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Musical growth/Le developpement musical.

Listening and responding to complex or unusual music-making demands an openness that requires concentration, effort, and an awareness of the endless ways pitch, rhythm, intensity, timbre, and texture can be manipulated. Thinking, then, is focused on the task at hand whether it is listening, interpreting, performing, or creating.

Cultivating receptive approaches that are sparked by unique musical content (such as the examples cited below), could involve manipulating various elements:

1. Unusual timbres, shapes, and textures: Murray Schafer's Threnody, Penderecki's Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, Takemitsu's AI.

2. Twelve- tone, unusual pitch formations, and dissonances: Berg's Violin Concerto, Schoenberg's Pierrot Luanir, the traditional "Adila Alipasha" from Guria, Republic of Georgia.

3. Rhythmic asymmetries, polyrhythms: Stravinsky's "Sacrificial Dance" from Rite of Spring, Somers' "Feller from Fortune," Brubeck's "Unsquare Dance," "Mboko," riddle song from Ouessa in equatorial Africa, "Agbekor," Ewe music from Ghana, electronic dance music of 808 State's Track Cubik (Butler), "Traichovo horo," from Bulgaria and many Macedonian, Greek, Israeli, Romanian, Bulgarian folk and dance songs.

4. Electronic sounds: Stockhausen's "Gesang der Junglinge," John Adams's "On the Transmigration of Souls," EDM Kygo's "Firestone".

5. Traits of popular songs: Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," Beatles's "Eleanor Rigby," Cohen's "Alleluia," Princes's "Purple Rain".

6. Varied modes: Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim chants, Indian raga, Arabian maqam, Iranian dastgah, Caucasian mugam; medieval and renaissance music.

There are endless number of selections that illustrate many of the preceding traits. As expected, instrumentation, voicings, dynamics, accidentals, silences, all will have a bearing on timbre and texture. *

Imagination is also important when interpreting or composing, particularly during attempts to capture moments in sound: the agony of victims in Picasso's Guernica, the suffering of refugees attempting to escape the horrors of war, the expressionism in Dali's Soft Construction with Boiled Bean/Munch's The Scream; also, meaningful content in poems, stories, dramas, movies, cartoons, and so forth. **

As previously stated, involvement in composition does not need excessive time in the classroom. Students may work together, or alone as home assignments; then do classroom presentations followed by discussions regarding their choices made, and alternate solutions.

The acquisition of skills that are supported by knowing and experiencing, enhance cognitive and affective responses in many ways. They encourage a receptivity to tension-creating devices, the manipulation of unusual sounds, and musical resources of various cultures and styles.

Being receptive, however, does not necessarily mean accepting or liking a piece of music. In contrast, recognizing how elements are being manipulated can all lead to making musical connections. These elements include: the timbres, textures, asymmetries in duration of rhythm, contrasts in dynamics, intensity, variance in pitch, and the treatment of musical elements in totally different stylistic works ranging from medieval to post modern music. These connections do not necessarily involving one 'liking' a piece of music. In summary, a thoughtful response to diverse music making is more accurately measured by an individual's abilities to make sense of what is happening. Making sense of music, or understanding often has a way of engaging the emotions.

For Juslin (2013, p. 238, 261), emotional arousal is important to appreciating the aesthetic (i.e., formal properties and beauty of a composition). The aesthetic event may result in an experience that brings to the fore traits of illumination and ecstasy described as something profound, beyond the ordinary, or something akin to peak experiences or moments of intense joy, fulfillment, and meaning (Maslow, 1971, p. 174-179).

Often, the aesthetic is connected to a culture's "high art." Responses to "high art," however, may have less to do with quality than status, cultural expectations, and access to power. According to Regelski (2002) musical status of any selection, then, should be determined by it's satisfaction and usefulness to a culture. But, what is useful and satisfying to one group may not be so to another--all the more reason for analytical skills that embrace critical judging as well as a receptivity to music ranging from simple to complex, from the known to the unknown.

Incidentally, students do opt for music, a discipline that may not meet the cultural expectations of parents or peers. They want to become more knowledgeable in their music-making and look to incentives to keep improving--difficult when all perspectives or opinions, regardless of education and craft, may be deemed legitimate; difficult, too, when peer preferences and the overt commodification of popular music tend to discourage independent thinking. Yet, students continue their studies. Their confrontations with ambiguities, complexities, and challenges in music learning will help in their decision-making; and, will encourage greater receptivity to works, initially negated, to works of substance that require repeated visitations.

