Sunday, October 30, 2016

Four Basic Musical Textures in Josquin and Brian Wilson

This stemmed from a conversation I had with some of my bandmates in The New Prescriptions (a band of Medical Health Professionals (Physicians, Nurses, Residents) -- and me.  The Joke is, once per month they get to jam with me and play musician.  And to reciprocate, I get to visit them once per month and play doctor.
Below is a short clarification I provided regarding Musical Texture, which was spurred on my a simple request, "What key are we doing, "God Only Knows?"

Four basic textures of music:
1) Monophony – single line of melodic interest (e.g. solo vocal performance of national anthem)
2) Heterophony – single line of melodic interest sung / performed by more than one individual each with their own idiomatic articulations / phrasings et al – (e.g. Garth Brooks and Mariah Carey singing national anthem at the same time) * this is the most common texture in the world outside of western tradition
3) Homophony – single line of melody interest with chords / harmony (i.e. 4 part hymns, or anytime someone sings a song with chords or a bassline accompanying, or most western music symphonic or other written since 1600.) – if you ask “what are the chords?” – its homophonic.  Most so-called “World Music” is really a popular form of Western European structure, but “frosting” it a little differently giving it an “exotic” flair.)
4) Polyphony – more than one line of melodic interest:
   a) Imitative – same melody, BUT - 2 or more voices starting at different points – (i.e. in a round / canon / fugue etc. (e.g. row row row your boat)
   b) Non-imitative – 2  or more different melodies performed at the same time. (imagine National Anthem and America the Beautiful performed at the same time).
From here we can learn to build and embed the textures within each other:
PAIRED IMITATION: Is when a melodic line and /harmony part are imitated (as in Mille Regretz with the Soprano and Alto pairing being imitated by a Tenor / Bass response).

Anyway, in God only knows we have a great example of a broad homophonic structure supporting a non-imitative canon at the very close of the tune as well as in the Interlude.
BTW here is a scrolling text version of Mille Regretz in case you want to follow along.

From: K. Christian McGuire (Augsburg Colleg
Sent: Friday, September 30, 2016 12:05 PM
Subject: Re: Oct 1 draft
Don’t worry about being confused [God Only Knows...], I had to go over to the piano and spend some time working it out, before I finally resorted to looking up the chords. as the verse and chorus are in two different tonal areas.
Interestingly enough, and if I may geek out musicologically here. When I introduce my students to compositional practices of the High Renaissance—we focus on a very short 4-part polyphonic chanson composed by Josquin, entitled “Mille Regretz” (ca. 1500)  It is just packed full of technique and word painting symbolism (e.g. transitioning from paired imitative polyphony, moments of homophony...(the only time (before the ending) that all 4 voices contribute to a very definite homophonic texture is with the text, “si grand dueil”)  and the final cadence which alternates between the tonal centers of “A” and “E” – leaving one with an unanswerable question....unresolved --- as if counting ones days for eternity in a “fade out”
The text is also somewhat similar in sentiment to what Tony Asher penned for Brian Wilson:

Mille regretz de vous abandonnerEt d'eslonger vostre fache amoureuse,Jay si grand dueil et paine douloureuse,Quon me verra brief mes jours definer.

English Translation:
A thousand regrets at deserting you
and leaving behind your loving face,
I feel so much sadness and such painful distress,

that it seems to me my days will soon dwindle away.

God Only Knows:
If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me
Given Brian Wilson’s musical curiosity at this point, it seems remarkable that we would Not, know this---then again perhaps its just a fantastic coincidence....
Next time kids, I will demonstrate how G.F. Handel uses the exact same techniques Josquin exploited in Mille Regretz (by far one of the greatest continuous popular music hits from the last 500 years) in his Halleliuah chorus 250 years later, and how Mozart further enhanced that 45 years later (and the request of Baron Gotfried van Swieten) when he orchestrated Messiah for a performance in Wien.  (Handel btw has ALWAYS been popular since he hit the scene in 1707.  Meanwhile, JS Bach for many years (his death in 1750 to Mendelssohn’s revival of his works in 1830)  has only really gotten a mass following since the mid 19th century).  Mozart was virtually never played throughout the 19th century, until Richard Strauss championed his work in the early 20th, and Vivaldi was virtually unknown until all of this music he wrote for an orphaned girls school (pretty much everything we have) began to be performed in concert halls circa 1930....
OK, I’m done geeking out.
See you all tomorrow...
Then I can tell you about Johannes Kepler and Vincenzo Galilei...

