Skip to content

Saturday morning quotes 5.14: Musical education

August 22, 2015

The warm season grinds to an unsatisfying close as, for many, murmurs of matriculation begin to crowd out any thoughts of summer idyls. We honor the current “back to school” theme by sidling back to our series of quotations on musical education.

We have seen that even nasty and brutish (if not short) rulers such as Henry VIII took great pains to educate his children in music, with a surviving manuscript devised for the purpose.  His (legitimate) daughter Mary was even supplied with a lute and instructed by the great Philip van Wilder while banished from court.  The young Edward and Elizabeth were both instructed by Sir Thomas Elyot (c. 1490 – 1546), who encouraged skill in music as a necessary precursor to wise governance.

In the later 16th century, we see echoes of Elyot’s message in the writing of Niccolò Vito di Gozze, from his treatise, Dello stato delle Repubbliche secondo la mente di Aristotele con esempi moderni, Venezia, 1591.

“It is from the education of children that it is certain and reliable to predict if a certain state will last long or soon decline…I cannot see greater traitors of state than those who, by governing it, take little care about good education of children in their early age, and later be obliged to govern it.”

“…Children should also be taught the art of music, which was not included in the liberal arts without reason by ancient philosophers, because it helps us to spend leisure time in a correct and non-contaminated way.  But, along with being indispensable it is also manifoldly appropriate, because it offers by its nature great embellishment to governing and benefit to the state of mind, as music by its influence incites various emotions in souls…”

– from Monika Jurić, “Paideia and the Neo-Platonic Ideas on Music Education and Culture in Renaissance Dubrovnik in the Works by Niccolò Vito di Gozze (Nikola Vitov Gučetić, 1549 – 1610)”, International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, Vol. 44, No. 1 (June 2013), pp. 3-17: published by Croatian Musicological Society.

We take a giant leap to the first half of the 20th century on the eve of the second great war with the wise words of Leo Kestenberg as translated by Arthur Mendel.

“In every step of the educational process, and in every branch of education, the teacher’s role is to strive to give form to human material, or to help it to find its own form, just as in every branch of art the first task of the artist must be to learn to give form to the materials of his art.”

“It follows that music education must have a particularly important place in art education, and therefore in any education that strives towards the attainment of a natural and systematically developed sense of form.”

“Another feature of music education connected with the pedagogic tendencies of recent decades is its community character. The tension between the “Me” and the “Thee” that underlies all the crises of our time, as perhaps of all times, has led to an emphasis in education of everything that would tend to reinforce the community sense. In a chorus, as on a baseball or a football team, there is more than a hint of how the interests of the individual and of the community may be harmonized. The moulding of every individual voice into an organized and “harmonious” whole solves the problem of finding a balance between the centrifugal and the centripetal forces in society.” p. 446

– Leo Kestenberg and Arthur Mendel, “Music Education Goes Its Own Way”, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Oct., 1939), pp. 442-454

By now we should all know that a musical education results in a more intelligent and empathetic individual.  Prior to the onset of the late 20th-century techno-war on culture, which artists appear to have lost, music was always considered an essential component of education, and skill in music was a hallmark of a cultured person.  And skill in music was also taught to the general public because musicians were necessary in church, at court, and for public entertainment.

At some point in the not too distant past the monopolists of Silicon Valley convinced the general public that skill in manipulating an ever-shifting set of devices and their never-quite-functioning software is more important than skill in music, and they appear to have bought themselves a collection of legislators to help make it so.  In fact, education in general is cast as the enemy by a large and unintelligent group of sub-presidential personalities.

Let’s return to the good old days and institute a lute-test for anyone with presidential pretensions—because if you’re smart enough to play the lute, you can do just about anything.

  1. Dear Ron and Donna,

    There is of course the other meaning of “lute”, a scraper to move muck about. Maybe the presidential candidates have expertise in the use of that implement instead!

    O tempora o mores

    Best wishes,


  2. Erika Ferguson permalink

    Oh, please! Call it schadenfreud but I just want to see Sarah Palin and Donald Trump attempt a lute duo…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: