The Importance of Band in Classical Education

This session will cover why band is essential in classical education. Additionally, approaches and concepts in the band room, as well as goals in teaching will be discussed from a classical viewpoint.

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Collaborative Musicals: Building Students, School, and Culture

There are still many challenges to overcome and issues to consider as we slowly climb our way out of the pandemic. In addition to reflecting on the lessons Covid has taught us from an educational perspective, several other social issues have emerged as well that need attention in our schools and communities. So, how should classical Christian educators respond? How do we wisely navigate these issues and stay faithful to our mission?

Join our panel of heads of school from across the country as they discuss and share wisdom and insight, plus the lessons they’ve learned over the past few months. Hear about what policies and practices worked and which ones didn’t.

Benjamin Vis

Ben Vis holds degrees in Vocal Performance and Music Education from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and he is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Christian Leadership from Houston Baptist University (graduation date of August 2021). Ben has directed a number of large-scale musicals including: Phantom of the Opera, Fiddler on the Roof, Les Miserables (School Edition), Sound of Music, Guys and Dolls, and Thoroughly Modern Millie, and he has also directed several Junior productions (Into the Woods Jr., Hairspray Jr., and Getting to Know Once Upon a Mattress).

Gradi Evans

Gradi Evans serves as the Fine Arts Coordinator for the Geneva School of Boerne. Her education includes a Bachelor of Music and Master of Arts in Music Education from the University of South Carolina; as well as EdD coursework from Arizona State University.

Doug Hurt

Doug serves as Geneva's Theatre and Theatre Tech Director and Speech Coach. His education includes a Bachelor of Science in Art Education, and he has completed a Master of Divinity from Sioux Falls Seminary.

The Liberal, Common and Fine Arts

Over the past three decades, Christian classical schools have championed the recovery of the liberal arts and discovered lost wisdom in the Trivium as the arts of language and the Quadrivium as the arts of mathematics. But while unearthing these treasures, many have also noted C.S. Lewis’ warning in The Abolition of Man. If we do not reimagine our contemporary approach to technology, we should shudder to think what applied “modern science threatens to do to man himself.” Wendell Berry and Matthew Crawford likewise have challenged us respectively to recover the Art of the Commonplace and revision Shop Class as Soul Craft. As it turns out, neither the liberal arts nor the common arts can be recovered in isolation, but together they “form the articulation of a joint.” Josef Pieper has not only described this but also how the fine arts must be joined to these others because they remind us “how to see.” This session will explore how the Christian classical curriculum authentically holds together the Liberal, Common, and Fine Arts through its cultivation of wisdom and virtue in the context of Christian worship and liturgy.

Ravi jain

Ravi Jain graduated from Davidson College with a BA and interests in physics, ancient Greek, and international political economy. He worked at various churches, received an MA from Reformed Theological Seminary, and later earned a Graduate Certificate in Mathematics from the University of Central Florida. He began teaching Calculus and Physics at The Geneva School in 2003, where he has developed an integrated double-period class called “The Scienti c Revolution.” In this class the students read primary sources such as Galileo and Newton in order to recapitulate the narrative of discovery while preserving the mathematical and scienti c rigor expected of a college-level treatment. During his tenure there, he co-authored The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education. He has given more than 100 talks and workshops throughout the country and overseas on topics related to education, mathematics, and science. He has two young boys, Judah and Xavier. A er the duties of the week have been discharged (by 8:53 Saturday night), the few remaining hours he enjoys spending with family, friends, and his wife, Kelley Anne, whom he met in Japan.

The Play’s the Thing

There is a story going on around us. It began before time and reaches to infinity. And it is a story: a sequence of events, not random, but full of meaning. Man plays his part through action; his deliberate movements influence, change, and even cause events. We are all actors in a play so huge and various that we may pass through it only vaguely aware of anything but our own parts , unless, as Chesterton says, “the play is pared down to [our] tiny sight”.

