Jonathan Dunsby


Teachers of music theory in the college sector fall into demographic groups, such as those who are notable researchers and those who are not, or those who call themselves music theorists and those who don't. The familiar cross-currents of college life include what are perhaps more significant musical divergences also, those that may be revealed for instance by the sometimes elusive margin between Western art music and vernacular music. We may encounter, too, the sometimes sharply contrasting needs among different student groups. The performance major and the liberal arts student may subscribe to intersecting perspectives on music theory, the most common of common perspectives being the simple question - why am I being required to do this? - which is an anxiety not shared by the theory major. There are other, more obviously purposeful meeting points, for example the one that is gaining currency where teachers of markedly different stripes, and at least some of their students, ask what is to be learned from musical performance, usually meaning recorded performance, to deepen our theoretical and cultural understanding of the music. If intradisciplinary distinctions are not black and white, nevertheless they are familiar to most who have taught as well as studied music theory, and obviously readers would be able to think of more; representing more interesting tensions, it may be; or distinctions that are more relevant to individual professional experiences. The point about such an angle of approach, through contrasts and even paradoxes, is that even if it threatens a certain amount of agonizing and compromise pedagogically, it does deal in comprehensible challenges. It articulates unavoidable puzzles that we can realistically aim to address, if not solve.