from each other in terms of socio-historical context and music style, they at least share the siege mentality that has given rise to the extreme position we have been tracing: they all regard the audience as an irrelevant annoyance whose approval signals artistic failure. [….]
By aligning his music with the intellectual elite-with what he identifies as the autonomous “private life” of scholarship and science (this at the height of the Cold War!) – Babbitt appeals to a separate economy that confers prestige, but that also (it must be added) confers financial support in the form of foundation grants and university professorships. [….]
Babbitt’s rhetoric has achieved its goal: most university music departments support resident composers (though many, including the composers in my own department, find the “Who Cares if You Listen” attitude objectionable); and the small amount of money earmarked by foundations for music commissions is reserved for the kind of “serious” music that Babbitt and his colleagues advocate.
I objected a good deal to McClary’s essay when I first read it some 20 years ago, but as time has gone on have come to felt that she is onto something important in her allusions to legitimation via alignment to scholarship and science, though the exaggerated statements about claims to autonomy are unsustainable, especially today, when so many composers seek to justify their work as much through allusions to society and politics as through its musical merits.
I mentioned earlier a review-article by Richard Taruskin which generated a lot of anger amongst new music practitioners. In a range of writings, including in the Oxford History of Western Music, Taruskin has been sharply critical about many claims made by those associated with modernism and the avant-garde to the mantle of history, and of the ways in which historiography and pedagogy has foregrounded work of this type and marginalised other varieties. Perhaps the most prominent expression of Taruskin’s view is that article which takes some CD reviews of the music of Donald Martino as its starting point, ‘How Talented Composers Become Useless’. This was first published in The New York Times on 10 March 1996, and reprinted in the collection The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2009), pp. 86-93. Like McClary, Taruskin grounds his critic in an attack on the position of Babbitt:
By comparing “serious” or “original” contemporary music to mathematics (and appropriating concepts like seriousness and originality to one kind of music was where the arrogance lay), Mr. Babbitt was saying, in effect, that such music was to be valued and judged not for the pleasure it gave but for the truth it contained. Truth, in music as in math, lay in accountability to basic principles of relatedness. In the case of math, these were axioms and theorems: basic truth assumptions and the proofs they enabled. In the case of music, truth lay in the relationship of all its details to a basic axiomatic premise called the twelve-tone row.
Again, Mr. Babbitt’s implied contempt and his claims of exclusivity apart, the point could be viewed as valid. Why not allow that there could be the musical equivalent of an audience of math professors? It was a harmless enough concept in itself—although when the math professors went on to claim funds and resources that would otherwise go to the maintenance of the “lay” repertory, it was clear that the concept did not really exist “in itself”; it inescapably impinged on social and economic concerns. Yet calling his work the equivalent of a math lecture did at least make the composer’s intentions and expectations clear. You could take them or leave them. […]
Mr. Martino’s piano music […] strives for conventional expressivity while trying to maintain all the privileged and prestigious truth claims of academic modernism. Because there is no structural connection between the expressive gestures and the twelve-tone harmonic language, the gestures are not supported by the musical content (the way they are in Schumann, for example, whose music Mr. Martino professes to admire and emulate). And while the persistent academic claim is that music like Mr. Martino’s is too complex and advanced for lay listeners to comprehend, in fact the expressive gestures, unsupported by the music’s syntax or semantics, are primitive and simplistic in the extreme. [….]
The reason it is still necessary to expose these hypocrisies, even after the vaunted “postmodern” demise of serialism, is that the old-fashioned modernist position still thrives in its old bastion, the academy. Composers like Mr. Martino are still miseducating their pupils just as he was miseducated himself, dooming them to uselessness. Critics and “theorists,” many of them similarly miseducated, are still propagandizing for Pointwise Periodic Homeomorphisms in the concert hall, offering their blandishments as consolation for the loss of a musical language and decrying the attempts of younger composers to find a new one.
