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A Requiem for L&M?

Is it actually the demise of L&M that is taking place? I realize the article “Curriculum Gets an Overhaul” [Juilliard Journal, March 2012] referred to a “restructuring,” but the new designation, Music Theory and Analysis, gives me the impression of a leap backward. After all, L&M—short for Literature and Materials of Music—was launched as an antidote to music theory as it had been traditionally taught. I do not doubt that the new theory curriculum will continue Juilliard’s tradition of innovation, but I am surprised that the name chosen for the program is so prosaic, so generic!

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The article stated that L&M had a 55-year history. Sixty-five years is probably closer to the reality. When I entered Juilliard in 1950, L&M was well under way as a program, and I found it exhilarating. Prior to that, my training in theory had consisted of courses called Harmony and Species Counterpoint, neither of which had awakened my curiosity about the nature of musical composition or contributed to my understanding of the music I was studying. 

By contrast, L&M was exciting from day one because it made musical compositions themselves the starting point for developing a theoretical vocabulary. As I discovered how musical structures evolved, I began to see how musical interpretation could reflect that process. Eventually, my enthusiasm for the L&M approach earned me teaching fellowships in the L&M department, assisting composers Robert Ward and William Bergsma. That experience encouraged me to pursue an academic career (I received my D.M.A. in performance and pedagogy from Eastman), which provided me with a platform for teaching the exploration of music literature in the manner I had learned in my L&M classes.

The word restructuring suggests that L&M is not about to be buried. Nevertheless, I would like to read an obituary for L&M in The Journal, recalling the vibrancy and validity of the original concept. And, of course, I also hope to learn about the special features of its outgrowth, Music Theory and Analysis.

Donald I. Payne (B.S. ’54, M.S. ’56,  piano)
Strongsville, Ohio

Edward Klorman, chair of the Music Theory and Analysis department, responds:

It’s inspiring to read about Donald Payne’s experience as a student and teaching fellow in the early days of the Literature and Materials (L&M) department. His account is a testament to the innovation and imaginative thinking—both musical and pedagogical—that was brewing at Juilliard during that exciting period. (President Joseph W. Polisi provides a detailed chronicle of L&M’s founding in his book  American Muse: The Life and Times of William Schuman.) 

This same spirit has inspired the current wave of curricular review throughout Juilliard’s undergraduate programs—inaugurated by Polisi in the fall of 2010, entailing hundreds of hours of brainstorming sessions with all the academic and performance departments. It has been exhilarating and gratifying to witness the dedication and creativity with which so many minds have pursued our most essential question: how can Juilliard provide a world-class education that cultivates innovative leaders for tomorrow’s performing arts community?

The newly developed Theory and Analysis curriculum builds on the strengths of L&M while also developing new aspects in acknowledgement of changing circumstances since L&M was originally conceived, in the 1940s. At that time, L&M comprised not only music theory but also history, ear training, and other subjects that are now taught in separate departments; our new program aims to complement those departments without duplicating their offerings. At a time when most American living rooms had a piano, an incoming cello or clarinet student usually matriculated at conservatory with significant knowledge of harmony and voice leading gained through secondary piano lessons; but that is now the exception rather than the norm. Most significantly, whereas musical careers several decades ago placed few demands on a musician’s writing and speaking skills, the entrepreneurial nature of 21st-century musical careers calls on musicians to be as articulate and expressive with words as they are with notes. 

We developed our new program in response to these specific needs, while retaining our tradition of putting creative engagement with musical literature front and center. This ethos is captured in the new title: Music Theory (a venerable tradition that dates back to Pythagoras) and Analysis(the study of pieces of music). While abandoning textbooks was an initial L&M strategy in the 1940s, it is no longer a viable solution in an age when Juilliard students hail from over 40 countries; with such an international student body, there is a significant advantage to having a textbook as a uniform resource. Moreover, perhaps the greatest display of L&M’s broader impact is how different modern textbooks look from the harmony books that were available before L&M was established. Our chosen text, The Complete Musician by Steven Laitz, draws from a remarkably wide range of repertoire in a variety of styles and genres, and it offers a rich, creative illumination of musical structure, syntax, and style—that is, precisely the spirit that informed the development of L&M so many years ago, and one that I know will flourish at Juilliard for many more to come.

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