So Aristotle in his Poetics points to The Story, though not by that name, as a first principle. He presupposes that events are purposeful and meaningful and have connection with one another and with us, as they influence and are influenced by us. But to grasp these purposes, meanings, and connections we must examine events in units small enough to comprehend. He calls the presentation of these small units the “imitation of life”, in which we represent a particular experience that we may hold it before us, and, by examining it, glimpse experience itself, and acknowledge the natural order of things. Art, then, for Aristotle, is the process by which some part of the Story is imitated and thereby apprehended, whether by the historian or the poet, whether what is described is “the thing that has been” or “a kind of thing that might be.”

Imitation of a part yields discovery of the whole, which in turn yields delight as we recognize the Great Story in its elements. When we recognize that something has been accurately rendered, we experience amazement and pleasure, even if the thing rendered is not in itself delightful. Any accurate imitation teaches us the Story; even when order is proved by the shock of disorder, or congruity is demonstrated by the shock of incongruity, the pattern delights us, even if we are persons of limited capacity. So a child is delighted to learn something of order and disorder when he shouts, “Look! that man has his hat on upside down!” He is seeing a small scene in the Story. And we are not surprised when Aristotle reminds us that the principal way a child learns is through his own imitation of events.

We are also not surprised when Aristotle points to drama as the trunk whence all other arts branch, since drama is story-telling itself, encompassing virtually all other arts – dance, literature, music – in its work of imitation. For to him, rhythm , language , and harmony are the chief elements through which the Story is imitated, and it is in drama that we experience them in their full, natural fusion. Through these together we apprehend what is knowable. Through their rich and original commingling in drama, Aristotle says, man can tell how he influences and how he is influenced, how his part “fits” into the great pattern of the Great Play.

How different this is from the modern approach, which atomizes life to understand it and dissects living art into its disciplines the better to serve the fragmentation. What then of Aristotle’s “rhythm, language, and harmony”? Neither rhythm nor harmony can exist in fragments, and deconstructed language must be meaningless, nor is it odd that some moderns find
no pattern, no purpose, no Story at all in life, for they themselves have obscured the connections. They study only discrete particles; they deliver as their finished product only disparate bits of facts. They shatter the Story and then display the pieces as all that can be known.

But the commonality of things remains: We ourselves are not yet dissected; thought and action remain components of an organic whole. And in the unity of drama – thought, language, action, music, and dance moving in harmony, rhythm, pattern and purpose – Aristotle saw the great and the original means for the imitation of life, for the understanding of the Story .

We have said that drama embraces many arts (indeed, that virtually all arts were born in drama) in an essential and meaningful fusion. We have said that drama imitates life and so teaches the Great Story, including our parts in it and how best to act them. Let us illustrate what we mean.

Man begins to tell the Story by telling his family about the bear that he has encountered while hunting. He was there. It was there. He has chased it away. His children learn how to live in the woods where the bears are. The story is retold; the very language becomes an essential element of it: the sound and the style of the teller are imitated. The listeners are delighted as they recognize him, and also as they recognize something larger: this could happen to them. Their hearts pound. And so a drum is added. Someone becomes the bear and someone else, the hunter, and now we see: This is what it looked like. This is how bear and hunter moved. They move to the drum. It is happening to the actors. They remember. The bear was like this. The fear was like this. The observers shout the fear. The victory was like this. The observers sing the victory. The next time, they are the chorus. It will be told this way again and again. Language calls for heightened language which calls for drums which call for movement which calls for actors which call for chorus and for song. The story becomes stylized in its telling and the elements of its telling become controllable – and powerful – as they become freighted with convention. Finally, many have seen the bear. Many have seen the man. They have been the bear. They have been the man. They are delighted. They have learned that there is fear, and there can be courage, and there will be victories. The play has caught them up into the Story.