The strength of schooling--stretching the mind, and responding to the unfamiliar--lies in creating new understandings, in critical reflecting, in going beyond initial ways of hearing and thinking.


* Spencer Kornhaber's article "How to Listen to Music" is a commentary on Ben Ratliff's book Every Song Ever. The review recommends an engaged relationship that is open to the unfamiliar in music making. Ben's " 20 ways of listening" encompass musical elements such as, repetition, density, etc. as ways of approaching diverse compositions.

** Strategies that encourage imaginative interpretations of a mood or happening, of different musical styles or traditions (Kuzmich), were given in earlier issues of the Canadian Music Educator (2002a, 2002b, 2003a, 2003b); as well, in Musical Growth (1986); e.g., manipulating a pitch "d" or syllable "hi" in ways that demonstrate changes in pitch, timbre, texture, duration, intensity; incorporating findings into mini compositions, abstract or programmatic, that make use of contrasts, different shapes, silences, a climax; creating a three part pentatonic or Dorian mode setting of a poem; a 16 measure four- part work for a quartet of players based on a twelve -tone row and rules of serial composition. (Learning about and exploring the potential of sounds and modes tend to precede creative manipulation.) Improvisations and compositions are performed in class.

A problem solving activity can be so pleasurable that invested time may appear to be of little consequence. The thinking, doing, learning, imagining, and working with ideas depicting traditional as well as extraordinary treatment of sounds, shapes, modes, textures, pitches, timbres, durations, rhythms, are well worth the effort. These activities are opportunities for group collaboration of (but not limited to): melodies, settings, collected sounds, performances, and recordings.


Allsup, Randall Everett.(2006). Chapter 3. Philosophical Perspectives of Music Education, 39-60.

Butler, Mark. (2001). Turning the beat around: reinterpretation, metrical dissonance, and asymmetry in electronic danced music. Music Theory on Line, 7(6) 1-20.

Juslin, Patrick. (2013). From everyday emotions to aesthetic emotions: Towards a unified theory of musical emotions. Physics of Life Reviews, 10, 235-266.

Kornhaber, Spencer. (2016). How to listen to music: A guide to escaping the algorhithms and your own musical ruts. The Atlantic, April 2016, 46-48.

Kuzmich, Natalie. (1986). Musical Growth: A Process of Involvement, 1-178.

--. (2002a). Making connections: The sounds of different traditions Part 1, Canadian Music Educator, 44(1) 8-11.

--. (2002b). Making connections: The sounds of different traditions Part 2, Canadian Music Educator, 44(2)13-17.

--. (2003a). Making connections: The sounds of different traditions. Part 3, Canadian Music Educator, 44(3) 8-14.

--. (2003b). Making connections: The sounds of different traditions Part 4, Canadian Music Educator, 44(4) 9-15.

Lenehan, Katia. (2015). Human Being as a unity in aesthetic perception. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 49(4) 55-70.

Maslow, Abraham H. (1971). The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, 1-423.

Regelski, Thomas. (2002). On "Methodolatry" and music teaching as critical and reflective practice. Philosophy of music Education Review, 10(2) 102-123.

Sanneh, Kalefa. (2016). Chill in the Air: The rise of Kygo's laid-back house music. The New Yorker, Feb. 29, 76-77.

Price, Kingsly. (2004). How can music seem to be emotional. Philosophy of Music Education Review, 12(1) 30-42.

Vandenabeele, Bart. (2015). The sublime in art: Kant, the mannerist and the matterest sublime. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 49(3) 32-49.

Biography--Professor Natalie Kuzmich chaired the Music Education Department at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Education (now OISE/UT) until 1998. During that time, she also taught the strings program at the University of Toronto Schools, a lab school for grades 7-graduation where she implemented and refined many creative problem solving teaching and learning strategies. Since her retirement, Kuzmich continues to contribute to teacher education through workshops, articles, and commentaries in various journals. Professor Natalie Kuzmich may be reached at
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Title Annotation:commentary / commentaire
Author:Kuzmich, Natalie
Publication:Canadian Music Educator
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 22, 2016
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