“It is not every day that documentaries about music theory in education are made, discussing matters that are highly relevant to our profession and featuring people that you may well know. This is exactly what Karishmeh Felfeli has done.” I wrote this in an email circular to members, urging them (you) to tune in or listen to the podcasts after the event. As well as being a broadcaster, Karishmeh is an insider to the world of music analysis: she is, in fact, a member of the SMA and a PhD student at University College Dublin where she studies with Julian Horton. She is therefore uniquely placed to make such a documentary, which centres on Irish tertiary education but is widely applicable to other countries, not least the UK, as you will see, or rather hear.
If, like me, you are biased against programmes about music (for obvious reasons), you will be pleasantly surprised. I exchange with Karishmeh only a couple of emails and do not know her well, so please believe my disinterestedness when I say that, in the depressing landscape of current programme making, she is a force for good. This documentary is obviously for a wider audience but it compromises nothing. It turns around notions of elitism and challenges some fashionable presumptions about accessibility exposing them for what they are – a way of keeping music theory the preserve of the few. It exposes the consumerism in higher education and raises the familiar problem of undergraduate expectations and the impoverished culture of performance studies. And as for touching on technical aspects of music (a taboo), it does what it preaches and shows what ‘accessibility’ could really be like: for example, I confess to being surprised when Schenker’s motivic parallelism (!) came up. I think it was Steven Laitz from Eastman – forgive me if I misremember – who on this occasion managed to convey it with elegant simplicity, in a way sometimes programmes of particle physics manage to somehow make complex theories widely comprehensible; and it was done as part of a wider argument about literacy (this comes towards the end of part 1. There are some excellent points made by Julian Horton as well).
What I find uplifting about this programme, then, is its anti-populist democratic spirit, if I can put it that way; the idea that like general language literacy, music literacy should really spread, as it is important in itself and beyond the world of Western classical music with which it is usually associated (there are several good arguments made about that in the second part, countering the usual trendy arguments against score-centred learning). Some may say this is Bildung repackaged, the old civilizing mission of the high bourgeoisie in a new guise. Let them. Listen and make up your own minds.
Link to the two podcasts: http://karishmeh.blogspot.co.uk/p/podcasts.html