We have spoken of arts branching from the trunk of drama. The tree we had in mind was the entire process by which man imitates and apprehends the Great Story. The roots are language itself. The trunk is that living fusion of all means of expression which so vividly conveys experience. It is drama in its original and richest form. As we move up the trunk the patterns represented become more and more universal and abstract but retain organic unity with events, and all arts are employed in their imitation. Then the tree branches, as modes of expression, separate one from another. The main branch is now written language and it is largest, but still smaller for its separation from the rest. One side of the tree has branched into what we now think of as the separate arts. The other side of the tree has branched into what we call the separate sciences – each side of the tree regarding the other as “other” indeed. If we drew the whole tree we would see that it is all one thing. But we do not often look at it that way. We tend to see only the branches. (Indeed, some admit no unity either in the whole of life, nor in our modes of apprehension.) These are the fragmentarians we noted above, who saw off the branches and then assert that their unity was only in the mind of the beholder.
But this is short-sighted. It produces vast numbers of people who know what wind velocity is but are shocked at what hurricanes do and know not how to pray as one approaches.

Let us take children and slide down the trunk with them. Rich, living drama with its unity of thought, word, action and arts teaches powerfully. For young children are act-ors by nature. They encounter their world on a physical level. That is why they put so many things in their mouths and why one can generally distinguish the sofa of a child-blessed family from that of a less populated household. Children understand action, crave action. They need to move and they seek understanding of their surroundings through movement, at least observed, at best, performed. It delights them, as cartoonists and TV people have understood. But action need not teach false lessons such as those taught by the advertisements on children’s TV. Action may plainly reflect massive elements of the Great Play, for actions are sequential. Actions cause, and actions have effect. Actions are of varying duration. Actions are controllable. Some actions are more fruitful than others especially in a moral universe of purpose, plan, and meaning. And here Aristotle reminds us again of the principal way children learn : by imitation of action.

And drama is just that imitation of action which, when accurate, produces delight, and delight in learning, a powerful means of awakening and enlarging the minds of children especially when approached low down on the trunk at its richest, most inclusive level where the whole child, eyes, ears, hands, feet, tongue and brain, may be “caught” by the play, and caught up into the Great Drama which surrounds us.

Consider the power of historical drama – surely the closest to original drama. As man meets bear and triumphs, so Thomas More meets Henry VIII and triumphs in an even greater way; and how vividly the child actor grasps both the historical event and its place
in the Great Story. He has seen the tyrant; he has seen the beleaguered saint, and the courtier and the compromiser. He has been the tyrant; he has been the saint, or the courtier, or the compromiser. He has spoken as them; he has listened to them. He has sung their songs and heard their music. He has acted their actions after them. How clearly he grasps the details which elucidate and make accurate this image of the event. He may even learn to love to learn dates, not begrudgingly, merely for the glory of good grades, but as he prizes birthdays; each significant event is “born” into something larger on dates, in time. Most importantly, he has learned once again in his flesh and blood that great theme of the Story: There will be danger; there can be courage; there shall be victory.

And so with all great themes of the Story, even those that may seem most abstract. For example, if sequence is not real, as the fragmentarians suggest, then all things are inconsequential , and children may never need basic skills such as tracking , or sounding out the sequence of letter sounds, or understanding that 900 B.C. is closer to our time than 1900 B.C. As it happens, sequence is real. We may ask any child who has taken part in a play, that is, who has “become” part of that formal sequence of events. To actually move one’s whole body from one place to another in space on cue teaches something about the reality of sequential events that simply cannot be as vividly conveyed by mere talk.

If cause and effect is not real , as the fragmentarians hope, then all actions are insignificant, and children must be excused from determining, as they read, what is significant and what is not, and from finding any significance at all in the apparently unconnected events of history; so also all mathematics must remain for them an impenetrable mystery. But, by “doing” drama, students learn, in their very muscles, to control each cause, to produce an effect: the gesture, the movement, the tone of voice, the word, so that it becomes clear how each causes a reaction: the fight, the exit. Each cue is cause for something to happen. Surely, students may learn cause and effect vividly through , say, hitting their brothers: punch causes punishment. Or, and better, the same huge pattern may be apprehended through acting out a role, being a cause, knowing ahead of time what effect must be caused , and then observing from within the play how one’s own actions do bring about change outside of oneself.