Taruskin has gone on to be a leading advocate of the ‘Cold War’ view of avant-garde musical history, which maintains essentially that the institutionalisation and prestige of avant-garde music was a product of both an intellectual culture privileging quasi-scientific positivism, and was dominant in US universities, but also the conspiratorial view, which I maintain is utterly false on the basis of a lot of archival result, that the success of the Darmstadt Summer Schools for new music, and other aspects of new music in Europe, were the result of covert funding by the CIA. There is no evidence to substantiate this (unlike with some other art forms, from which information this conclusion has simply been inferred); as Ian Wellens in particular has shown, the primary CIA-funded organisation, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, had as its secretary general Nicolas Nabokov, who showed no real interest in serial and other avant-garde composition in the post-1945 era (as compared to his advocacy of the music of Stravinsky), and the events sponsored by the CCF are too exceptional and unrepresentative as to be defining in terms of the wider history. I will expand on this in a subsequent post.
A British figure who has delivered harsh critiques of new music and the prestige it entertains is Nicholas Cook, from whom I offer two citations. The first is from his ‘On Qualifying Relativism’, Musica Scientiae, vol. 5, issue 2 supplement (September 2001), pp. 167-189.
As Richard Toop (who works in Sydney but is closely associated with the European avanr-garde) points out, composition occupies very different roles in different countries. In North America it has been almost inextricably entangled with universities since the early days of Babbitt (whose “social contract”, as Herman Sabbe points out, “is with the academy”); the relationship is only a little less close in Britain, where composition is fully accepted as a form of research for purposes of institutional and national quality reviews. But in continental Europe, as Toop goes on to say, contemporary music revolves around festivals and radio stations; “One may be dealing with a heavily subsidized market place,” he adds, “but it’s a market place none the less.” Makis Solomos also raises the issue of subsidy, contrasting the subsidization of contemporary music in France with the situation in Britain (where the subsidies do exist, incidentally, but they go towards propping up the social rituals of the Royal Opera House rather than into contemporary music).
Solornos’s key observation, however, is that “en France, où les subventions existent, la musique contemporaine a un public”. It does in Britain and America too, of course, but there the audience has traditionally been one of contemporary music buffs, a niche within a niche. (One should recognize the potential for change not only through the cross-over musical styles of composers like Glass or Zorn, but also through the incorporation of contemporary music within educational and outreach programmes, which is why I said “traditionally”: all part of the crumbling of barriers to which I referred in my Foreword.) And when taking part in conferences or workshops in such countries as Holland, Belgium, and Germany I have always been struck by the centrality of contemporary composition within the definition of what “music” is and what an intelligent interest in the subject might mean: it is simply taken for granted that one has an interest in and commitment to contemporary music, in a way that it would never be in a similar situation in Britain or America. But it seems that the position of contemporary music is even more varied than this might suggest, to judge by the comments of Robert Walker (who writes from the University of New South Wales, Sydney): “it is indeed ironic”, he says,”that the academy can now include Beatles songs in analysis classes and research reports, but still not Berio’s vocal music”. And later he talks of Messiaen, Britten, Cage, and electronic music, and comments that “The music academy has shown comparatively scant interest in all this”. That surprised me, not only because new music was high on the agenda when I was teaching at Sydney University (though that was back in 1988), but also because music from Messiaen and Cage to Berio and beyond is well represented in the British academy, far beyond any possible measure of the music’s dissemination throughout society at large. It is popular music that is under-represented, resulting in a situation where the few PhDs in this area get quickly snapped up by university departments anxious to respond to the interests of their students.
The second is from ‘Writing on Music or Axes to Grind: road rage and musical community’, Music Education Research, vol. 5, no. 3 (November 2003), pp. 249-261.
