The Hidden Curriculum in the Music Theory Classroom

Cora S. Palfy and Eric Gilson

Conferences and journals within the field of music theory have shown a shift in the representation of popular music, non-Western repertory, and nontraditional analytical approaches within paper presentations, poster sessions, and articles. Despite an advancement beyond the traditional canon within the larger discipline, many music theory classrooms still reflect a Western Art Music-heavy canon and, inherently, a system of valuation that can marginalize students within an increasingly socially and culturally diverse university system. A survey-based study investigating the influence of this valuation system was run with the cooperation of twenty-one North American colleges and universities. Using both qualitative and quantitative questions, the research showed that many students find that the more “influential” composers within music theory significantly fall within the Western Art Music tradition. Despite student interest in diverse repertory and the efforts of faculty to include it, it appears that students continue to perceive that the W.A.M. canon is still the integral, defining genre for music theory as a field. ThÝis study reveals a “hidden curriculum,” or an implicitly taught concept or group of concepts that is conveyed indirectly through course material, examples, or pedagogical focus.