Monday, August 13, 2012

The 'Guiding Idea of Music' Lighting the Path of the Living Way of Music

(This post is the second in a series of posts discussing music in light of Charlotte Mason's teachings. The first post can be found here.)

Charlotte Mason's clarion call brings before us a series of admonitions which are at the same time too dear to let go of, and too dire to ignore:

To rely upon God as the author of all knowledge. Therefore.....

To rely upon God as the source of all knowledge. Therefore.....

To trust God as the master-teacher, an ever present guide for our children, the mighty counselor who is more than willing and able to minister knowledge unto them - and also unto us as we step back and be still before Him so that we may observe His teaching; teaching which He wishes to be doing in them through the miracle of fellowship with His living truths, learning about the nature of Him who establishes all knowledge as they are lost in wonder before His creation - before His living truths...., sometimes not even aware of God's active and ongoing work in their lives; yet it is His Spirit that must needs be quietly moving in the voids of their lives, bringing life into the depths of their heart......, His Spirit moving, working, preparing the proper habitat into which He can both bring and sustain life in their spirit - yes - this is the miracle of teaching Spirit to spirit. Therefore.....

To humbly step back and allow Him to guide us into knowing what little we need to do - yes, rather that we should have the opportunity first to direct our little ones to that which God Himself has established, is now establishing, or which He says He will yet establish; and then to step back and watch and see what His Spirit has to do with even the least of these, our children.

To guide only subtly, by offering our own sense of wonder for them to share with us but for a moment, and then to step back - allowing them to wander on lost in wonder themselves, lest we distract our children, inadvertently encouraging them to attend to the temporal in or around them, or worse yet, to attend more to the temporal 'us', or just the fleeting messages in mere books - for even knowledge will pass away; but rather, that our children should learn to attend more to that which is eternal, which is evidenced by that which is living in everything about them, all of those things to which He would guide them through us, that they might see the glory of His creation, and thereby see the glory of the creator, through:

......the life in nature, the life of truth and all of the living ideas therein, the life which is His church, the life in music, yes, even the living Word which illustrates that God works throughout the course of time, thus in our own time as well, and thereby understand more fully how God is at work in history past and also in the seeming abstractions of science as the children read living books which touch on these things, but most importantly, that our children might bear witness to the life in love - yes, the life in the living love of God Himself, for God is love.

"While we look not on the things which are seen, but the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." II Corinthians 4:18

"For we walk by faith, not by sight." II Corinthians 5:7

Anything that we have to offer came from above. Thus, for the children to receive anything that we have to offer from us rather than from God, is for them to receive it second hand. How can that which we have received rise above and be exalted over the source from whence it came?

Rather, children should learn from the source of all - - - God Himself, who is more able to fully create in our children that life force which He intends to have wrought in their hearts, minds and souls.


But now, let's on........ from the more ethereal, to that which does indeed have built into them a miraculous power to direct our attention to that which is heavenly:

From the ethereal, to the actual learning of these ways of teaching.

The actual teaching, in this case, of the living way of music.

How do we proceed, understanding even just the simple beginnings of the life force of music, let alone, how to share the living truths therein with our children?

As we saw in the last post, Charlotte Mason insightfully discerned that the part of the parent or teacher is to guide children to the living way of learning which can only be found by the illumination of each disciplines 'guiding idea.'

Here again is Miss Mason's discussion in this matter:

"Every subject has its living way, ...... 'its guiding idea' at the head, and it is only as we discover this living way in each case that a subject of instruction makes for the education of a child. No neat system is of any use; it is the very nature of a system to grow stale in the using; every subject, every division of a subject, every lesson, in fact, must be brought up for examination before it is offered to the child as to whether it is living, vital, of a nature to invite the living Intellect of the universe." (Charlotte Mason Series, Vol. II, pg. 279)

What then is 'the guiding idea of music?'

