Aesthetic Music Education and the Influence of Bennett Reimer

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An explicit concept since the late 1950s, aesthetic education first developed to provide a strong philosophical foundation for music education and continues to evolve as a solid theoretical orientation for current effective practices. Bennett Reimer has contributed much to the discussion and development of the value of aesthetic education for the teaching and learning of music. Others in music education also support and promote these ideals and focus on developing an improved understanding for music educators. Some scholars oppose the principles of an aesthetic education, recently demonstrated by David Elliott who favors a praxial philosophy of music education centered on musical performance. The work of Reimer shows an influence of these thinkers and illustrates the essential benefits of a professional emphasis on aesthetics, the branch of philosophy especially devoted to studying the value of the arts. With guidance from aesthetics, music educators better understand the value of music and its fundamental role within the school curriculum. With its introduction, aesthetic education provided an understanding of authentic fundamental characteristics of music not previously discussed and encouraged an articulation of those ideas into relevant objectives for teaching and learning. The appearance of Basic Concepts in Music Education (ed. Nelson B. Henry, 1958) and the college text Foundations and Principles of Music Education (Charles Leonard and Robert W. House, 1959) promoted the acceptance of an aesthetic-based philosophy as a guiding theoretical foundation. These significant resources encouraged individuals to put their previous intuitions into effective practice using a shared, progressive concept of musical experience and learning. Many music educators embraced aesthetic education (and continue to do so) because it reinforced the validity of music study in the school curriculum for reasons intrinsic to the art itself. Reimer emphasizes that we (as music educators) need not establish discipleship to one particular person or point of view of aesthetic education. The ideal of "Music Education as Aesthetic Education" (MEAE) does not exist as a particular collection of fixed certainties; it supports the attitude that philosophical truths develop and transform as we advance and verify new ideas. Many sources (books, journals, articles, etc.) provide the insight of professional scholars on the fundamental values of music supporting the aesthetic approach. The music educator who commits to MEAE must seek this knowledge to understand the art of music beyond his or her own instincts. Only with that awareness can the teacher adequately portray a genuine representation of the artistic values of music to students. Reimer describes aesthetic education as "the development of a sensitivity to the aesthetic qualities of things." He consciously avoids using the term "definition" yet provides a much-appreciated explanation that achieves that function. Reimer further illustrates that MEAE should encourage our ability to perceive and respond to conditions of musical relationships (e.g. tension-release, expectation-deviation) in perceptible objects and events. Musical works may possess various qualities (such as functional ones), but the primary significance of music should lie in its aesthetic value. If we abandon this unique characterization of music and emphasize its societal role, we risk degrading ourselves as well as our work. As teachers, we mediate the interactions between our students and aesthetic objects and should seek to improve these relationships with different experiences. Yet, we must first ensure that students have the ability to perceive expressive conditions as well as the ability to respond to them. Reimer distinguishes that effective MEAE cultivates a person's "ability to yield meanings from (a work of art's) structures of interrelated sounds and to transform words, images, ideas, emotions, and any other socially...
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