Monday, October 24, 2016

Virtue and Happiness in Boethius and David Foster Wallace

In 2005, novelist David Foster Wallace, delivered what many have hailed as one of the greatest Commencement Addresses of all time.  Speaking at the graduation ceremony at Kenyon, he closes his address with: 

If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough …. Worship your body and beauty… you will always feel ugly…Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is…they are default settings…They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom.
The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving.....
…The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

Full transcript of his address is found here

Wallace the Classical Philosopher
While many regard Wallace's words as insightful advice, his themes are anything but original. For anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Classical Philosophy knows all to well the familiar strains of Virtue Ethics promoted by Aristotle.(384-322 BCE) nearly 2,400 years ago.  The greatest influence of these ideals was spread by the late Roman statesman, Boethius (c. 480-524 CE). For nearly 1,000 years the works of Boethius, shaped Western thought.  While warriors 'bickered and argued about who killed who' in their battles to win wealth, power and fame, Scholars continued the Great Conversation by inquiring into the workings of Nature and its intersection with Ethics in their efforts to seek - Harmonia. [*Warriors played chess to defeat an opponent, Scholars played Rithmomachia to achieve harmonious victory with their opponent]
While Boethius' works dominated the core texts of the Quadrivium (Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy) of Schools and Universities from the Carolingian Renaissance through the Scientific Revolution (ca. 11th-17th centuries) His Consolation of Philosophy was one of the most widely read texts by scholars and laymen alike.

In this context we look again to David Foster Wallace's speech above, we look to Book III section ii in one of Boethius many English translations, Here the voice of Lady Philosophia warns:

All mortal creatures in those anxious aims which find employment in so many varied pursuits, though they take many paths, yet strive to reach one goal—the goal of happiness. Now, the good is that which, when a man hath got, he can lack nothing further. This it is which is the supreme good of all, containing within itself all particular good; so that if anything is still wanting thereto, this cannot be the supreme good, since something would be left outside which might be desired. 

'Tis clear, then, that happiness is a state perfected by the assembling together of all good things. To this state, as we have said, all men try to attain, but by different paths. For the desire of the 
true good is naturally implanted in the minds of men; only error leads them aside out of the way in pursuit of the false.   
Some, deeming it the highest good to want for nothing,
spare no pains to attain affluence; others, judging the good to be that to which respect is most worthily paid, strive to win the reverence of their fellow-citizens by the attainment of official dignity. Some there are who fix the chief good in supreme power; these either wish themselves to enjoy sovereignty, or try to attach themselves to those who have it. Those, again, who think renown to be something of supreme excellence are in haste to spread abroad the glory of their name either through the arts of war or of peace. A great many measure the attainment of good by joy and gladness of heart; these think it the height of happiness to give themselves over to pleasure. Others there are, again, who interchange the ends and means one with the other in their aims; for instance, some want riches for the sake of pleasure and power, some covet power either for the sake of money or in order to bring renown to their name. 

And she closes Book III section vii with 
...It is beyond doubt, then, that these paths do not lead to happiness; they cannot guide anyone to the promised goal. 

For an overview of the Consolatio,  visit: 
Full Text of Consolatio begin on page 225 for Book III

At this point would like to turn to the field of education and set forth a statement which I have all to often heard from my students: 

"I want to get good grades / test scores so I can get into a reputable school so that I can get a diploma so that I can get a good paying job so that I can be happy and do what I want."

It seems reasonable, but given what we have read above, it is necessary to evaluate what the statement actually proposes.

Do the Goods of Fortune bestow Virtue and Lead to Happiness?

The Goods of Fortune do not bestow Virtue and Happiness.  Left unchecked by philosophy, pursuing them alone leads humans to vice.  Vice is dependent upon our ignorance of Nature, and our lack of will and ability to peel away their superficial trinkets. 

It is the philosopher, with the understanding of Harmonia who has the will and ability. Without the Good of Philosophy, the soul is prone to act with vice, not virtue making those Goods of Fortune not only worthless but downright destructive to the soul.

If Wealth leads to happiness, value is measured by market success. If you spend your energy trying to accumulate wealth and protect your wealth, and hire people to aid you in your wealth, are you really secure?

David Foster Wallace: "If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life,   then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough."

