An oxymoron is most simply defined as a contradiction in terms. Some of the most common ones include ‘jumbo shrimp’ and ‘student teacher.’ However, perhaps one of the most overlooked oxymora is the Humanities Department at the Eastman School of Music, whose goal is to provide a broad-based education within the walls of a professional music school.
According to its Web site, “the Eastman School is dedicated to educating intelligent musicians, who are not only world-class performers, but who can also speak and write articulately about their art.
“In practical terms, Eastman provides a unique opportunity for students to balance the demanding disciplines of daily performance and practice with study in a broad academic curriculum that emphasizes music, but includes the entire array of humanities and sciences.”
In and of itself, the mission statement is without fault. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks the school should cater to the needs of unintelligent individuals.
However, problems arise when the word ‘balance’ is evaluated.
Balance is something that seems to be seriously lacking in the lives of many students here at Eastman. At the Sept. 5 school-wide convocation, Dean of the Eastman School of Music James Undercofler delivered an address on the problems of “curriculum inflation.”
This inflation has skewed the balance between emphasis on music and academics. In addition to the required humanities classes, students must also study both music history and music theory. Consequently, many find themselves spending more hours studying than practicing.
Clearly, this is not what George Eastman had in mind when he founded the school in 1921. Eastman summarized his own philosophy when he wrote that, “what we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.” If students spend more leisure hours studying and writing papers than practicing, are we truly becoming the musicians that Eastman envisioned?
There are many simple solutions that could fix the current balance problems. The humanities department at Eastman could consider revising its Advanced Placement credit policy to resemble the one at the River Campus, which allows students to receive credit for some of these exams.
This would lessen the amount of humanities classes that many students would need to take. After all, if the ability to speak and write articulately satisfies the school’s stated goals, a score of a three or higher on the AP Language Exam fulfills the first half of this requirement.
Moreover, the fact that AP scores do not earn credit at Eastman demands the question, “do the humanities teachers here, many of whom also teach at the River Campus, honestly believe that their academic standards are higher than those at the River Campus?”
Additionally, the school’s mission seems to be twofold. Obviously, training proficient musicians is one part, which is why the applied music, music history and music theory departments exist.
The second part, for which the humanities department is responsible, is teaching “the ability to speak and write articulately.” The fact that this department takes six semesters of classes to teach us to speak and write is almost insulting to the students.
Eastman is dedicated to “educating the intelligent musician.” The Eastman School seeks students who “have a passion for music, which is combined with an intellectual curiosity.”
It seems a stretch that someone who is intellectually curious would lack the ability to speak and write coherently. If the students are adept enough to graduate from high school and be accepted to Eastman, how could it possibly take three years to teach them these rudimentary skills that should have already been learned?
The hallmarks of an Eastman education are said to be musical excellence and academic eminence. Without question, the humanities are essential to any healthy education. What, however, may not be necessary is the preponderance of assignments which allegedly help students become articulate.
Cultivation of the mind does not require any unbalance between time spent with academics and time spent with music.
In the wake of rampant curriculum inflation, however, many students find themselves spending many more hours on their academics than practicing. Quite simply, it is a problem. As soon as it is corrected, the school will better reflect the principles George Eastman had in mind when he founded his school.
Haynes can be reached at email@example.com.