"In teaching music, again, let him once perceive the beautiful laws of harmony, the personality, so to speak, of Music." (Charlotte Mason Series, Vol II, pg. 278-279)

So, without many words of instruction, and in a living way, the child is to perceive the beautiful laws of harmony in order to have met the personality of music itself.

Thus we see that one is to guide the children's attention to develop first in just one little way, and then in yet another, building one little step at a time, and perhaps at some point leaving off and observing as the children ask questions for themselves and become more sure in guiding their own attention to develop still bit by bit....

..... - yes, to develop an apprehending sense of those forces of music .... , subtle or assertive as they are in their turn, both heard and felt in line or harmony, rhythm or timbre, phrase or form. All of these fascinating traits can be specifically heard in the music itself, and most happily of all, most of these traits do not even require the reading of music in order to be discerned. Best of all, none of this requires a list of stuffy definitions. The child can provide his own vocabulary to describe that which he hears more often than not. If vocabulary is provided for him, it should be done after he has fully enjoyed discerning the musical force for himself, and has done so deeply enough that what he has learned is something which he will retain in his heart. At that point, and not before, terminology may be provided for him, though when possible, for young children in particular, such terminology can wait for another day.

Once the child applies his understanding to those forces of music which have been brought to his attention, he begins to hear all music in a new way. He naturally begins to hear more of the diversity of music's various mannerisms and idiosyncrasies inter-playing with each other; dancing differently together here, wrestling against each other there, whispering one at a time on the one hand, yet joining together in force on the another. In this way, he begins to perceive more and more clearly the sense of meaning intoned in his presence.

In this way, the child comes to know the personality of music, not as the personality of some stranger across the street who is known to be a leader in the community yet is not close to many in the community. Instead, the child begins to get to know the personality of the music as one gets to know the personality of a friend whom one learns to know and trust more and more face to face - or better yet, spirit to spirit.

Friends are readily able to describe the differences and meanings of each others turn of voice, tempos of speech, timbre of voice, points of rhythmic emphasis in both speech and body language, various styles of speech, and more - all of which helps them to understand and appreciate the spirit to spirit fellowship and the ideas upon which that fellowship is based, moment by moment.

Those, who have come to understand, at least in some measure, those traits of music's personality which are born into sound by the miracle we call music, are more prepared to experience richer fellowship, spirit to spirit, with not only the ideas of the composer, but also, rich fellowship with others who are listening with them, because they are more equipped to able to take in the clear, or the subtle, the small or great, the simple or the involved ideas revealed through melody and harmony, rhythm and form, timbre and more.

Think this not to be the case? Consider the married couple, one of whom loves either the concert or the sing-along, while the other finds no meaning therein. How can this be? Is music not a universal language? Might it be true, then, that those who do not rejoice in the fellowship of music have not had their attention brought to these elements of music, yet they are those particular individuals who had been in most need of having someone do so?

Considering yet again the admonition of the epistles to encourage each other and admonish each other through song. Is that a calling only to a few, or have many missed their natural inheritance through neglect of those who could have brought them to this wonderful fellowship through music?

Instead of children being thoughtfully and surely brought into harmony with their natural birthright - a rich fellowship through music - only some children are provided the opportunity to learn more of music. Then, all too often, they work their way through the rigors of learning terms and rules of 'music theory' in a way much too detached from the music itself.

Ode to music! But, oh, that other word! Yes, that horrible word! The word 'theory'! It is so abstract. Definitions for the word 'theory' typically even include the word 'abstract.'

Of course, yes, the term 'personality' might be rather abstract as well. However, one responds naturally and joyously to a lovely personality, and one can readily identify various personality traits in most people. Yet one rarely responds joyfully to a list of ....... dry vocabulary - mere facts isolated from real meaning; and one rarely identifies the 'dominant' or 'tonic' or 'sub-tonic' of music simply because one has been told they exist.

Yes, the personality traits of various individuals are more readily described by any passer by than the traits of the personality of music.