BoethiusWherefore, if wealth cannot get rid of want, and makes new wants of its own, how can ye believe that it bestows independence? Book III.iii

Questions for the Great Conversation: If I am starting a business because I want to make money, does it matter what I offer? Is it ethical to sell a product I know is bad?  So then is 'starting a business to make money' really what I am seeking? Is there something more essential or is money itself my aim?

David Foster Wallace: "Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need 
ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear…"

Boethius asks, Do you think the man powerful who is more afraid of others than they are of him? Book III.V

If one accumulates power, then must one always be on guard to protect themselves from those who would take it away.  Even those you keep around you, can never be fully trusted. You may as well spend your time hiding away in some secret bunker, shut off from the world.

Questions for the Great Conversation: If power is what I need to be happy, to be free, assess the following statement, "It is the strength of our military that gives us Freedom."  If this is the case, does that mean that a strong military anywhere ensures freedom?  So North Korea, China, Nazi Germany all ensure freedom because they have strong military's?  Or is freedom something else?

Does Fame make one virtuous?  Sure you are famous, but for what? Are you famous because of your Virtue.  Do you feel good that your exploits are broadcast to the world?

Boethius For many have won a great name through the mistaken beliefs of the multitude—and what can be imagined more shameful than that? Nay, they who are praised falsely must needs themselves blush at their own praises! Book

Question for the Great Conversation: If you act in Virtue, does Fame really matter?

Do you respect the Rank or the Man? Book III.iv
Does being honored make one Virtuous and Happy?

Question for the Great Conversation: Does being granted a high office, rank make the person Virtuous?
Think about how these Goods of Fortune intersect and surround us.  They dominate our daily lives and lure our passions through advertisement, marketing. propaganda to play on our fears.

Test for yourself can any one of these lesser goods be considered the Ultimate Good, goal to Happiness and Virtue?

Lets Evaluate the statement, "I want to get good grades / test scores so I can get into a reputable school so that I can get a diploma so that I can get a good paying job so that I can be happy and do what I want."

- Do the test scores determine what you have learned? Perhaps to some degree, but is all learning measurable are there other factors which contribute to your knowledge and capabilities?
- Do reputable schools excel because they are reputable? What are the factors which go into making that reputation?
- Does the diploma measure what you have learned; of what your are capable? Or is there some sort of portfolio of your work; a track record which indicates the value of that piece of paper?
- If a good paying job is how you measure success, does it matter what that job is? Does that job actually make you happy?
- What does "doing what I want" actually entail?  What do these last factors indicate about responsibility to the community and the world?

For Educators: If the goal ensuring income to keep the school fiscally viable, then all decisions would seem to center around money. Are we in the field of Education for the sake of Money? What does that do to education when we begin to describe students and curriculum in market terms?  If we place high emphasis on the test scores, as an indicator of the effectiveness of our curriculum and teaching method (i.e. student as "product"), can we support it with follow up questions.  How do we ensure we are not structuring our curriculum to make good test takers? necessarily good scholars, independent thinkers? Does our curriculum and teaching method work for all students, if so, all students should do well in this environment.
If it shows that our teaching method is ineffective for all students, for example students leave for other schools, or do not seem to do well by measured and timely scores - then we cannot say we offer the best method.  The measured & timely score also does not necessarily indicate what a student has learned.

These are just some of the basic questions which ought always be raised when discussing Virtue Ethics in the context of Education.

In closing, the Goods of Fortune are nice additions to life, they are not in and of themselves Virtuous. Unchecked they are the things which cater to our desires and wants…not to our soul.

Regarding the Goods of Fortune Boethius writes  …there is plainly nothing to be truly desired, nothing of intrinsic excellence; for she neither always joins herself to the good, nor does she make good men of those to whom she is united. Book

Classical Education

Classical Education gets a bad rap. Chief among its harshest criticisms are that it is inherently dogmatic, racist, and robs children of critical thought.  In many ways this criticism is deserved. There exist many works online and in print which praise and encourage a need for Classical Education.  Public Schools wishing to adopt a Classical Curriculum find that the majority of these works are inadequate for the secular requirements of a state funded school. While the authors of these works often raise good points, their solutions rely heavily upon anecdotal rather than substantive evidence. 