And we must continue, for what great matter is there that drama can not teach, since it exists to capture in small the Great Story itself? So, in drama, students experience something of the relationship between events and time. Things can happen more
than once. Indeed, repetition is an important and positive aspect of experience. So phrases and words and themes are repeated throughout a play to accentuate the underlying unity of what is being portrayed. In a farce, the underlining unity of ridiculousness might be punctuated by such a simple line as, “You rang?” In fact, mere repetition of the words themselves enhances understanding – it is simply true that human beings need to hear things more than once to remember them. That human beings need to hear again and again, that we need to do and experience again and again is often, by the merely modern, considered unfortunate: a flaw, or an impediment in the head-long rush to personal or societal progress . But a young child knows the satisfaction of having the same book read over and over. No poet is ashamed to repeat sounds within a work, and no musician, to repeat a motif. It is the fragmentarians, tossing their unconnected bits of experience behind them into oblivion, who have told us that repetition in the educational process impedes learning rather than enhances it. This they urge, even as they drill young soccer players daily in their skills and insist that their children practice their piano scales. Surely, mindless repetition blights education, but so also does a mindless parade of events- as-novelties. Is it not mindless to say of a Beethoven Symphony, “Heard that,” or of The Brothers Karamazov, “Read that”? Accurate imitations bear repetition and even require them that the Story behind and above them may be more fully apprehended. And that Story is replete with purposeful repetition: as the repetition of the seasons,
of morning and evening, and of the circling track of the stars. The child who learns a play, its words, its music, its movements , learns the fruit of repetition and learns to prize memorization of what is worthy. Each time he runs lines, a passage or a scene grows richer for him. Meaning becomes clearer. The whole is more interesting each time it is repeated, and in drama, every participating child learns first hand that memorization can make a thing of beauty and meaning, and make it his own, even as it makes language patterns that are new to him his own, and clear and vivid. By and large, children write and speak
as they hear. In drama, what they hear can be chosen for them and given to them in a way that technical instruction cannot emulate.

Aristotle wrote of drama evoking fear and pity from the audience, that is, fear and pity for those others depicted on the stage, and therein lies implicit the greatest advantage which drama provides in the instruction of a child. Drama draws him out of himself. He may at first force himself to do this embarrassing business of speaking, moving, singing or dancing, simply because all the others are doing it. So he will force himself past his own self- consciousness, if only for fear that by failing to do so, he will draw more attention to himself rather than less. Even on this lowest level, to make himself secure, he must set himself aside. And, indeed, he must, for if he does not, the others will surely let him know what he has spoiled by
his absence. And “spoiled” in fact, for if the play could go on without his part, it is a flawed play; Aristotle is quite right: “That which makes no perceptible difference by its presence or absence is no real part of the whole.” Plainly, in any good drama, there are no unimportant parts.

But beyond this, the child who participates in drama learns to set himself aside, not only for the sake of his popular appeal , but also for the sake of the character he represents . This child learns to say, “I am a boy, but since I am to be a kangaroo, I must not act like a boy. I cannot walk as I please; I must hop. I must lose myself in kangarooisms, and to the best of my ability, forget who I am in myself.” For the sake of the character , a child cannot simply assert. “I don ‘t talk with a Southern accent. I am a New Englander.” He must leave his own speech patterns and drawl instead. On the way, he learns about himself in a way that leads far from self-absorption. Rather, he learns who he is and how he habitually acts, so that he can consciously choose to “leave himself” and act with self-control. As a precious side-product, he learns that his feelings of chilliness, puckishness, or itchiness (or loneliness, anger, or jealousy) need not dictate his behavior. “I am timid,” he may discover; “but as this character, I need to behave as someone who is overbearing.” And the freedom he finds may be life-long. At the very least, the next time he needs to be quiet or to be amiable, he will know that his behavior is a matter of his own choice.

