Sunday, February 19, 2012

Everything I know about A cappella I learned in Kindergarten.

I flunked philosophy when I was in graduate school. It’s not that I don’t think philosophy is a worthwhile practice. I believe philosophy is essential for maintaining a well-rounded education. I was just never able to spend an entire semester thinking and debating, rather than learning how accomplish a goal.

Philosophy is about the “why.” Why do we do what we do? Why does any of this matter? My main argument with philosophers is that they spend too much time thinking about why and not enough time thinking about “how.” In education, we call this praxis.

It is praxis that I am most drawn to as an educator. I am easily swayed, easily sold on ideas, and easily convinced of the why. I don’t need an entire semester spent on the why. Give me fifteen minutes and I will have made up my mind whether I agree or not. Although to keep my opinion consistent, you will have to show me how you plan to accomplish these goals.

Education relies on a triangle- one side is philosophy, one side if praxis, and one side is psychology. In my belief, a good course addresses all three: You explain why you are teaching this (philosophy), you explain the connections this subject makes to others (psychology), and then you show me how to do it (praxis). In my opinion, we spend a lot of time in a cappella blogs focusing on the philosophy of why we study a cappella music. Again, this is not a negative critique- thanks to the tireless efforts of these educators, bloggers, and thinkers, we have taken a long hard look at what we are trying to accomplish and why this music matters.

But I recently looked into finding a “school of a cappella.” I was hoping there was one college that focused on the practice of teaching this music as a legitimate and separate genre. I wasn’t expecting to find an a cappella major- finding one will drastically change my dissertation topic- but I was hoping someone could lead me in the right direction. Alas, the closest I have found were the fine a cappella festivals held around the country, and so I have made it a mission to attend all of them, as often as possible.

And I think the reason why I haven’t found anything yet is clear- We all have the philosophy, or the “desire to do it.” But we don’t have the curriculum yet. And so as this dissertation progresses, the way to do it needs to become clear.

While I obviously can’t post my exact curriculum online, I can draw attention to the study of jazz in most colleges as a metaphor. The study of jazz requires theory, history, pedagogy, ensemble experience, improvisation, and composition. If you replace the word jazz with the word “a cappella” music, you can see where this curriculum is headed.

This is, of course, assuming that we can convince enough people that “a cappella” music is more than just a style of arranging- it is quickly developing into its own independent genre of music. But that’s for the philosophers to debate.

Marc Silverberg

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