This may be due to the fact that in current of Classical Education is one which is now dominated by apologists, whose chosen discipline emphasizes a defensive rather than investigative approach, and well meaning literature majors whose work demonstrates a lack of the investigative research methods honed by professional scholars.  As such, their perspectives are skewed.  Rather than practicing scholarship, they engage in scholasticism: borrowing from those scholars of the past with whom they agree, while not bravely and critically examining their own presuppositions / beliefs.  They thus miss a huge chunk of context in development of human thought and ideas.   The result is an incomplete perspective which lacks the  insight familiar to research historians of philosophy, science, music, mathematics and the like.

In recent decades, the majority of published works on Classical Education have fallen away from the investigative trajectory set forth by Socrates and carried through the works of the great scholars, scientists, and humanitarians of the world.  As such their works are not based upon tested cognitive development, researched educational theory, nor is the subject matter informed through rigorous academic scholarship which utilizes critical examination of Classical sources through historical methods and textual reception. More often than not, these works limit the variety of actual Classical thought -- cutting away significant primary sources which challenge the convictions of the particular market to which they are trying to sell their product.  Furthermore, as an example, emphasis on marketing reputation of a school based upon excellent test scores flies in the face of the premise of Classical Education,- critical investigation. 

What I provide here, is an approach to Classical Education which is not mired in 19th century Idealism and Historiographical essentialism, but one which embraces the variety of thought and methodologies which have always existed.  It is one which stresses the importance of learning History, Reasoning, and the traditional subjects of Classical Education.  It is one however whose sources are informed by Academic Peer-Reviewed Research methodologies in History, Cognitive Development, Science, et al.  It is one which does not fear the Scientific Method or Discovery.  It acknowledges the known issues regarding the uncritical acceptance of the traditional Western Canon. Among these issues are equating literature for historical fact and the elimination significant contributions by women, subcultures and other civilizations in order to support a position of exceptionalism. No source is viewed as "authority" instead considered a voice in the Great Conversation.  Below I have provided links as a starting point for individuals and schools committed to providing Classical Education free from the anecdotal convictions of Authoritative Biblical, Anti-Science, Anti-Dewey rhetoric which has so often derailed proponents searching for an honest approach to provide education for students desiring to Learn for Life in a Global, multi-cultural society.

What Classical Education Means

The Unexamined Life, Diversity, and Classical Model

Source Studies

The Problems with Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, Gene Veith, and Andrew Kern

Reconsidering John Dewey's Relationship with Ancient Philosophy

In Praise of John Dewey - (compare / contrast Dewey and E.D. Hirsch 

Eudaimonia, Truth, Beauty, and Goodness

Instincts and the Pursuit of Truth

Freedom - Liberty - Happiness

Eudaimonia and Virtue Ethics

Virtue and The Goods of Fortune in  Boethius and David Foster Wallace


Class Expectations for Students of Xen McGuire

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Freedom - Liberty - Happiness

In particular the loose interpretation of the meaning of "Freedom." In brief, When the Founders of our Nation were writing about Freedom, Liberty and Happiness, They were not speaking casually. They were speaking from a learned perspective; continuing the dialog which stems from Plato and Aristotle, though the likes of Cicero & Boethius all the way through the Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Founders expected us to continue in this Great Conversation. Furthermore they expected us to be smarter, more diligent and NOT lazy in our discussions.

For the Founders (and those aforementioned authors) Freedom and Liberty do not mean giving into ones desire to do and say whatever they want. Liberty, as used by the Founders, carries with it the understanding that Humans are social beings as part of a society. It is our reason which guards us against our instincts to "do what we want" This is what separates us from the "Brutes" or "Libertines" Literature from the mid-late 18th century abounds with this play on words distinguishing the Free from the Libertine (Mozart/daPontes "Don Giovanni" probably the most famous example)

In the past 30 years those who exercise Liberty in this Classical sense are often derided in a pejorative as being "thin skinned" or "Politically Correct." 
Fortunately today we have more free access to source materials than generations past. We can easily read the Nicomachean Ethics, Consolation of Philosophy, the works of John Locke, David Hume et al. We can go to the online Library of Congress and even the John Adams library online and freely read not only the books he read, but also (what we historians love!) his handwritten notes in the margins so that we can know what he was thinking. 