Writers on contemporary ‘art’ music—what they often call ‘new music’—generally act as apologists, in the same sense as the earliest analysts did: writing in the early decades of the 19th century, these analysts’ basic purpose was to explain the coherence and hence the greatness of Beethoven’s music, despite its discontinuities and sudden irruptions and otherwise incoherent appearance (it would hardly be exaggeration to say that the whole genre of musical analysis developed as an act of advocacy for Beethoven). In the same way, writers on new music either argue that the music is aesthetically attractive even though it might appear otherwise on first acquaintance, or they argue that its aesthetic unattractiveness is integral to its cultural significance (and sometimes, just to make sure, they argue both). Their advocacy is prompted by the increasingly marginalised nature of the music—now even to some extent within academia—and this apologetic function is built into the genre: if you pick a book on new music off the shelf, you expect it to fulfil this role of advocacy, and again the few books that have attacked new music have appeared anomalous against this background. [….]
I’ve noticed that, when I go to conferences or similar events in continental Europe, people make the assumption that, because I’m interested in music, I must have an interest in and commitment to new music; that’s not an expectation about me in particular, but a taken-for-granted assumption about what it means to be seriously engaged in music. (In the UK or the USA, people make no such assumption.) And at least as far as the contributors to the Musicae Scientiae collection were concerned, this revolved not so much around the aesthetic properties of new music as its critical potential. In my book, I referred briefly to critical theory in general and Adorno in particular, as a way of introducing one of the main intellectual strands of the ‘New’ musicology of the 1990s, but I made no direct link between Adorno’s critique and new music. In her commentary, Anne Boissière (2001, p. 32) picked this up, asking why I didn’t discuss ‘the problem of contemporary music which resists consumption’: instead, she complained, I made music sound as if it was just another commodity, and in this way passed up the opportunity to offer ‘a critical analysis of consumer society’. In which case, she asked, ‘what point is there in making reference to Adorno?’: if one’s critique isn’t motivated by moral or political commitment, as Adorno’s was, then what is there to it but nihilism?
Actually, the argument Boissière is putting forward here, and which other contributors also reflected, has a long and rather peculiar history. It originates in the conservative critique of the modern world—the attack on capitalism and consumerism that developed throughout the German-speaking countries in the 19th century (where it was associated with the nostalgic values of an idealised rural past), and fed ultimately into the Nazi creed of ‘blood and soil’.
There are many ripostes to the views of McClary, Taruskin and Cook, just as there are to that of Babbitt, or those advocates of latter day composition-as-research who essentially adhere to his view. In subsequent posts I will consider some of these in more detail.
But for now, I just want to end with a plea for moderation. New music is a niche interest; this much appears very clear, and there is little evidence of such a situation changing. Can we accept this, and move away from both the unmediated and exaggerated claims for its centrality of Babbitt, the hatred and aggression towards dissenters, but also the types of denunciations of McClary, Taruskin and Cook, often clothed in ferocious political language (as with Cook’s attempts to link Boissière to the Nazis, to which I have alluded on here before)?
Those involved in new music who enjoy institutional prestige and economic wherewithal because of existing situations are unlikely to be sympathetic to any view which questions their status. Nor are those who jealously covet such a thing from different fields likely to have any sympathy towards them. Neither of these groups are likely to engage in mature scholarly debate. But such a debate ought to be possible without degenerating into polarised oppositions, including some of those presented above.
How views of high culture in the UK have shifted across the political spectrumPosted: July 16, 2022 Filed under: Art, Conservative Party, Culture, History, Labour Party, Politics | Tags: Andrew Ross, arts funding, high culture, Ivana Medić, John Fiske, margaret thatcher, Pauline Fairclough, Ronald Reagan, Soviet Union, Terry Dicks, Tony Banks 3 Comments
Rightly or wrongly, today it seems quite widely assumed that a defence of high culture (and its public funding) is a conservative position, at odds with ‘progressive’ arguments which reject that it has any intrinsic value over and above popular/commercial alternatives, and as such deserves no special treatment (also that Western high culture is deeply entwined with colonialism, an argument I have attempted to address in a musical context in this article recently published in The Critic magazine).