But above all, the child who has taken part in drama learns to leave himself not only for the sake of his peers, nor for the sake of his character, but simply, for the sake of the truth. He learns to say not, “Look at me,” but rather, “look at this,” that is, the play. In order to imitate the event chosen from the Great Story, the actor forgets himself and everything that would impede the understanding of the audience, that they may know, learn, and be delighted by whatever part of the Great Story is being represented before them. In his way, he is like the parent sacrificing sleep for the infant, the soldier sacrificing his life for the common good. Indeed, it is training for such acts which echoes and portrays the highest event of the Great Story.

To lose oneself in and for the truth of the Story: this is the highest lesson drama can teach. In drama the child learns that what is larger than he is objective, and that he may enter it, whether we speak of historical drama teaching him the objective reality of history, or of comedy teaching him the objective reality of our finiteness and frequent folly. Either way, he has set himself aside
in search of what is outside him. He has practiced that selflessness which makes objectivity possible. If he has dared, he has come to know that the Story is not centered on him, but that in comprehending it he may take his place in it. And he knows he must. The Author has written him in.

Event on event, character after character enters the stage and nothing is random; there is an author with a purpose, to which the actors must yield. There is order and meaning in the whole, which the actors in every word and movement must serve. Whatever is not of the play hinders the Author’s intent and is mere distraction and obscurity, and must be denied . So students who
have experience in drama understand the call to leave themselves behind to seek and serve the Author’s purpose. They have rehearsed it. They have learned to dismiss and refuse what does not serve the telling of the Author ‘s tale, even if it be in themselves.

And if it is true that we are all born , in Luther’s phrase, incurvatus in se, that is, coiled on ourselves, it is
hard to imagine a means of education more useful than drama, by which we may not only imitate and learn
the patterns of the Great Story, but also be drawn out of ourselves to know and act within that Story now, in the present ignorance, until ignorance ends and imitations are needless and we enter the endless happy ending .

Hearing Heavenly Harmonies

In the early 1960s, Flannery O’Connor addressed a group of English teachers concerning the aims and methods
of teaching fiction. She said that she (as a novelist) and the teachers “should be able to find ourselves enjoying a mutual concern, which would be a love of the language and what can be done with it in the interests of dramatic truth.” Having rejected a view of literature which was moralistic or utilitarian, she declared: “It is the business of fiction to embody mystery through manners, and mystery is a great embarrassment to the modern mind.”

O’Connor assumed that the teachers she was addressing were eager that their students not be captive to the prejudices of the modern mind. After all, she knew (as expressed in one of her letters) that “if you live today you breathe in nihilism.” Since the modern mind was disoriented, popular fashions and fads in literature and typical habits of reading were disordered. So the challenge facing the teacher of literature was a great one. “I don’t know whether I am setting the aims of the teacher of English too high or too low when I suggest that it is, partly at least, his business to change the face of the best-seller list.” Teachers could effect such a change by instructing their students to attend to the form of literary works, since “the form of a story gives it meaning which any other form would change, and unless the student is able, in some degree, to apprehend the form, he will never apprehend anything else about the work, except what is extrinsic to it as literature.”

In an essay written at about the same time, O’Connor offered advice for the selection of fiction to be taught in high-school classes. She concluded her brief remarks by anticipating an objection: “And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed.”

The work of teaching everything, not just literature, is about forming taste, about guiding the loves of students. The modern mind, as Miss O’Connor knew, finds such a task uncongenial. Modern men and women resent the idea that their emotional responses need to be trained, since modern thought has taught us that our instinctive, untrained desires are the most honest, the most sacred part of our being. We have come very far from a Christian, or indeed, a classical anthropology and psychology.

