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The perfect analogy for what's wrong in music education today

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

In a 2014 editorial for Eighteenth Century Music, Professor Giorgio Sanguinetti mentions a curious project that happened in 2009:

In a recent video produced by the Department of Tourism in the Marche region of central Italy, American actor Dustin Hoffmann recited the poem L'infinito by the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, in the original language and from memory. Hoffman does not know Italian, and had to memorize the pronunciation and the meaning of every single word. The result had a certain alien quality, though not disagreeable to those Italians familiar with the poem since childhood. But this was obviously an experiment, a deliberate provocation. Something similar happens in musical performances when one gets the impression that the performer's keyboard skills exceed her understanding of the musical language.

Professor Robert O. Gjerdingen comments on this modern limited understanding of music among music students in the Overview from Partimenti.org:

The world of lessons and exercises studied by young musicians in past centuries was often quite different from what is studied today in high school or college classes. In the 1700s and 1800s, students who successfully completed their musical education were not only able to perform concertos, quartets, and sonatas but also able to compose them. In other words, they could read and write music in much the same way that they could read and write their native language. Today, typical students graduating from a program in classical music can read this music but not write or improvise it. In a sense they are unable to "speak" classical music.

Hoffman's performance would go on to receive a largely negative reaction from viewers.

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