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Learning about World Music: A TEG Recipient Reflects on Her Experience


By Sarah Tyrrell
Assistant Teaching Professor, UMKC—Conservatory of Music and Dance

In 2010, I applied for a Teaching Enhancement Grant to attend the College Music Society’s Institute on the Pedagogies of World Music Theories at the University of Colorado in Boulder in May 2010. I was interested in the institute for the planned activities that would help me expand and revise my Introduction to World Music survey course (CONS 126). I went in expectation of curricular innovation and to glean new information from experts in the field.

At the Conservatory of Music and Dance, I have been actively developing and teaching online classes. The online world music survey was installed in 2009 and has been successful with music majors and non-majors alike. The course was added under the premise that additional online course offerings could better accommodate students. Teaching world music (especially to non-majors) is challenging; teaching online world music boasts additional complexities. I planned to commit my time at the Institute to translate ideas associated with an on-ground platform toward my online agenda.

The study of world music falls under an evolving discipline known as ethnomusicology. Since the discipline itself is relatively new (gaining ground in higher education curricula only since the mid-twentieth century), navigating through pedagogical methodology and instructional resources is particularly challenging. There is a seemingly endless stream of new course resources being offered from publishers, and choosing the right materials (and knowing how best to implement them) is key to a successful semester.

The Institute on the Pedagogies of World Music Theories Institute (in its third installment since 2005) was hosted by The College Music Society (CMS), an organization that asserts as part of its mission to “offer significant opportunities for the development and enhancement of music instruction and to celebrate the importance of teaching.” The Institute ran from May 24 through May 29 in Boulder, Colorado, and the agenda was packed with activities. For each day, a 12-hour plan was in place, including workshops, guest lectures, demonstrations, and performances, lasting from early morning until well into the evening. A variety of guest presenters were scheduled, so participants gained exposure to the work being done by leaders in world music performance and teaching, including ethnomusicologist Victoria Lindsay Levine and World Music Theories Professor Münir Beken. Jonathan Grasse led workshops to explore Brazilian samba rhythm. All of the material presented was relevant to undergraduate and graduate-level world music instruction.

The focus of any CMS pedagogy institute is intense participation toward instructor education; each of the twelve participants came to Boulder for various reasons, but indeed broadening course content and improving content delivery (via new theoretical approaches to listening, analysis, and performance) was key to all of us. Specific activities were geared toward enhancing curriculum design, and one specific session helped each instructor to either develop an initial course syllabus for the world music survey or to refine an existing syllabus.

Most instructors in attendance had found themselves charged with teaching world music in their own school—and most work far outside the discipline. In fact, the majority of those attending the institute were not defined by the “ethnomusicologist” label by training (I was the only musicologist in attendance). Instructors are, however, often asked to handle teaching duties outside of our main expertise, and one of the most advantageous aspects of this institute was the way the presenters and participants worked across the disciplines. The Institute offered a myriad of new ideas about how course materials intersect and about how to find support across the disciplines, to create avenues for better communication and collaboration among departments.

At the Institute I was inspired. Notable events included an exploration of modal theory behind the rich historical Karnatic tradition of Indian music and a fascinating session on the North Indian raga. Particularly enriching was Paul Humphrey’s presentation on the Indonesian gamelan, and I took the challenge to sit in and play (admittedly, not very well) some kettles and a gong. Learning to read the gamelan notation to successfully collaborate with my new colleagues was really exciting and proved that participatory improvisation in music-making can be and should be how everyone experiences music.

With the training opportunities made possible by the TEG, I added a new Discussion Board forum to my class, which I call “Key Concepts.” There students post (and respond to others’ posts) about personal experiences with music-making; I ask students to muse about how they have participated, improvised, and how music has “functioned” in their life (that is, to think about how and when music was not simply for entertainment). This new forum, just one enhancement of many that I made to my online world music class after attending the CMS Institute, better serves students by broadening the scope of the world music “journey” and conversely by bringing the course content closer to home.

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