What's so Important about Music Education?(review)

Philosophy of Music Education Review 19 (2):201-205 (2011)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:What's so Important about Music Education?Leonard TanJ. Scott Goble, What's so Important about Music Education? (New York, NY: Routledge, 2010)In What's so Important about Music Education, J. Scott Goble proposes a new philosophical foundation for music education in the United States based on the theory of semiotics by American pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce. Following a brief summary, I will note several merits in Goble's book before sketching four recommendations for future editions.In Chapter One, Goble notes how the inclusion of non-Western musics in the public schools as espoused in the 1967 Tanglewood Declaration has raised two crucial questions: "Whose music should be included in the curriculum?" and "What is the role or social importance of public school music education in the United States as a postmodern society?" Noting that music education was established in the United States during the modern era, and that the Tanglewood Declaration did not account for vast differences in beliefs about music, Goble argues that there is a need to establish a new philosophical foundation that can accommodate the varied beliefs and practices of diverse cultural groups in postmodern United States.In Chapter Two, Goble sketches and critiques five cultural anthropologists. Of the five, he singles out Clifford Geertz's conception of culture as "semiotic [End Page 201] webs" (p. 20) as the conceptual foundation that is appropriate for this study. He then links Geertz's notion of culture to the semiotic theory of C. S. Peirce which is to become the theoretical underpinning of the book. Subsequently, he unpacks many key Peircian themes: human conceptions are maintained not individually but collectively in cultural groups, provisional truth (as opposed to absolute Truth) is relative and dependent on conceptions of communities, and the scientific method is the sole mode of inquiry by which people in communities may use to satisfy their doubts to formulate beliefs. Most importantly, Goble expounds the "pragmatic maxim" that since humans live in communities united by common beliefs, "the 'clear' meaning of an idea held by a member of the community will almost inevitably stem from the beliefs—or ways of understanding—held by members of that community" (p. 30). Goble concludes the chapter by presenting the Peircian semiotic system of cognition which posits that a "sign" is conceptualized in a triadic relationship: the Sign or "Firstness," the Object or "Secondness," and the Interpretant or "Thirdness" (p. 33).In Chapter Three, Goble considers how music is a sign based on the theoretical framework laid in Chapter Two. Drawing on the work of ethnomusicologists, anthropologists, psychiatrists, and a neuroscientist, he formulates a Peircian pragmatic approach to musical practices which posits that "the musical practices of different cultural communities represent a diverse cluster of community-specific ritualized behaviors involving sound" (p. 252). Furthermore, each of the musical practices "serves those persons who meaningfully participate in it as a means of psychophysiological, psychosocial, and/or sociopolitical equilibration relative to the worldview—or ordered conception of Reality—they tacitly share" (p. 252). For Goble, this pragmatist conception of musical practices is neither ethnocentric, universalist, nor relativist, and can serve as a conceptual framework for all diverse musical practices in postmodern United States.With the Peircian pragmatic conception in mind, Goble examines historical factors that contributed to current conceptions of music in the United States in Chapter Four. He laments that as a result of European Enlightenment and three socio-political phenomena in the United States (the separation of church and state, promotion of no other worldview than democracy, and adoption of democratic capitalism), music is no longer pragmatically oriented but trivialized and pursued by self-serving musicians.In Chapter Five, Goble traces the philosophical justifications for music education throughout the history of the United States. While the sign "musical practice" was conceptualized as "worship" in colonial America, the sign "music" was conceived as "art" during the age of Enlightenment, and as "product" during the age of science and technology. Noting that Bennett Reimer's music education as aesthetic education is limited in its Western focus on music as works [End Page 202] of artistic objects, Goble aligns his Peircian conception along praxial lines—in particular, with...

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