On Thursday, November 10, Dr. Peter Smucker presented a paper in New Orleans (remotely, due to hurricane Nicole) at the annual meeting of the Society for Music Theory.
His paper, “Carter, Pedagogy, and the Undergraduate Theory Curriculum,” was part of a special panel on the music of American composer Elliott Carter. The panel, “Carter, 10 Years On,” explored aspects of the composer’s music since his death in 2012.
Smucker’s paper looks specifically at using Carter’s music in an undergraduate curriculum. The abstract of his paper states:
Curricula that characterize Carter’s music as representative of one primary theoretical concept likely perpetuates a narrow understanding and appreciation of his music. A focus on a more experiential and phenomenological approach to his music offers an opportunity to situate Carter in an undergraduate curriculum as more than simply the composer most associated with tempo modulation.
This presentation therefore provides pedagogical applications of Carter’s music with a focus on the aural experience of his music, rather than technical attributes. In the first of three parts of the presentation, I orient Carter’s music in current undergraduate theory curricula. Using sample assignments, I show how a student’s assessment of Carter’s music—possibly for the first time—typically addresses technical, rather than aural features. Such approaches may offer only tangential relevance to how Carter’s music might “capture the attention” of undergraduate students, and how they can engage with it. The second part of the presentation focuses on alternative pedagogical approaches to his music. Using experiences from my own classroom instruction, I show how descriptive, gestural, and other aural identifiers offer a pathway toward a more immediate connection between students and Carter’s late music. Additionally, I show the practicality of these methods, which resonate with recent increases in visual representations of music in the public sphere (Chan-Hartley 2021). In the third part of the presentation, I offer three brief examples of undergraduate assignments, rubrics, and learning outcomes that use Carter’s music to illustrate these aurally focused approaches. One assignment is on aural training, another on writing and public engagement, and the third on composition.
These alternative pedagogical approaches offer ways to critically engage with Carter’s music far beyond tempo modulations. The presentation provides a way for Carter’s music to no longer be confined to undergraduate course units on 20th-century techniques, and rather within a larger context of experiencing music and finding its value. Such approaches provide both accessibility and relevance for the future educators, performers, and composers that populate most undergraduate music theory courses.