The Evolution of a Styles Simulation Course for Graduate Theory Students

Robert Gauldin

In the teaching of collegiate music theory the accessibility to a wide range of literature afforded by anthology collections has in recent years shifted the pendulum away from such writing skills courses as counterpoint, stylistic simulation, or composition toward an emphasis on purely analytical techniques. Indeed, the only compositional decisions required of most current graduate theory majors are the pushing around of a few white notes in two-voice species studies. Therefore, when the Eastman School of Music decided to inaugurate a master's degree in Music Theory Pedagogy some years ago, it recognized that the teaching of undergraduate theory necessitated the acquisition of correctional pedagogical tools that went beyond the mere detection of parallel fifths in partwriting assignments. For more creative student projects, such as melody harmonization, prospective teachers not only needed the knowledge and ability to state whether this choice or that choice was better and why it was better, but also the compositional skills to demonstrate other options that might produce more musical results. Toward this end the faculty initiated a new one-semester course entitled "Advanced Harmony and Composition," whose content was designed to rectify two deficiencies in the department's then current graduate offerings. This seminar essentially represented the resurrection of a "styles practicum," in which students attempted to simulate characteristics of various historical periods or even specific composers through the assignment of compositional exercises and projects. It also explored the realms of harmony and tonal design during the late 19th century, an era that until recently has been unduly neglected.