At the height of the Thatcher-Reagan era, in 1989 (when both politicians were near the end of their careers, but their policies had become firmly entrenched), two books in the field of cultural studies appeared which argued this perspectively on high/low culture most fervently: John Fiske, Understanding Popular Culture (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989) and Andrew Ross, No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture (New York: Routledge, 1989). Fiske interprets various approaches to consumption (which he describes as ‘a tactical raid upon the system’), such as sporting of particular garments, make-up or hairstyles, as guerrilla actions which subvert dominant values, writing that ‘At the point of sale the commodity exhausts its role in the distribution economy, but begins its work in the cultural. Detached from the strategies of capitalism, its work for the bosses completed, it becomes a resource for the culture of everyday life’. Ross is utterly scathing about any type of defence of high culture, seeing in this an affront to the values of democracy, and a hegemonic attempt by a dominant class to protect their privilege.
Yet in the House of Commons, a very different political alignment was made clear the following year. It came about in a speech during a debate on arts funding by hard right-wing Conservative MP Terry Dicks (1937-2020), then MP for Hayes and Harlington:
Terry Dicks: My hon. Friend said that the arts contribute to the quality of life. Perhaps he could explain to me one day how the arts’ contribution to the quality of life affects my pensioners and ordinary people who want to buy a pint and have a game of bingo– [Interruption.] Their quality of life is not enhanced by seeing some man prance about in a box or by listening to the different range of an opera singer.
Other questions that I should like to ask–which nobody answers, certainly not any of the great and the good on the Opposition Benches–is, what is art? What is culture? Who defines it? The answers to those questions are personal, but I know who the hell pays for it. The ordinary chap down the street pays for most of it, while the great and the good take advantage.
We have heard about the royal opera house. I shall show the way in which it thinks about money. I gather that it is about £3 million in debt. It spent £200,000 recently on a production. It has agreed to a 15 per cent. increase for ballet dancers who prance around, pretending they are toys, at an annual cost of £600,000. I find it strange that the arts world is up in arms about the lack of money yet ballet dancers can get a 15 per cent. increase, which is twice the rate of inflation. Nobody mentions that–certainly no Opposition Member has mentioned it. When extra money is called for, all the whingers appear on both sides of the Chamber [Interruption.] Every man, well and good, appears. Nobody should need to question the situation : everyone should understand what needs to be done. Why should we subsidise old pros dressed in doublets and hose? I do not understand.
In common with my right hon. Friend the Minister, I could say that it is all “Much Ado About Nothing”, but I am not an expert on Shakespeare. The Royal Shakespeare Company has made its bed and it must lie on it. I see no justification for a grant increase, nor can I see any justification for any grant. No one in the working class, or the people I represent, could give a toss about the Royal Shakespeare Company staying open or closing down. There is nothing special about it.
One can compare and contrast the RSC with the commercial theatre, which must survive by putting on a programme that people are prepared to pay an economic cost to see. The same argument applies to professional football. In common, I am sure, with many colleagues I received a copy of a letter from Ken Bates, who is the chairman of Chelsea football club. He says :
“The Arts Council grant to the Opera House this year is more than £13.3 million, or £75,000 a week I’d be interested to know what percentage that is of the Opera House’s total income.”
So would I.
“Far from offering us any subsidy or assistance, it”–the Government–“takes £300 million a year in betting tax out of the game, which is equal to £3 million per Football League club”
Is it not strange that the working-class pastime gets hammered by the taxman while the upper-class pastime–I notice that a member of the middle class is sitting next to the upper-class man on the Opposition Front Bench- -is subsidised all the time by the rest of us. The poor chap down the road must pay the full whack to see Brentford or Chelsea, apart from the cost that he must meet in the future towards increased safety in those football grounds. He must pay for that ticket from his own pocket, but the great and the good, in their bow ties and long frocks, get them paid for by someone else. It is strange that we adopt such an approach to the upper class in this House and we forget the ordinary people who put us here. [ Hon. Members– : “Hear, hear.”] I am glad that the audience is so good, and that most of the audience have had a good dinner.