Library of Congress Exhibit on the Pursuit of Happiness

But I will close with a quote from Henry Home, Lord Kames whose works inspired our own nations founders when drafting the Declaration:

"It is probable, that in the following particular, man differs from the brute creation. Brutes are entirely governed by principles of action, which, in them, obtain the name of instincts. They blindly follow their instincts, and are led by that instinct which is strongest for the time. It is meet and fit they should act after this manner, because it is acting according to the whole of their nature. But for man to suffer himself to be led implicitly by instinct or by his principles of action, without check or control, is not acting according to the whole of his nature. He is endued with a moral sense or conscience, to check and control his principles of action, and to instruct him which of them he may indulge, and which of them he ought to restrain. This account of the brute creation is undoubtedly true in the main: whether so in every particular, is of no importance to the present subject, being suggested by way of contrast only, to illustrate the peculiar nature of man."
Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion.

The Damnation of Don Giovanni

What Happened to the Quadrivium?

In short...
This summer I was reacquainting myself with Book III of Iohannes Kepler’s Harmonices Mundi – (usually only Chapter V detailing his astronomical discoveries are translated), but it is important to note that the previous books he provides equal dedication and care to the other arts of the Quadrivium: Arithemtic, Geometry, and Music (largely borrowed from the discussions of Vincenzo Galilei (Galileo’s dad) experimental science on the subject.

(n.b. With “School of Athens” mural we have adorning our stairway wall, positions Plato (with the Timaeus) and Aristotle (Ethics) at the very top.  At the very bottom are the Four Arts of the Quadrivium.  The Quadrivium texts were always used as foundational studies, but any one reading the authors throughout the Middle Ages discussed and wrestled with the fact that they did not represent our sense data - (Robert Gosseteste, Nicola Oresme, Roger Bacon, Copernicus, etc.)  
It was with Kepler and the Galilei’s (et al.) that Experiemntal Sceince an inquiry of the world began to take off.
Anyway, after working through the a Latin copy I found on, I found this 1997 translation by members of the American Philosophical Society. 

The Scientific Method becomes the marriage between Mind and Experience...

...As I was thinking about this, last night I started rereading Chapter 10, from Dewey’s The Quest for Certainty in which he begins by providing a general review of philosophical discourse, and proceeds to describe the Socratic method as demonstrated by Plato—how it has been utilized over the past 2500 years and shaped his own approach.
I also discovered this paper on the open-review academic website Academia. Which describes provides a succinct introduction into Dewey’s relationship with Classical Philosophy (apart from the straw man misrepresentations Kern and Veith provide.). 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Concerning After School Instrumental Music Programs

The following concerning the negative academic and devastating economic impact which results in moving curricular instrumental music lessons from curricular daytime to after school has on student academic success, affordability and the reduced ability they have in participating in extra-curricular activities.


An objection often raised pertains the logistics of how and when lessons are taught during the school day.   This objectiion stems from the historically mistaken view that instrumental music is somehow inferior to "rigorous academic disciplines" [see my related articles linked below]. Nonetheless, schools have traditionally employed a system in which students attend a brief 15 minute lesson once per week, either from an assigned study hall time (preferred), or from a rotating class schedule (1st period week one, 2nd period week 2...etc).  While this might seem an inconvenience to teachers of other disciplines in disruption of class time, exams, quizzes, and other active participatory exercises, these minor issues can be planned ahead of time in cooperation with the instrumental music instructor. Furthermore if there is concern with the academic success of the student in that other discipline, keep in mind that most students are resilient and clever enough to catch up on the missed material in 5 minutes after school with their teacher.

If a school decides to forgo this traditional system and opt instead for after school lessons, think for a moment how a school would have to  accommodate the large number of students already in the instrumental music program.  For example how would a school place just 16 students. If  doubling up students for 15 minute intervals per lesson slot beginning at 4:00, this averages about 8 students per hour with the last 2 lessons finishing at 6:00.  In a school with 200 students in a program, Lessons would have to be held every night of the week until 9:00 pm to accommodate them all. Keep in mind that as instrumental music is historically and cognitively recognized for its central role in academic success, we can expect many more students willing to participate.

Even more pressing: What are the expectations for those students scheduled for a 5:45 after school lesson? Do they go home after school then come back for a 15 minute joint lesson?  Or can any school afford to keep the students on site and focused on homework or other extra curricular - where will that money come from?

In the case of my family it takes about 20-25 minutes to drive to and from our school.  Would my child after returning home, do as much homework as possible, then get back into the car for another 20 minute ride back to school, 5-10 minutes to park and set up, take a 15 minute lesson, then head home in another 20 minutes? 

Would s/he then be expected to settle him/herself in before finishing up homework, lessons, chores, practice, etc?  This would result in less free time and less sleep for the young scholar and negatively impact the health and mental preparation on assessments. In short, 15 minutes from class time vs. 60-75 minutes of study, practice time, does not seem a viable academic trade off.


As Instrumental music programs are acknowledged as one of the best investments a school can provide for their students, a short sighted move in pushing these programs to after school raises yet another potential cost for the school and to families.  For the school which decides to save money by outsourcing instrumental music to a private organization,  There is an added expense:

For example, one organization in the eastern metro which provides 15 minute lessons and a once per week 1/2 hour ensemble practice, charges nearly $700 per student for the entire school year.  For a school which already has 100 students involved in band or orchestra, that is about $70,000 paid to an outside source for about 20 total hours of ensemble practice and 10 total hours of lesson time for the school year.   

If the school decides to pass along that expense to the families of students, rather than provide for a dedicated instrumental music teacher, That is more financial burden for the families, and diminishes their capacity or willingness to dedicate more donations to the school. Keep in mind families already have to cover the expense of a good quality student instrument.  Trial-purchase or rental programs (offered through such companies as Schmitt Music, Eckroth, Groth, Cadenza et al.) range between $25 - $75 per month making a possible additional cost to students $300-$900 per year. (a good quality beginner band / string instrument typically costs between $1,000 - $2,500 dollars new) Thus a a family with two (2) students in band can expect to pay about $2,000-$2,500 per year.  Many of these families are also involved in athletics and extra-curricular activities. But the initial expense makes the possibility of generating any new development funds from them difficult.


Even if families could overcome the logistical issues, any school will be hard pressed to find qualified band and orchestra directors willing or able to participate in such a program.  First, as the established norm is for band, orchestra and lessons to be undertaken during the school day, professional music educators spend their evenings , when not with their own families, teaching private 1-on-1 lessons, attending rehearsals: choir, theater, church/synagogue, bands, orchestras etc.  in preparation for performances. 

Evening and Weekend hours are a significant part of the band director lifestyle and already tenuous income.

Rather than take an academic step backwards, any school would do best to take steps toward establishing an education model which incorporates an in-house band and orchestra program by hiring full-time directors, and proper rehearsal space.   Elementary band during recess is the norm. Jr. and High School should have a dedicated period during the day.  

On the whole, the false promise that a school will save money and improve academic success by moving lessons and ensembles to before or after school, is ill-conceived.  Rather, the suggestion appears to be intended to kill off band and orchestra programs and diminish the recognized academic excellence these programs deliver.


It is difficult to make a case for the importance of instrumental music in academics when the common view of music itself is a frivolous hobby suitable merely for entertainment whose ultimate value is measured in album and ticket sales.  

When we direct our minds to how music is actually used in our world, the simplistic view that music is entertainment is revealed to be mistaken.  Think about it this way: Were music not important in western civilization, advertisers would not use music in commercials, movies would be devoid of soundtracks, there would be no worship music, no military or pep bands, no music to "psych one up" before a game or "relax" after a long days work, there would be no cheer leading, we would hear no chants at political rallies,  authors would make no mention if music in their literature, and many advances in science would have been missed.   Far from being a frivolity of entertainment, understanding music through instrumental music equips with one with a means to discover the nature of sounds and its effects on the human mind. These ideas lead Plato to promote the formal study of music in his Academy and as a necessary step in education before delving into the greater mysteries of Philosophy--i.e. the promotion of Discovery and Intellectual Curiosity.  Today we have the benefit of science research to find answers to those questions first raised by Plato.

Unfortunately for the past 20+ years we are now witness to an a age where nearly two generations of public and charter school educated students have been raised with this mistaken belief that music is somehow inferior -- unworthy of study,and that music programs are a distraction from subjects like Math and Science or promote a purely business minded ethic.  This seems to be the impetus for the proposed elimination of school day lessons. 

First lets look at what this statement does.  It divides and ranks the disciplines into categories of worthiness.  This worth is based upon the perceived market driven assertion that good scores in Math and Science will help one get a job.  Aside from the negligible effect of brief class time absence, One glaring problem is that decisions made from purely market driven principles are incompatible with the aims of Education. Those who maintain this belief demonstrates ignorance of 2,500 year academic tradition.

Xen Sandstrom-McGuire
Saint Paul, MN

Related articles:

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

No Cuts to Kids - St. Paul Public Schools

Dear members of the SPPS Board;

Like many St. Paul residents, we really do want our children to attend the local public schools, but the decisions made by the administration and school board over our time as St. Paul residents have given us no reason to believe that Education of all students is the primary concern of the board.  Nor does there seem to be any creative vision regarding marketing the assets owned by the SPPS – particularly regarding the facilities which are ready to accommodate vibrant instrumental music opportunities 4th – 12th grade.

For those of us interested in Academics and who also teach in higher education, we have been witness to the decline in academic preparedness which have coincided with recent decisions made by school boards over the past 15 years.   In this email I will address two important the introduction of iPads into the classroom and cuts to elementary instrumental education pushes us away. If you want to close the achievement gap, attract students to SPPS, increase parent volunteers – Fix these two things.  Below is a more detailed account.

1) Regarding Instrumental Music Programs and (moving from 7 to 6 period days) – actually loses money for the school.

When we consider the broader arts and music tradition community in the Twin Cities metropolitan area which boasts two (2) world renown symphony orchestras, thriving Choral and Jazz traditions, a pop music scene in which it seems practically every other person is in a band, a 24 hour Jazz and Classical radio stations, -- need I even mention the recent loss of our own public schooled artist, Prince? 

The Twin CIties should be embracing our music heritage and encouraging our music programs. New Orleans, Memphis, and Davenport, Iowa, are not the only cities renown for Music on the Mississippi - The Twin Cities are at its Headwaters. –And St. Paul is BEST primed to tap into this market.

Instrumental Music programs are a major draw in attracting students to schools. With the increased fracturing of public education through school choice, we have endued up with a lot of little mediocre schools vying for the same money and ultimately offering the same limited classes (with a non union teaching force and larger class sizes). Worse yet, In practically every case for these schools, instrumental music programs are left out. The financial burden for those who acknowledge the benefits of instrumental music education is pushed onto those parents who can afford it. Those who cannot are robbed of equal access to what was once considered a necessary component of a complete education.

Now, I imagine most St. Paul Public School facilities still have a suitable band/orchestra room and auditorium, This places them in the BEST position to attract and retain students who value a high quality education.  Build the music programs and we will return
Here is a link to the famous 2004 Edina Schools report which conclusively demonstrated that cutting Instrumental music programs actually LOST money for the school.

More links regarding the peer reviewed and scientific benefits of instrumental music found here:

2) Regarding iPads:
The introduction of iPads issue is a major set back from any Fiscally educated or Academic minded citizen. The push for having the iPads seemed to be giving all kids access to technology, so they are prepared for the work environment. The thing is, the extent of the usage

I see from entering college students, with the iPad or even a desktop computer is really something that can be learned in just 1 day on the job.

They know how to "click and drag": but they do not comprehend the inner workings of the computer / processing. When they do a "Google Search" for their research projects, they do not understand that the same limited principles of "Targeted Advertising" narrows their exposure to a diversity of perspectives, based upon their own interests (many do not see a difference between websites lthat provide opinion based answers vs. actual peer reviewed journals - Come to think of it, a growing number of adults do not seem to realize that either. -

What I expect both as a college educator and an employer is that if the SPPS are shelling out, what is it 7-8 million a year on iPads as part of the technology budget, then all of these students should have some skill in manipulating the programs at the Mac equivalent of a Shell scripting. -- Even shell scripting is fairly simple and straight forward provided one has learned the analyze syntax and grammar of any human language.

Finally , from my college instructor perspective.  I teach in the humanities.  Increasingly I have been finding students who really are not prepared for college study and open classroom dialog  At the start of each semester I ask my students, "Why are you taking this class."  15 years ago, about 80% of my students would respond that they want to learn about different perspectives, things that they don't know and want to apply to their own field so that it helps them and the world.
Now I am lucky to get 1 student who provides me with that answer.  The typical response of my college students is now, "I am taking this class to fulfill my liberal arts requirement, and by the way I need to get a 3.0 in this class so that I can keep my scholarship) so that I can get my degree, so that I can get a good job and make money. It is also heartbreaking because these students typically do not put in the work required to keep their 3.0 -- They do not seem to understand the value of delving into the breadth of human knowledge; how to integrate it into their own fields  So that they can be successful in their careers.  It is not the piece of paper which gets them the job, but they transferable skills and knowledge they bring.
This is where the elementary, middle school and high school climate should focus.  Yes indeed economics and personal finances are a huge factor in decisions, but the road to getting their is not necessarily based upon acquiring job specific skills. That said, here is an op ed from the 17th President of the University of Iowa, Hunter Rawlings, on why we should not treat education as a "commodity"
Thank you for your time in reading this.  Please demonstrate some vision so that we can Build St. Paul Public Schools and contract the exodus of students.
Xen Sandstrom-McGuire

