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The Tanglewood Symposium

A turning point in American music education

Imagine summer in western Massachusetts—Lenox, Massachusetts, to be exact. Green foliage abounds, and the calls of jays and finches reverberate through the sighing branches. As the breeze gently stirs the leaves, sunlight filters through in kaleidoscope patterns, highlighting gurgling brooks and lush green fields.Tanglewood Pic
There is a feeling of timelessness, of reflection, of peace. Here our ancestors fell in love with America. Here one can truly be human—to feel, think, and act as one. Such is the atmosphere of Tanglewood in the summer.

This environment met music educators, performers, labor leaders, sociologists, general educators, scientists, and business and government representatives as they convened for the Tanglewood Symposium in the summer of 1967. This event, sponsored by the Music Educator’s National Conference (MENC), is considered by many as the single most important event in the twentieth century for music education. Not only did the Symposium clarify music educational practices and theories and provide direction for meeting the changing needs of arts education, it also helped to dispel some of the negative criticisms regarding music education from professionals in all fields (Mark, 1996).

The Tanglewood Symposium came about through several factors. Probably the most important factor was the simple realization of music educators that their profession was not coherently adapting to the dramatic societal changes of the 1960’s. Many music educators realized that if music was to continue in the American public school system, there needed to be a structured methodology for guidance (Mark[a], 2000). Another factor that contributed to the feeling of a need for organization was many music educators’ anger regarding the Yale Seminar on Music Education in 1963. This seminar was conducted by musicologists, performers, and composers who knew “little or nothing about music education, and who did this [the Yale Seminar] without the participation of music educators. (Mark[b], 2000)” In fact, the Tanglewood Symposium might more accurately be termed a seminar, but the participants wished to distance their conference as much as possible from the Yale Seminar.

Mark (2000[b]) identifies three larger societal catalysts of the Tanglewood Symposium—school reform, civil rights, and technology. In 1953, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was created, which was the first attempt by the federal government to influence school curriculum. Issues such as illiteracy, the relationship between dropouts and juvenile delinquency, and exceptional student and teacher education were identified, and public school reform efforts began in earnest. The launching of Sputnik in 1957 intensified reform efforts as many Americans worried we were becoming (or already were) technologically inferior to the SputnikSoviets. In this haste to “fix” our school system, the arts were sometimes swept aside. The battle for civil rights provided additional concerns, not only domestically, but educationally as well. There were multiple demonstrations and marches in the streets and schools of America, many of them violent. In 1954, the Brown vs. Topeka Supreme Court decision made segregation illegal, and Congress passed strong civil rights legislature in 1966, affirming the equality of all people in our nation. In 1968, one year after the Tanglewood Symposium, the Supreme Court finally affirmed the 1866 Civil Rights Bill, 102 years after it had originally been adopted (Mark[b], 2000). These changes wrought drastic results in classrooms, many of which hadn’t dealt with multicultural or even multiracial student bodies before. Technology was also becoming increasingly evident in people’s lives, and in the classroom. Is it any wonder that during these turbulent times, music educators sought structure and organization in their profession?

MENC paved the way for the Symposium by publishing position papers in the Music Educator’s Journal all through 1967. These papers served as the basis for discussion at the Symposium itself. Three broad questions were advanced:
1. What are the characteristics and desirable ideologies for an emerging postindustrial society?
2. What are the values and unique functions of music and other arts for individuals and communities in such a society?
3. How may these potentials be attained?
MENC saw these questions as the most pressing for music education, and the participants of the Tanglewood Symposium sought to answer them (Mark, 1996).

From July 23rd to August 2nd, 1967, the Tanglewood Symposium was held at the Tanglewood Center for the Arts in Lenox, Massachusetts, the summer home of Tanglewood Picthe Boston Symphony Orchestra. The participants discussed solutions to the above questions as they impacted society, and sought to find a common ground that music education could stand on for the future. This first intense stage of the symposium lasted a week. The postsession following this first week, consisting chiefly now of music educators only, took these comments, suggestions, and criticisms and formed them into a workable plan of action for music education. A complete account of these vast proceedings is not viable for this paper, although a summary is presented below. For a full account, see Mark, 1996.

