Wednesday, February 24, 2010
What exactly is music literacy?
After thinking about the last sentence in my post titled, “High profile music journalists from the surrounding Ohio area speak with OU students” I have pondered what music literacy actually means. The panel of music journalists stressed that music literacy is the key. But what are they actually talking about?
Before the topic of music literacy was discussed by the panel, my impression of the phrase related more so to the understanding of sheet music or actually knowing how to play an instrument. Maybe my opinion is biased because I am a musician. The panel, however, did not mention these qualities. They focused on the idea that music journalists should be familiar with the music industry, its history, and where it is going, to be musically literate.
To gain a better understanding of the phrase “music literacy” I spoke to Dana Stewart, one of the panelists from the Columbus Metromix, again to dispose of any confusion. Stewart agrees that some understanding of music theory is to some degree important. “You'll have more to write about and have more to talk about in an interview. On the other hand, I don't think it's good to write too much with a music theory emphasis because it can get too technical and wordy,” Stewart said.
Stewart’s friend, Allison Smith, who was an OU music major felt music literacy refers to the ability to read sheet music because the word “literacy” literally means being able to read.
“An understanding of music literacy in the sense that my friend said is these days being pushed more and more to the side because rock music isn't based on sheet music as much as classical music was. That's why I think it's not the right word or phrase for what we were talking about,” Stewart explained.
By combining the comments made by Stewart, the other panelist and Smith, music literacy can encompass an understanding of the history of rock music along with music theory to enable a music journalist to report as best as possible the sounds they are hearing.
As an OU alumna, Stewart diversified herself by taking a history of rock class, a jazz history class and folk music history class along with piano classes and choir participation to feel more equipped as a music journalist.
Stewart commented, “I think it helps a music journalism career if you've at least dabbled with some sort of instrument because I think it gives a person a better appreciation for how much work it is to write a song and then to play it, record it and then tour or make a profit off of it.”
Defining music literacy is some what of an ambiguous task, as we have seen from the different viewpoints of Stewart, the rest of the panel and Smith. The important part to take away from this deliberation, however, is the idea that to be an effective music journalist, the combination of music theory basics and knowledge of the history of music can enhance the way we write about music.