Eurocentricity informs a ubiquitous aesthetic in music schools, particularly in classical music programs in American music conservatories and colleges.
Indeed, the historic reputation of many top conservatories has often been defined by excellence due to preservation of virtues and values derived from the classical European tradition.
But is preserving the values, music, and ideals of an older European style a problem for today’s music schools?
Before we answer that question, let’s take a look at some Eurocentric practices, beliefs, and cornerstones that currently exist in many major schools.
When auditioning on a classical instrument for acceptance to a major music school, you must know only or mostly European repertoire. On this repertoire list that a violinist must learn for admission into the Eastman School of Music, we see names such as Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Bach, even Vieuxtemps and Kreutzer.
While all of these composers are great and wonderful, where are the American composers on this audition list?
Why shouldn’t a violinist be familiar with American composers and American pieces, such as the Violin Concerto by John Adams, or even Samuel Barber’s classic Violin Concerto?
A student’s musical education is rather limiting if said student isn’t encouraged to play or learn music in the country they live in by composers from that country.
Have you noticed that most performance styles taught in music schools also derive from the European tradition…
There isn’t much improvisation taught in music schools to classical musicians, a musical device that is a true staple of modern American musical styles. Instead, conservatories very much promote a tradition in literal performance of notated sheet music, whereas in the 19th century even European musicians would improvise in operas.
Teaching students performance methodologies that derive from American genres (jazz violin, bluegrass double bass ala Edgar Meyer, etc.) would truly widen the musical scope of the student musician.
Have you ever wondered why there is so much emphasis on music theory and proper voice leading practices in college music curricula?
Well the answer is simple – this is the model that has been used for over a century in European music schools.
Having some music theory knowledge is very important. Everyone needs to be able to understand diatonic and chromatic harmonies, odd time signatures, and even basic 20th century analysis.
But a great deal of credits used for music theory classes could probably be better placed for music business classes, or just about anything that will help prepare a student to actually make money with their music degree.
Also, have you noticed that most history classes in music schools focus on European-based musical history? By encouraging European based musical history, music schools are telling students that other types of music from other countries aren’t really important. Even if this music is enjoyable to millions of people who pay money to listen to it throughout the world.
The absence of American music history education is a poor oversight of many music schools that exist and produce musicians to work in America!!