The classical tradition—reaffirmed by the Christian tradition—insists that education is nothing if not the training of the affections. As C. S. Lewis observed in The Abolition of Man (his most important book), “Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could either be congruous or incongruous to it— believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence, or our contempt.” Lewis also noted that St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it. “Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics: but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful.”

It is heartening that a growing number of Christian educators are recovering an understanding for the lost goals of teaching. But there is a great deal of ground to be retaken. The most challenging recovery involves our perception of music. As is well-known among the readers of this journal, music—along with arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy—was one of the four disciplines included in the quadrivium, the “four ways” which completed the classical trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and which together comprised the seven liberal arts. If you wanted to prepare to study theology and philosophy in a medieval university, you had to study music first. Music was the experience of the numeric realities of the cosmos, in time, through the senses. Even today, people describe music as a way of ordering time, or a way of perceiving the order that is time. One of the manuscripts in the library of Johann Sebastian Bach was a treatise on counterpoint written in 1725 in which the author, Johann Joseph Fux, referred to “art which imitates and perfects nature, but never destroys it.” This idea, first articulated in Aristotle, was one that the very Lutheran Bach also embraced. As Bach scholar Christoph Wolff argues, “For Bach, art lay between the reality of the world—nature—and God, who ordered this reality.” In Bach’s thinking and in his compositional efforts, musical structure—harmonia, in the Latin terminology of the day—ultimately refers to the order of nature and to its divine cause. Or, as one of Bach’s students wrote, “Music is a mixed mathematical science that concerns the origins, attributes, and distinctions of sound, out of which a cultivated and lovely melody and harmony are made, so that God is honored and praised but mankind is moved to devotion, virtue, joy, and sorrow.”

In his biography of Bach, subtitled The Learned Musician, Christoph Wolff presents Bach as a musical Newton, as a man consciously committed to discovery of and delight in the ways of God in creation, specifically as those ways could be known in musical form.

Bach believed that there was a perceptible order in the universe, an order that should serve as a model for human making and doing, for art, as well as for science, for our relationships, for law, for agriculture, for politics, and, perhaps most importantly, for the life of the Church. In other words, in this older way of perceiving reality, cultural institutions and forms were not to be arbitrarily or capriciously or willfully engineered and selected, but developed and approved in faithful resonance with the order God has established in the cosmos. The goal of education was to help the student perceive and delight in that order.

But even by Bach’s day, the apparent glimpses of the transcendent in music and in other forms of artistic expression were coming to be regarded by many as wishful thinking—not so much because their view of music was more modest, but because their view of the cosmos was changing. In our time, that transition has long been complete. “Nowadays,” writes Jamie James, “most scientists would accept the thesis that the cosmos has no underlying logic in the classical sense, but is rather a confluence of accidents, which are governed by laws. However, the laws themselves are irrational and do not arise from any fundamental orderliness. The concept of the universe as a random, meaningless place was expressed on the earthly level by the theory of evolution: the mutations that determine the course of life on earth, and indeed the very creation of humankind, were revealed to be largely fortuitous events.”

Since the modern mind denies an underlying cosmic order—denies, that is, that the world is a Creation of a Creator—artistic forms are regarded as arbitrary and capricious expressions of entirely personal imaginations. Any effort by teachers, parents, or church leaders to train the taste—especially musical taste—can only be understood as an unwarranted exercise of power. “Elitism” is the charge commonly leveled at such efforts, since, as music critic Julian Johnson has observed, in our day, “in matters of musical judgment, the individual can be the only authority.”

Christian educators, indeed all Christians , need to examine more critically this assumption of the modern mind. As Johnson explains, the view that musical taste is purely private and subjective is a peculiarly modern assumption.

