What Are the Liberal Arts and How Do We Teach Them? (7) - Music
Of all the Liberal Arts music seems to be the oddest inclusion. Educated people should be able to read, calculate, and communicate effectively . . . but do they really need to know how to play the lyre? Why did ancient and medieval educators put a premium on music?
First off, music is beautiful! Ancient and medieval men and women valued beauty far more than we do. Visit any museum and you will see mosaics and pottery that graced the homes of regular families; go into any gothic cathedral and you will be able to view masterworks of art made by common folk. By contrast, we moderns tend to be more utilitarian in the way we make things. Consider, for example, our interstate highway system. We designed it to help us travel quickly and efficiently, not to please the eye. While there is a place for utilitarian calculation, this way of thinking has arguably contaminated our thinking about education. Whereas our forbearers would have said: is it true, good, or beautiful? If so, pursue it! We ask: what can you do with that and what type of pay do you think you can make with that degree? We often do not see the value of music because we view it in strictly economic terms; our ancestors would have said that they studied it because it is beautiful and no further justification is needed.
Our ancestors also studied music because music is, for most of us, the most transcendent art form. Music, more than painting or sculpture, has the ability to impact our moods and emotions and take us out of ourselves and into something higher and greater. For that reason music has long been used to worship God.
Lastly, our ancestor believed that an education that trains the mind alone is no education at all. For them moral education constituted a huge part of a student’s training. But what does moral training have to do with music? Classical educators would have said, in a word, everything. A key component of music is harmony. Harmony, balance, and proportion help in mathematical training, but more than that, classical educators believed that harmony can help to train the soul. As Damon of Athens, wrote, “let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who writes its laws.” Music, because it is beautiful, helps a person to learn how to recognize beauty, which will hopefully lead them to come to love it. Men like Aristotle thought that a child trained to love aesthetic beauty would more easily come to love moral beauty and that men and women who loved moral beauty would naturally build families, communities, and nations of beauty—places of justice, courage, and kindness.
We teach music for similar reasons. Yes, we want our students to learn how to read music and sing on key, but more than that we want to expose them to beautiful music! We are committed to partnering with you to inculcate Godly character in your sons and daughters. Music is a way, albeit a small way, of training them to recognize what is beautiful and to love it. We are under no illusions that every child who hears Bach will see how it reflects God’s beauty and come to love Him, but neither can we deny that there will be a fundamental difference in character between the child that is trained to know and love Bach and the child that is trained to know and love Black Sabbath.
This concludes my messages on the Seven Liberal Arts; next week I will begin a short series on Charlotte Mason.