However, music has traits of personality which can be just as readily described, and would be as readily described by the passer by, if only some blessed soul had brought the attention of the soul in the child to just some of the traits which came before him in only some of the music which he had opportunity to hear; though perhaps just a bit more yet, if that blessed soul had then encouraged the child to begin to learn to ask the music itself what other traits might be involved..., and better yet, which ideas which might be portrayed in the wonder of the web of sound!

Unfortunately, only a few blessed souls have done anything of the kind.

Instead, a sad state has arisen, and is understood more clearly by observing the results of 'music theory classes' today.

If one were to assess the number of students students of music theory who actually respond naturally and joyously to the many facets of the lovely personality of music introduced from their texts and workbooks, the results would be a bit gloomy.

Unfortunately, most 'music theory' courses emphasize the memorizing of terms and rules, with little, and at times, no emphasis on any examples of music which illustrate the terms being learned. This is in direct contradiction to the methods suggested by Miss Mason.

Because of the types of music theory lessons which are employed with students, typically, only those students who have previous to the class made inroads into perceiving the results which arise when composers employ the 'beautiful laws of harmony' enjoy the 'a-ha!' moment that comes with actually defining something they seem to have always known and loved.

Then would Miss Mason disapprove of 'music theory' being taught?

Not only did Miss Mason speak of a child meeting the personality of music through a growing understanding of the beautiful laws of harmony, Miss Mason also spoke of the usefulness of 'the theory of music,' in that the 'theory' helped the child to 'rid himself of the dreary practice.' However, this word, 'theory,' was only used in the context of Mrs. Curwen's piano method, the lessons of which are not dull and dreary. Nor does Curwen's method disassociate the 'theory' from the music itself. Rather, the music which is practiced between lesson when studying Curwen's method specifically illustrate any and all theory being studied. Such music lessons bring the child's attention to the personality of the music quite purposefully. (Charlotte Mason Series, Vol I, pg. 315)

It would stand to reason then, that in order to learn how to teach 'the beautiful laws of harmony', one would simply locate Mrs. Curwen's method and pick up where she left off, no?

Though that would be the easiest approach, other approaches have had to be considered. We do indeed have excellent access to the handbook for Mrs. Curwen's piano method. It can be found online here. However, the little musical exercises to which the handbook refers are not so readily accessed. They are likely archived in libraries and could be studied out. However, the footwork to put together such material from a significant variety of little music books, and to compile them in one place, has not been accomplished to date (not to my knowledge anyway - if you hear otherwise, pray, do tell!).

Further, Mrs. Curwen's first 'method' was something she had simply thrown together for her children. Then, later, when there seemed to be demand for others to follow in Mrs. Curwen's footsteps, a guide was put together enabling others to mimic Mrs. Curwen's success. That guide was put together nicely enough. But after it was put together, upon further review, it was decided that an entirely new set of exercises should be put together to better illustrate the principles laid out so well by Mrs. Curwen. That second set of exercises is also a bit inaccessible in great part because it is still under copyright for a little while yet, but not in print.

Thus, we are left with Mrs. Curwen's guide.

Curwen's handbook is filled with great insights. It guides a teacher into better ways of introducing 'the beautiful laws of harmony.'

Though the original intent of Mrs. Curwen's handbook was to help us to introduce those laws of harmony to students along with piano lessons, it is now being considered, (while a new set of little compositions are being prepared for a new generation of students to explore the beauty of harmony via the piano), that there are indeed other ways of introducing many of the principles behind the laws of harmony which can be explored without the aid of piano lessons.

There is no need to put off the opportunity to help children get to know the personality of music through singing and other more accessible musical activities which are quite capable of helping us explore 'the beautiful laws of harmony,' whether you might eagerly look forward with hope to the possibility of such piano lessons being composed or not.

So, finally.......

The next question which is arises is, "Where to begin?"

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