Wednesday, January 1, 2014

From the Fifteenth Century to the Present

Notwithstanding the extent to which the "creation of wealth" through expanded consumerism has led to a pandemic undermining of our entire educational system (presumably because educated customers are more selective about what they buy and are less likely to give in to impulses), I came across an interesting bit data point that allows us to compare the current state of music education with the way things were 560 years ago. I have been reading a paper that Rob C. Wegman published in the Journal of the American Musicological Society that focuses on musical activity in the Low Countries between 1450 and 1500. One of his sources of data involves the hiring of one Jacob Tick at a choirmaster by the magistrates of Leiden on October 16, 1454.

Wegman goes on at some length to describe Tick's job description. This is primarily to support his case that the practice of music in the fifteenth century was based more on an oral culture, rather than a written one. However, an interesting sidebar arises as Wegman reviews Tick's duties:
It would thus appear that the municipal officials viewed counterpoint as a valuable skill for both liturgical and generally secular purposes. As such, the art was not reserved exclusively for children of the well-to-do. An additional clause in Tick's contract covered the eventuality of parents being too poor to pay for lessons in discant. Poverty, it was evidently felt, should not pose an impediment to musical training, even if children were taught for their own rather than the church's benefit.
Apparently, the city of fifteenth-century Leiden thought more about the issues of both education and poverty than government at any level in our own country in the present day.

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