Feedback from the Class > WHY ARE WE STUDYING BAROQUE MUSIC? IT FEELS ARBITRARY AND DISCONNECTED

Many students wrote that they couldn't get interested in the baroque style, regardless of how well organized the class might become, or how I might change my style of delivery. "I will never write music in this style..." one wrote, and another said: baroque "style is restricting" to me, and was not relevant to "my musical life." It was difficult for some of you to shift from the freedom of 20th century style, especially as manifest in Cope's class, which seemed to be finally, a union of theory with your own musical instincts...to this material, which is both 250-300 years back in history, and maybe needlessly constricting. "It's mundane and I'm uninspired" one student wrote.

May 17, 2009 at 11:00 PM | Registered CommenterBen Carson

I hear you. I was pretty much aware of this problem from the get-go, and I tried to psyche everyone up for the task in spite of it, but I understand that there's only so much I can do to make this feel like the right kind of learning for you at this time.

Well, maybe there's a little more:

There's a reason that I've said relatively little about history in this class (although some students have said that even that is too much) ... that's because we don't study 18th-century counterpoint as an exercise in historical learning. That's not the reason we're doing this. This would be a different class if we were doing that; we'd all be playing harpsichords and organs, improvising figured bass in continuo settings, and learning the steps to baroque dances. It would be a history class, and I think it would be a great one.

But that's not why 18th-century counterpoint is important as a core theory course. There's nothing "universal" about baroque culture or about Bach's artistic sensibilities. 18th-century counterpoint is important for a reason that I explained in my first two lectures: it happens to be the language of harmony and rhythm that came into existence at the birth of modernity. Musical language evolves and shifts constantly in history. All the historical languages are interesting, and all carry beautiful literature. But only 18th-century instrumental counterpoint -- the style that you're learning -- was in the unique position of becoming influential to a wide variety of musicians, internationally, at the beginning of European "modernity." That beginning is important if, like most scholars today, you believe that modernity is a stage of civilization that we're still very much steeped in.

May 17, 2009 at 11:09 PM | Registered CommenterBen Carson