Gathering Many Voices: Our Inclusive-Canon Approach to the Introductory Music Textbook

Kristine Forney (emerita, California State University, Long Beach) and Andrew Dell’Antonio (The University of Texas at Austin) are coauthors of The Enjoyment of Music and have taught courses in music appreciation, history, and theory. Here they describe the process of expanding the repertoire and canon in the newest edition of The Enjoyment of Music.

Andrew Dell’Antonio
Image Credit: Andrew Dell’Antonio

Music institutions in the U.S., from orchestras to universities to sponsoring organizations, are increasingly reconsidering the choice of repertories that have dominated their programming and curriculumthe “canon” of Euro-American Art Musicin order to acknowledge the essential creative contributions of musicians who have been largely excluded from that canon, for example, women and people of color. Furthermore, these institutions are rightly concerned with ensuring that an evolving canon remains relevant to contemporary, and especially younger, audiences.

One of the cornerstones of musical canon is the college music textbook. Anthologies and narrative histories ensure that music majors are familiar with repertories considered essential to professional practice. More condensed versions of those canonic histories and work-lists are reflected in the textbooks used in introductory classes, often for nonmajors.

Throughout the years, the authors of The Enjoyment of Music have been helping to cultivate an evolving introductory canon for undergraduates. Like other textbooks aimed at that goal, however, we had not made the complexities of canon-formation explicitnor had we foregrounded the importance of mindful engagement with the many voices that have historically been excluded from the Euro-American Art Music canon. Until now.

Kristine Forney
Image Credit: William F. Prizer II

In this Fourteenth Edition of The Enjoyment of Music, we have focused attention to a shifting musical canon in three groundbreaking ways. First of all, we have provided a new chapter in the Elements section called Creating and Recreating Musical Canons, which specifically discusses how musical canons are formed and how they function in societies, and helps students consider their role in shaping musical canon. Secondly, we have included features called Many Voices throughout the text, offering students the opportunity to dive more deeply into repertories and issues that have historically been excluded from Western canons, to understand the essential relationship of these topics to established canon, and to see themselves better represented in the more inclusive repertory. Third, we have established a new collaboration with American Composers Forum to provide a dynamically self-renewing Online Gallery of New Voices, consisting of new works by composers who are emerging into the contemporary canon. This provides an explicit framework for students to build their own identities as audiences for new music and as contributors to the dynamism of canons in contemporary classical music.

As we undertook this essential update to The Enjoyment of Music, we had long discussions about our approach. We wanted to strike a balance between acknowledging the importance of canons to musical cultures and exploring how those who create canons often exclude the music of particular individuals because of social bias. We also wanted to ensure that featuring musicians who had been historically excluded would not result in tokenizingor, more subtly, in automatically marking the “non-canonic” as “other.” In the end, the term “many voices” came to us as a choice that would emphasize the variety of creative approaches that we wanted to suggest. Among these “many voices” we chose historical musicians who were highly respected in their day but were excluded from later historical narratives due to established social hierarchies. We also chose musical repertories that once were very widespread but later were deemed insufficiently “high culture” to be preserved in the principal Western canonan arbitrary distinction that music historians are now rightly questioning.

One example of our Many Voices features two eighteenth-century musicians, both contemporaries of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, and widely recognized in their day. We are excited to include Joseph Boulogne (1745-1799), a Black musician who enjoyed a highly successful career as a composer and conductor in Paris; and Marianne Martinez (1744-1812), an Austrian composer of Spanish descent whose reputation extended across much of Europe. These heretofore overlooked “voices” not only contribute to our goal of inclusion and diversity, but help flesh out the musical culture of the era beyond the triumvirate of well-known masters mentioned above.

We also chose contemporary reinterpretations of historical repertories (for example, pop icon Sting’s take on Elizabethan icon John Dowland’s songs), geographically disparate traditions that have significantly shaped the Euro-American canon “from the outside” (for example, Javanese gamelan), and examples of music operating in contemporary multimedia (like the blockbuster video game Call of Duty) in ways that resonate with past “art” multimedia. And we chose a small but significant sampling from musical traditions outside the Euro-American heritage as well.

Our approach to an expansive canon is most evident at the end of Enjoyment. While in the past we have ended with a self-contained chapter (purposefully choosing recent composers and compositions that would show the currency of the Western “art” tradition), this time we wanted to end with an emphasis on “many voices.” The postlude, New Voices, recapitulates essential listening strategies through which students can engage with an ever-renewing Online Gallery of New Voices, featuring choices of new works by emerging composers, curated with the assistance of American Composers Forum. The commentary that we create to contextualize these new works is focused on connecting creative innovations of the present to the complex web of past musical traditions. We believe that this evolving Online Gallery of New Voices, as a collaboration between W. W. Norton and American Composers Forum designed to foster students’ nuanced engagement with contemporary music, is a truly significant contribution to ongoing conversations about including many voices that have been long ignored or stifled. Students who learn with The Enjoyment of Music will be well equipped to help shape a musical canon that reflects twenty-first-century sensibilities. And for all of us teaching from Enjoyment, this new approach promises to enrich our musical knowledge and experiences along with those of our students.

Interested in exploring these Many Voices features? Click here to see the full ebook.

Leave a Reply