Music and the Teaching of Music History as Praxis: A Reply to James Maiello

Thomas A. Regelski


The idea of music “praxis” has received considerable attention recently in philosophical circles. It has a long, distinguished heritage reaching all the way back to Aristotle, who distinguished it from “theoria” and “techne.” Regarded as praxis, music takes on a decidedly social value that distances it from the concept of ‘works’ that are savored only in special moments. Instead, as praxis, music is among the most important social forces in a culture. While the study by historians and theorists of ‘works’ reveals much of interest and value, music’s role in and contribution to the wider social context is stressed with praxial theory. Given the change of emphasis from the ‘in-itself’ character of autonomous ‘works’, praxial theory draws from philosophy, social theory, sociology and social psychology of music, and from ethnomusicology, and anthropology. The study of music, too, takes on an action dimension (“action” being the most typical translation for “praxis”). What is to be learned is learned through action with music as praxis and is related to typical in-life uses, whether of musicians, teachers, or the music-loving public. Music, then, is not simply a canon of ‘works’, and so the study of music history will include the ‘doings’ that are, first of all, most directly relevant to being musically informed; and, secondly, that are learned by engaging in the activities, the praxis, that informs history. 

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ISSN 2155-109X