Friday, May 6, 2016

Building Instrumental Music Education in Saint Paul, Minnesota

Regarding the proposed cuts in the Saint Paul Public Schools Budget:
Instrumental Music programs are a major draw in attracting students to schools. With the increased fracturing of public education through school choice, we have endued up with a lot of little mediocre schools vying for the same money and ultimately offering the same limited classes (with a non union teaching force and larger class sizes). Worse yet, In practically every case for these schools, instrumental music programs are left out. The financial burden for those who acknowledge the benefits of instrumental music education is pushed onto those parents who can afford it. Those who cannot are robbed of equal access to what was once considered a necessary component of a complete education.
Now, I imagine most St. Paul Public School facilities still have a suitable band/orchestra room and auditorium, This places them in the BEST position to attract and retain students who value a high quality education. 
When we consider the broader arts and music tradition community in the Twin Cities metropolitan area which boasts two (2) world renown symphony orchestras, thriving Choral and Jazz traditions, a pop music scene in which it seems practically every other person is in a band, a 24 hour Jazz and Classical radio stations, -- need I even mention the recent loss of our own public schooled artist, Prince? 
The Twin CIties should be embracing our music heritage and encouraging our music programs. New Orleans, Memphis, and Davenport, Iowa, are not the only cities renown for Music on the Mississippi - The Twin Cities are at its Headwaters. 
There is a ready market for Music Education waiting to be tapped by the St. Paul School Systems. Re-build the music programs, put your marketing expertise to good use and the SPPS will grow again.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Music Education Advocacy

Below are some sources I have compiled for music education

Music and Cognitive Development
from Northwestern University summarizing the lab research of Dr. Nina Kraus
The Music Instinct - PBS documentary and Interactive site, based on the book by Philip Ball

Behavioral and Neural Correlates of Executive Functioning in Musicians and-Non Musicians June 2014
Improved effectiveness of performance monitoring in amateur instrumental musicians , September 2013

Status Report: Music in the Edina Public Schools. April 2004. - the seminal financial and pedagogical argument for keeping music programs in schools.


Minnesota High School Music Listening Contest - Involves over 1,000 of the brightest students in Minnesota - A challenging contests which covers, history, writing skills, spelling, and of course 2,500 years of Repertoire.

Overview of Western Music History (from Ancient Greece -> Present)
Essays on the Origins of Western Music - David Whitwell
Thesuarus Musicarum Latinarum - Source readings in music spanning 3rd thru 17th Centuries CE.
Keeping Score Interactive - 6 Famous Orchestral Compositions
Digital J.S. Bach - Canons, Fugues and more
Listening to Music with Craig Wright. Yale Courses Online (Youtube videos)

Science Appreciation and the Study of Music
Esperanza Spalding describing Ancient Greek Music Theory - i.e. the origin of Science

Aural Skills Training
Music Theory Online
Online Chromatic Tuner (Java app) 

International Music Score Library Project
 (public domain music scores)

KSJN 99.5 - Classical Music Streaming from Minnesota Public Radio
A Treasury of Early Music - Online Streaming Medieval, Renaissance, Early Baroque (ca. 800-1650)
Baroque 24/7 - Online Streaming Baroque Era (1600-1750)
Contemporary Classical - Online Streaming of 20th and 21st Century Music. (ca. 1900 - present)


Aurelius Augustinus. De musica liber VI. Studia Latina Stockholmiensia, 147. ed. and critical English translation by Martin Jacobsson  Stockholm:  Almqvist & Wiksell, 2002. 

Boethius. Fundamentals of Music. Translated with introduction by Calvin M.
Bower and edited by Claude V. Palisca. New HavenYale University
Press, [1989].

Galilei, Vincenzo. Dialogue on Ancient and Modern Music. translated and introduction by Claude V. Palisca. Yale University Press. 2003.

Masi, Michael. Boethian Number Theory: A Translation of the De Instituione
Arithmetica.  Rodopi: Amsterdam, 1983.


Wagner, David L., "The Seven Liberal Arts and Classical Scholarship." In The Seven Liberal Arts in the Middle Ages; edited by David L. Wagner. 1-31. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.