The study of music has several goals. One of them is to improve, through education, students’ aesthetic taste: to introduce them to truly great music in an effort to beget a love for all things graceful and well formed. As a music teacher, I hope that the study of music begets in my students a habit of searching for the causes and details of beautiful things, and that the love of beauty will nourish the love of knowledge and truth. As students’ intellects are opened to the power of music, I hope they will strive to imitate in their day-to-day lives the musical virtues of harmoniousness, proportion, good timing, appropriate flexibility or grace, and “striking the right note” in thought, speech, feeling, and action.
Music, as I noted earlier, is one of the traditional liberal arts. It liberates us from vulgarity, intellectual rigidity, and the tyranny of unexamined, popular opinions about music and beauty. Music does this by encouraging human fellowship (in singing), by inspiring a love of beauty that transcends the mere gratification of desire, by making us more attentive to the elements and causes of our emotional response to beauty, and by compelling us to test conventional opinions against the standard of our own experience.
Music, alas, is the neglected Muse of educational programs across the board, from kindergarten to college. One reason for this is a failure to perceive the importance of music in the education of the young and in human life generally. Another is the tendency to regard music as a “soft” subject—there for the sake of amusement or a vague sort of “music appreciation.” Yet another is the opinion that music is not basic to our human nature, but is the prerogative of a trained or gifted elite—something that only those with the potential to be professional musicians need study. I have endeavored to show that none of these is true.
If studied as a liberal art (i.e., in order for the student to become more inquisitive and reflective and more aware of music’s power) rather than as a fine art (i.e., in order for the student to become a musician), music gets students to look beyond surface distinctions in order to seek out deep, underlying harmonies or bonds between things apparently remote. In the breadth of its domain, in its union of the mathematical and the poetic, and in its involvement of the whole human being (body, heart, and mind), music is an essential liberating art.
*Note: This article has been excerpted from a longer article of the same title, published at the online journal The Imaginative Conservative.