The postsession of the Tanglewood Symposium was broken up into five committees, which each addressed a particular issue discussed in the first week. The committees’ topics were “A Philosophy of the Arts for an Emerging Society,” “Music of our Time,” “Impact and Potentials of Technology,” “Economics and Community Support for the Arts,” and “The Nature and Nurture of Creativity” (Choate, 1968). These committees presented proposals which produced the Tanglewood Declaration, considered “the profession’s most powerful and meaningful vision statement of the century (Mark, 2000[a]).” The Declaration emphasized the arts as a vital part of every person’s education; and moreover “a continuity with the aesthetic tradition in man’s history (Choate, 1968).” Perhaps the most emphatic point of the Declaration is the second paragraph:
“We believe that education must have as major goals the art of living, the building of personal identity, and nurturing creativity. Since the study of music can contribute much to these ends, we now call for music to be placed in the core of the school curriculum (Choate, 1968).”
This “call” was initiated into the mainstream through The Goals and Objectives Project, or simply the GO Project, developed by MENC in 1969. Paul Lehman MENC Logo directed the steering committee of the project, and eighteen subcommittees were formed, each dealing with a particular branch of concern identified by the Tanglewood Symposium and its Declaration. Each subcommittee presented a report, and the steering committee then produced a statement which addressed all the goals and objectives of MENC. It was officially adopted, in a revised version, in October of 1970 by the MENC Executive Board. This in turn led to the development of such important documents as the “Description and Standards” booklet, and the National Standards for Arts Education, which solidified Arts Education as a mainstream subject for America (Mark, 1996).

Nearly forty years later, the topics addressed at the Tanglewood Symposium still are being addressed, and still are a concern for music educators in America. In addition to new resources and texts, innovative educational methods such as Orff and Kodaly have swept the American music education profession, causing techniques of approaching teaching music to be reconsidered. The philosophy and psychology of music education have been developed by such names as Leonard and House, Reimer, Gardner, Eisner, and Hirst. The Ann Arbor Symposium was held from 1978 to 1980 to explore psychology in music more fully. The music education profession, although more grounded than ever before, continues today to battle the same dilemmas, albeit altered in shape or form, as it faced before, in Lenox in the summer of 1967.

Vision 2020To address these issues into the twenty-first century, MENC and Florida State University co-sponsored the Housewright Symposium, held in Tallahassee in 1999. Another look was taken at the topics of the Tanglewood Symposium, and many of the same questions were asked in a different context. Surely the three catalysts of the original symposium have not left us: the school reform movement is still here, and shows no signs of abating; civil rights, although no longer revolutionary, are a regular part of the music curriculum in multiculturalism; and technology continues its march into our classrooms as new techniques and tools become available almost daily. The Housewright Symposium produced its own declaration, aptly named the Housewright Declaration: Vision 2020. The final paragraph of the statement sums up the Declaration fairly nicely:
“Music educators must build on the strengths of current practice to take responsibility for charting the future of music education to insure that the best of the Western art tradition and other musical traditions are transmitted to future generations (Mark, 2000[b]).”

It is possible to overstate the importance of the Tanglewood Symposium, but not very easy to do. The Symposium allowed music education, and perhaps all arts education, to find a place in the core curriculum of American public schools. It also allowed music educators to use it and its Declaration as a tool for guidance into the future of arts education (see Legette, 2000; Webster, 2000; and Werner, 2001). If not for the Tanglewood Symposium, music education would have no grounding point, no common bond, no root from which to grow and stretch its branches. Music teachers and students would have difficulty in connecting across society, and uncertainty and confusion would reign in the profession. Yes, it is possible to overstate the importance of the Tanglewood Symposium, but to do so one would have to overstate the importance of music education itself. And again—that isn’t very easy to do.

Music is Fun!

Reference List

Links for more information on the Tanglewood Symposium: