Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

The with any human creation there are flaws. Through

The
canon is defined by Dr S Howe, author of ‘Women Music Educators in the United
States: A History’ as “an authoritative list of books
or a body of material that is considered to be essential for understanding the
subject” (Howe, 1998).  This
indicates the canon is the most desirable pieces of work from each genre and
that if an understanding of these trends and practises and the developmental
process between them has been grasped an understanding of music history will
follow. Although the model of the canon is an effective human reaction to the requirement
to preserve music and its place in society, as with any human creation there
are flaws. Through exploration of the history of the structure of canon and the
ways in which it is perceived and applied with regards to music, an attempt has
been made to justify the merits and issues that arise when using the canon in
an educational context.

 

When
approaching the canon as a tool to develop the understanding of music history,
consideration must be given to the authority under which the canon was
established. The motivations behind certain composers or great works being
secured into the body of material are not always authentic and to this end the
canon itself cannot be considered truly accurate. Even if specific examples of
music were considered popular at the time of writing the likelihood that those
popular pieces represent the general stereotypes of music and its role in
society at the time is very small therefor their place in the canon is
jeopardised by a system that delights in categorising. “At the end of the sixteenth century, it was
unusual for music to remain in circulation for more than a generation; those
works that did persist remained isolated from each other, or formed part of
pedagogical traditions known by a small group of learned musicians” (Cook and
Everest, 1999).

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The nature of
society, limited travel, class system and technological state greatly reduced
the opportunity for music and the arts to be shared among peers and especially internationally,
trends would have been difficult to foresee and extend therefor even if music
was retained it would be isolated. The music that remained popular would have
been the pieces that were finically supported and publicised by those with the
disposable income to do so- not necessarily the music that was appreciated by
the general public or the pieces that best encapsulated the trends of the time,
as it is often perceived. So to take the canon as essential for understanding
western music’s development we must either blindly trust the reasoning behind
the construct being created or to some extent accept the generalisations made
on our behalf and appreciate the mass of works that were not included, whether
that be for financial, aesthetic or political reasons.

 

From
an educators point of view in order for examination and assessments to take
place there must be some sort of formalised curriculum which states the ‘recommended
reading’ (listening) and research for each period of history that is covered,
in this situation the canon proves to be very useful acting as a ready made
list of examples for the examination boards and teachers to choose from to demonstrate
certain trends and concepts. Without a structure such as the canon it would be
impossible to begin restricting the necessary knowledge for certificate level
students to an attainable range. Although this structure leaves a lot to be
desired in terms of diversity and accuracy of representation it is vital in the
methods of teaching and assessment used today. Once the ideology behind the
canon is explained to students those with a specific interest can go on to
discover more around the trends of music history which interest them most.

Unfortunately Within the discipline of music education
today, historical research is not emphasised.  This is where issues can arise if their
preferred genre is less or barely represented in the canon the information and
surrounding influences may simply no longer be recorded and therefor inaccessible
except for through imagining the situation of the composer or estimating from
other resources available from the time. Educators should be encouraging
student’s individual exploration of personal interest and require to already
possess enough of a background knowledge to open these doors of enquiry and
ignite the interest. But with this emphasis on personal interest and with advances in technology, students are learning the music
they prefer, with their peers; they are ignoring the traditional institutions
of learning. Which is not inherently a bad thing, although it plays a
part in further dissociating students from the origins and influences on the
creative process of the music they listen to. To create a canon of the musical
culture we have access to today would be a much more difficult task as the
boundaries of good works are much less clear and the different types and genres
of music are much more diverse. When looking at society in this way we begin to
look backward framing the structure of canon in terms that are not specific to
our time, which highlights many flaws including those around the inclusion of
work of minority groups. Which in turn encourages reflection on the accuracy of
the canon in the past – music could have been equally diverse and non-unified
but for aesthetic reasons works which did not fit into the mould of the period
were not established into the canon and thought of as great works. The musical
landscape we see today could have been very different if another authoritative
figure had been the power behind decisions that brought the canon into being.

 

Interpretation
in music is of vital importance, when performing the music must be brought off
of the page to depict something. The very nature of canon galvanises certain
composers as prominent within their time period, which is very useful when
looking further into the meaning behind the notes. As certain composers have
the upper hand in the popularity ranks there is much literature that can be
found surrounding them and their lives and so researching the journeys that
they took and the possible life experiences that influenced their creative
choices is a relatively easy task. If the canon did not function in the manner which
it has many individual pieces may have been remembered for their merits but
without an over arching link or a specific biographical line in mind and
therefor the volume of information surrounding those composers, pieces and
their origins would have been much more limited. The information we have is specialist,
concentrated on the lives of a select few but the sheer depth of this
information allows us to reach much further into the interpretation of what the
composer intended to convey and allows us a real insight into their lives and
influences. … to have a one hit wonder in classical music is almost unheard of
but in todays temporary culture works and the artists behind them unless
worshipped by a committed following are often enjoyed for a time but so quickly
forgotten. The canon in this ay forms a distinction between the longevity of
music now and in the past – in essence the Top 40 charts are an intermediate
canon created weekly based on the popularity and following a song receives.

Although still based primary on financial support, the aesthetic conformity of
a song does not discount it from being placed highly in the rankings of the
day, although often popularity is synonymous to this as it is human nature to
gravitate towards comfort and similarity.

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