Child benefit has not been uprated for a couple of years and the ambulance men are being offered only 6.5 per cent. for this year–
After a few other interventions, and more from Dicks, the then-Labour MP for Newham North-West, Tony Banks (1942-2006) (associated with the relatively hard left, an ally of Ken Livingstone, Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn), responded as follows:
Tony Banks: My right hon. and hon. Friends know that an economically efficient and socially just society will not only address the problems of homelessness, poverty and unemployment that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) mentioned. Such a society will support also a thriving and burgeoning arts expenditure. It is a mark of a confident and strong society that it encourages and nurtures the arts. The Victorians did it in the past in this country, and the French, Germans and Italians do it today.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is not in his place, because listening to him opining on the arts is rather like listening to Vlad the Impaler presenting “Blue Peter”. The hon. Gentleman is undoubtedly living proof that a pig’s bladder on a stick can be elected as a Member of Parliament.
Several Hon. Members rose —
Mr. Speaker : Order. I know–but although the hon. Gentleman’s comments may not be very pleasant, they are not unparliamentary.
This amusing exchange shows how the political alignment I outlined at the beginning of this piece has by no means always been accepted. Some of us on the left still believe passionately in the value of high culture, and of subsidy to try and make it available to a wider section of the population. For all that I would never defend Soviet communism, the success of such a venture on a large scale is made clear in Pauline Fairclough’s book Classics for the Masses: Shaping Soviet Musical Identity under Lenin and Stalin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), and recently in a fantastic keynote on ‘The Soviet model of teaching music at universities and conservatories, and its implementation in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe’ at my conference on ‘Music and the University: History, Models, Prospects’ (of which more in a blog post to follow), Serbian musicologist Ivana Medić gave plentiful detail about how this approach was disseminated through Eastern Europe (including in countries which had broken with Moscow such as Yugoslavia), and still informs musical education today. There remains plenty to learn from this.
On the importance of teaching musical theory and techniquePosted: March 18, 2022 Filed under: Academia, Culture, Higher Education, History, Music - General, Musical Education, Musicology, New Music | Tags: Anton Rubinstein, beethoven, classical music, creativity, Crimean War, frédéric chopin, Gabriel Fauré, improvisation, jazz, johannes brahms, john cage, Mikhail Glinka, Mily Balakirev, Missa Solemnis, music theory, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolay Rubinstein, paris conservatoire, technique, Yelizaveta Dmitriyevna Khrushchova 5 Comments
In the period prior to the end of the Crimean War (1856), Russian musical life differed in various respects from that in other leading European countries. It was dominated by opera, but much else went on in aristocratic salons, with few regular concert societies. One exception, the St Petersburg Philharmonic Society, founded in 1802 (and which gave the premiere of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in 1824) mostly produced popular numbers from Italian opera. To be a professional musician meant being in the service of the state, which was unacceptable to most aristocrats. Most major recitals were given by visiting foreign artists, while few Russian composers had a formal musical training. The great pianist Nikolay Rubinstein, who had begun a professional career as a pianist in 1854 (he would later give the premieres of Mily Balakirev’s notorious piano piece Islamey (1869) and was a champion of Chaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto), was made to give up this career in 1855 in order to marry Yelizaveta Dmitriyevna Khrushchova, daughter of a prominent Moscow official, as the profession was deemed as little more than a low-class entertainer. The marriage however turned sour, and Nikolay resumed his career after they separated in 1858.
