Retrograde Music History

Geoffrey Himes argued recently in Smithsonian Magazine that “we should teach music history backwards.” to take advantage of the desire at least some listeners have to understand the precursors to/influences on the music they like today.  The question of what order to put things in (chronological, reverse chronological, by genre,…..) is a perpetual one for teachers of music history or music appreciation. Why don’t we start with the music they know and perhaps even like?

Himes , although he claims to discuss music history, writes only about popular genres,  In his primary example , he makes connections from Sam Smith all the way back to Rosetta Tharpe.  It’s not hard to see the limitations of the approach, most prominent among them that you have to start with contemporary music that you like and follow where that leads.  What about all the other music?

Especially, how do you span the chasm between folk/popular song and the art music tradition?  Understanding the link between Sam Smith and Aretha Franklin is relatively straightforward.  Making the connection between Smith and Josquin is much less obvious.The chasm is even wider when you consider music without words, a bête noire for many studying music history for the first time. Even if you are working backwards, there comes a point where you must jump the gap to music that seems not at all familiar. Does it make more sense to start at the beginning with a blank slate?

Catching up with Rhizo15

I had originally intended to not add  Rhizo15 to the long list of MOOCish things I started but didn’t finish, but got sucked in via a tangential discussion about social media platforms.  Thanks for nothing , Lisa Chamberlain 🙂     Since I’m a late arrival, I am going to do two for one here:


I think this turn of terminology is a wonderful encapsulation of what rhizomatic learning is about. My subjectives for Rhizo15 are:

  1. Learn more about how to build and facilitate a rhizomatic learning space.
  2. Consider how to square the rhizomatic model with educational structures that run very counter to it , especially in the areas of learner autonomy.  For example, I’ve read multiple responses to the new book Redesigning Americas’s Community Colleges, which advocates  reducing the amount of choice available to students as a way to improve completion.


That segues nicely into the question of measures.  It at least seems nearly self-evident that in an environment that puts learner agency first, measures of learning will also come from the learner.  Learning can happen this way.  The challenge is that most learning is embedded in things called education or training or school.   Someone wants to improve their skills and abilities and is willing to pay for access to support structures that enable that.

People could just pay for supports that help them meet their subjectives.  It’s like life coaching or hiring a personal trainer, just on a bigger scale.  What that scenario ignores is that the kind of learning supports people and institutions are willing to pay for aren’t related to subjectives at all.  They are, for the most part, connected to external economic incentives, especially the willingness to pay workers more if they have a particular degree, license or skill set.  As long as the economic incentives work that way, subjectives will be climbing up a steep incline.