In December, the number of junior music majors doubled. There are now two of us.
More than 30 percent of students participate in music lessons or ensembles, but many of them never take a single music class. Even those who complete the minor never take many of the courses which would truly help them understand music.
While other classes have more music majors — the senior class boasts a startling five — the lack of interest is still alarming. Students who dip their toes into ensembles or take the few requirements for the minor are not fully embracing music, and the benefits of studying it are therefore diminished.
Rather than write a senior thesis or take comprehensive exams, students majoring in music perform an hour-long senior recital complete with appetizers and an audience of family and friends. Music majors also frequently have scholarships ranging from $1,000 to full tuition.
Almost everyone will say they love music, but music majors can speak with authority on why some notes sound good together, how that fact was discovered, and how they should be performed. Music minors do not take the second or third semesters of music theory classes and get only a small taste of the understanding that majors enjoy.
Students should find the music major appealing simply based on its requirements. Apart from one-credit introductory courses, ensembles, and private lessons, the major requires only three semesters of music theory, three semesters of history, and five credits of electives. While it is not easy, the complete major totals 40 credit hours and leaves plenty of time for a second major or minor.
The $85 additional fee per semester for private lessons is already a steal, but the music major and minor waive this fee — even when the credits exceed the 17-credit maximum. I have taken 25 credits in a single semester without paying an extra dime in tuition, and gotten little grade boosts for each private lesson. Others could theoretically take an unlimited amount of credits at the same tuition rate.
I am able to rationalize learning new instruments through my major. A potential side career teaching music is an appropriate justification to begin lessons in voice, jazz, guitar, violin, and hopefully cello and flute in the future.
According to Aristotle, music is one of four customary subjects of education. The other three are reading and writing, gymnastics, and drawing. Hillsdale’s core includes plenty within the realm of reading and writing, but the single fine arts requirement can be fulfilled by one course in music, art, or theater.
Aristotle wrote that music is suited for leisure as a pastime proper for free men. He says this is because it teaches how to respond properly to emotions. While Aristotle agreed with Plato’s suggestion that music might bring out evil emotions such as anger, Aristotle disagreed with Plato in stating that this was bad.
“Since it is the case that music is one of the things that give pleasure, and that virtue has to do with feeling delight and love and hatred rightly, there is obviously nothing that is more needful to learn and become habituated to than to judge correctly and to delight in virtuous ethoses and noble actions,” Aristotle said.
Rhythms and melodies may represent anger, mildness, courage, and temperance, Aristotle says, and these qualities correspond to the human ethos or character. Humans, then, know the correct representation of their emotions because of music.
Music is more than a low-paying job, as some students claim it is, and more than a pleasurable pastime. It’s a passage to the soul. Students at a college which aims to develop their souls should consider studying it.
“It is plain that music has the power of producing a certain effect on the ethos of the soul, and if it has the power to do this, it is clear that the young must be directed to music and must be educated in it,” Aristotle said.
I venture to say Aristotle would not approve of only two music majors in the junior class. Hillsdale’s music program has a lot to offer. Students need to take advantage of this vital aspect of the liberal arts.