Nikolay’s older brother Anton, an equally leading pianist and also composer who spent much time travelling around Europe for concerts (both brothers had also spent four years in Berlin when young), wrote an article in the Viennese journal Blätter für Musik, Theater und Kunst in 1855 entitled ‘Die Komponisten Rußland’s’, in which he was sharply critical of the reliance of existing Russian music on allusions to folk songs and dance melodies, provoking some fury from nationalistically-minded composers (some of it deeply anti-semitic in nature), especially Mikhail Glinka, who had been singled out by Rubinstein. But Rubinstein’s article betokened a wider view, as he would later articulate – to him, Russian music was amateurish and dilletantish compared with that he had encountered elsewhere, in large measure down to the lack of provision of professional training, especially compared to that in the German Confederation. Some other Russian composers, led by Mily Balakirev, strongly opposed Rubinstein’s plans, believing him to be planning to import foreign and academic ideas to Russia (once again, in the ugly exchanges, Rubinstein’s Jewishness and the concomitant view that he was less deeply rooted in Russian culture and tradition than others, continued to be evoked). To teach compositional and other technique, to many nationalists, was in contradiction to the idea that it lay somehow deep within the Russian soul, an almost mystical conception. But with his convictions in mind, Rubinstein sought to establish a conservatoire on the model of those in other European cities to provide the training he sought. He was able to do this in 1862, in part due to the support of the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, in whose household he had earlier worked as an accompanist for singers, also due to relaxations in higher education brought in under the reign of Tsar Alexander II from 1855, enabling music graduates to call themselves ‘Free Artists’, which freed them from military service and some taxation.
Today the conservatoires in St Petersburg and Moscow (which was founded in 1866 by Nikolay) are amongst the most renowned in the world, and it is strange to think of how their very foundation occasioned such controversy. In 1871 Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov was invited to teach composition and orchestration (while remaining in the navy and teaching in uniform). Rimsky-Korsakov had previously been close to the Balakirev faction, but he changed ideological direction at this point and undertook his own intensive study of compositional technique, harmony and counterpoint, in order to be able to teach them. This also bore great fruit in his work, as can be found in works such as the Symphony No. 3 (1866-1873, rev. 1886).
This story came to mind in light of hearing similar arguments both over a period in musicological circles, and in an exchange (in Spanish) on social media. Commonly the type of argument in its contemporary guise goes as follows, with respect to composition teaching: ‘There is no need to teach boring things like harmony and counterpoint, the point is to allow students to be creative‘. Music theory is viewed in opposition to some sort of innate creativity, and the purpose of composition teaching is simply to liberate this, give students a type of ‘permission’ to express themselves however they want. Sometimes one will hear cited the words of John Cage recalling how his own ‘teacher’ (in a loose sense of the word) Arnold Schoenberg told him that he had no feeling for harmony and would come up against a wall which would prevent him from progressing, to which Cage replied that he would continue to beat his head against this wall (the veracity of Cage’s many anecdotes should always be treated with some scepticism, as he was clearly someone who carefully constructed his own mythology). As such, some of those identifying themselves with the field of ‘experimental music’ can be amongst the most vociferous opponents of the teaching of traditional technique (and some indeed advocate primarily for amateur rather than professional music-making).
But I find utterly unconvincing this opposition between technique and creativity, in music or any other art form. Harmony is a factor in most forms of Western music; that in jazz is every bit as sophisticated as in much classical music. Some other musical traditions, such as many from the Arab world, are primarily monophonic, but the primary focus of most education in the West, unsurprisingly and not unnaturally, is upon the range of traditions which have developed here, and this is the primary focus of most students (it would be as strange for Western institutions to discontinue the teaching of Western traditions as for Chinese institutions to do the same with their own). There are varieties of new music which owe relatively little to such traditions (such as that of Cage and some of his followers, or perhaps around Iannis Xenakis as well), but these are niche interests, like much new music (I will be writing more about this in a subsequent blog post). Most of those drawn to more integrative art music traditions, popular musics, musical theatre, film music and much else are dealing with musics rooted in developed harmonic traditions. To understand the workings of these and the possibilities thus engendered is to expand the range of possible creative application, not to narrow it.
