Applications of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to Music Making/Teaching/Learning Applications of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to Music Making/Teaching/Learning

Just as it is possible to be an excellent scholar of the Bible without being a Christian, it is possible to know a great deal about music and be a poor musician. One may have a genuine heart for God, sincerely attempting to practice Godly living, and yet be relatively ignorant of Scripture and reasoned teachings flowing from it, so that without some correction from traditional interpretations one is at risk of being led significantly astray by poor teaching, trendy ideas, or cultural pressure. Similarly, one may be a very talented natural musician, but without training that includes study of the classics, the development of traditional interpretive skills, and much effort in personal internalization of these things, one’s ability to express that talent will be very limited.

One way to the internalization of musical structure, style and practice is to say it, sing it, read it, write it, play it and hear it. The musician in training should do all these things, using as subject matter the best music that has come down to us. The musician should learn theories about the grammar and syntax of musical structure, and learn to say them, sing them, read them, write them, play them and hear them, so that concept, skill and practice are integrated in the musician.

Just as it is tempting for anyone to avoid what is difficult and do more of what seems to come more naturally, it is tempting for musical theorists to avoid praxis, for singers to avoid music theory, and so on. Similar observations can be made about the difficulty a theologian may have in some aspect of personal living, or the tendency of some good-hearted Christian laborers to misuse, misconstrue or misappropriate theology.

John Wesley’s teachings on the integration of scripture, tradition, reason and experience in the individual’s life would seem to apply to becoming a “complete musician.” The goal of university training in music should be to encourage the development of a musician who can say it, sing it, read it, write it, play it and hear it, from a reasoned understanding of the “canon” of music that has come down to us (but is still “open”), and in light of the traditions of interpretation and praxis that are expressed in the work of the finest performers, composers and conductors. The result should be a musician who has internalized musical structure and gesture, understands both deeply, connects modern musical life to best of the past, and who never stops growing in any of these areas.

Music students in a Christian university can be introduced to the concept of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral fairly soon in their coursework. Applications of this general approach to learning music can be made, so that students have more appreciation for the integrative possibilities of the (seemingly unrelated) activities and coursework that music majors do. Faculty should be more intentional in explaining and modeling this approach. Frequent reference can be made to a musical activity or assignment as being more or less reflective of different aspects of the analogy to the Quadrilateral, reminding students of the integrative target.

For more on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, see Donald Thorsen’s book, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

2 thoughts on “Applications of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to Music Making/Teaching/Learning Applications of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to Music Making/Teaching/Learning

  1. Music represents what Aristotle called a “practical science.” that is, it is the study of a subject that aims primarily at “production” of some artifact (organized sound in this case). As such, music could be understood as the integration of “theory” and “practice” (both terms that have double entendre in music). One needs to have internalized the principles (much like Emeril has done with cooking) and can produce the artifact at will. Considered in this way, music is a “virtue,” an excellence of character (our intellectual and practical character).

    However, what I really like about the post is the insight that we tend to “avoid what is difficult.” In this repect, music (and its practice) can lead to moral virtue. that is, when we choose to do that which is difficult and not rest content with our current state of adequacy, we have begun the process of self-discipline and courage: two important moral virtues.

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