The teaching of counterpoint has had an interesting history. In the Renaissance harmony was largely seen as a by-product of counterpoint, indicating particular ways in which musical lines formed vertical groupings of consonances and dissonances at particular points. In a gradual process from the advent of the seconda pratica at the beginning of the 17th century, harmony, and the structural relationships between different chords, came to assume an ever more prominent position in theory and education, coming to supersede the teaching of counterpoint in some places by the early 19th century, not least at the Paris Conservatoire. Certainly plenty of composers of this period, such as Frédéric Chopin or Johannes Brahms, still believed in the value of knowledge of counterpoint and studied it diligently. It was later in the century that counterpoint returned centre-stage in Paris, in the context of a post-1871 era which witnessed increased interest in earlier (pre-revolutionary) French musical traditions (which were viewed as archaic and reactionary after 1789), and became fundamental to the work and teaching of Gabriel Fauré, who was director of the Conservatoire from 1905 to 1920. Ultimately, I believe many who have studied it are deeply conscious of the value of understanding the interactions of lines even for the purpose of teaching more vertically-oriented music.
The same goes for the teaching of instrumental and orchestral technique – understanding the possibilities and limitations of different instruments, their particular characteristics and the results of performers employing certain techniques, and of course the ways in which they can be combined to optimal effect. Anyone wanting to write for live musicians can surely only gain from such knowledge, enabling more incisive use of such instruments. The same can be said for the compositional study of vocal technique.
Some such theoretical teaching is dismissed by some as simply a set of antiquated practices irrelevant to the modern era, and a means of artificially elevated the status of the group of dead white (mostly) males who developed them. But the same could be said of most technical or technological innovations which occurred in the West – would people reject the use of the telephone or the computer or the train for the same reason? In my opinion, very little music of lasting consequence is created ‘out of nothing’, most draws upon knowledge and understanding of other music which has preceded it, and can build upon or enter into a more critical relationship with its achievements (and limitations).
And once again this is not unique to classical traditions, as many others have highly developed and sophisticated styles which are the result of the application of various techniques. Sometimes these are of a different nature or constitute a different set of priorities, for sure; the sort of intricate thematic development which has traditionally accompanied a good deal of music in the sonata/symphonic classical tradition from the late 18th century is much less of a factor in popular song, for example, and other approaches to vocal writing, or particular use of instruments and electronic timbres, play a more central role. As one commentator on the thread linked to earlier pointed out, a great many blues musicians learned their craft through hours of listening, practice and imitation, which are another form of learning of technique. Those who idealise impressive instrumental improvised solos from jazz or other musicians may not always be aware of the many hours of work which have gone into developing the ability (not least the inner self-criticism) to do these, to go beyond simple repetition of known figurations, to be able to achieve fluency and genuine spontaneity, and so on; improvisation builds upon technique as much as any form of music-making.
It would be narrow to suggest that only a particular set of techniques from the common practice period should be taught (equally narrow not to teach them, however), and there is a reasonable argument that music theory and compositional technique should encompass a more plural range of traditions than has sometimes been the case hitherto. But the argument which opposes technique to creativity is myopic, primitivist and amateurish, in line with those arguments maintaining everyone is an artist and to pretend otherwise is the unwelcome hegemony of an elite, arguments which were soundly critiqued here. The professionalisation of musical education may in certain senses be ‘elitist’, in the sense that those who have had a professional training generally achieve skills and abilities which set them apart from those who have not. But to reject this type of elitism is really to reject education altogether, and (re-)institute other forms of less welcome elitism and discrimination, for if there is no reason to judge the quality of anyone’s work, one can be sure that other measures (which may relate to possession of independent means, family connections, and so on) will determine which art achieves some prominence.
Ultimately, if we eschew the teaching of compositional technique in education, we are giving students a meagre offering for the considerable amount of money they spend on such education. There are students who would prefer not to have to put in the considerable amount of self-directed study required to develop technique (definitely this cannot be achieved exclusively in the classroom), but to pander to this view is to facilitate a form of infantilisation and discourage students from developing the greater intellectual and creative maturity which will serve them well after graduation. If we want to help students be creative, we should be helping to provide them with the means to do so. And the wider the range of techniques taught, the greater the range of possibilities thus opened up.
(The story about the conservatoire and professionalisation of Russian musical life in the nineteenth century is covered in various books on Russian music and the Rubinsteins, but the most comprehensive treatment can be found in Lynn M. Sargeant’s Harmony & Discord: Music and the Transformation of Russian Cultural Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)).