This is in sharp contrast to the relatively minor status of individual ‘taste’ in Western musical practice and aesthetics from the ancient Greeks until the late eighteenth century. To an earlier age, our contemporary idea of a complete relativism
in musical judgment would have seemed nonsensical. One could no more make valid individual judgments about music than about science. Music was no more ‘a matter of taste’ than was the orbit of the planets or the physiology of the human body. From Plato to Helmholtz, music was understood to be based on natural laws, and its value was derived from its capacity to frame and elaborate these laws in musical form. Its success was no more a matter of subjective judgment than the laws themselves.

Our belief about making judgments about quality in any art form is now captive to what art critic Jed Perl has called “laissez-faire aesthetics,” which, he writes, “has left us with a weakening of all conviction, an unwillingness to take stands, a reluctance to champion, or surrender to, any first principle.” This relativism in aesthetic judgment is simply a part of a larger modern suspicion about all value judgments, a suspicion that has been described by Alasdair MacIntyre and others as “emotivism,” “the doctrine,” as MacIntyre explains, “that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character.”

The displacement of many of our society’s artistic standards by the enchantments of entertainment is an indication of cultural decline with a complicated set of causes. Among them is an ever-more radical celebration of the autonomy of the individual self and a hostility toward authority; an increasing suspicion that the past has anything useful or instructive to offer us; a growing impatience with cultural pursuits that are demanding on our time or intellectual effort; an aversion to the idea of cultivation and a celebration of forms of expression that are untutored, instinctual, and allegedly “authentic”; and a fascination with anything “transgressive” coupled with cynicism toward the maintenance of a tradition.

It is the flourishing of these mentalities that has led to “laissez-faire aesthetics,” and to the indifference within our society to the greatest achievements of the Western cultural tradition. In his 2007 commencement address at Stanford, National Endowment for the Arts chairman Dana Gioia commented on this forfeiting of artistic opportunities: “I worry about a culture that bit by bit trades off the challenging pleasures of art for the easy comforts of entertainment. And that is exactly what is happening—not just in the media, but in our schools and civic life.”

And it is happening in our churches as well. The Church once assumed a role of cultural leadership, believing that it should set a good example for her neighbors, not just in morality and theology, but in forms of aesthetic expression: in architecture, in poetry, in art, and in music. Today, it is a rare congregation in America that assumes that responsibility.

This negligence has very sad consequences for the Church’s testimony. If we add momentum to the prevailing assumption in our culture that our engagement with Creation—including the sonic order in which music resides—is to be defined only by personal preference, and not by something actually residing in the nature of things, how can we hope to bear witness to a Sovereign Creator who ordered all of reality, and who stands in judgment against those who reject his ordering of things?

Music is a great and unique gift from God, and the Western musical tradition that developed into what we commonly call classical music was in significant ways shaped by the influence of the Church in its desire to cultivate the full and remarkable capacities of this gift. By failing to sustain a mature appreciation for the capacities of music within the Christian community, we lose one of the greatest resources God has given us to assist in bearing witness to his glory and to something of the glorious order he has imparted to Creation. Christian students are in need of the training of affections with regard to beauty no less than with truth or goodness, although they are culturally disposed to resent it even more. But particularly with regard to music: if music really is the unique merging of spiritual and material, of temporal and eternal, of intellectual and emotional realities, if it is the perpetual activity of angels and the eternal destiny of the redeemed, then its capacities shouldn’t suffer from neglect or carelessness or expediency or impatience. Like the Kingdom to which it bears witness, it is a pearl of great price, worthy of sacrifice, diligence, and joyous discovery.

Fine Arts and the Liberal Arts

The three “absolutes,” according to classical thought, are the true, the good, and the beautiful. Postmodernists say “there are no absolutes,” insisting that truth, goodness, and beauty are all relative. Christians and cultural conservatives in general tend to disagree when it comes to the objective, transcendent reality of truth and moral principles, but they often sound just as postmodern when it comes to beauty. They say of aesthetic judgments what postmodernists say of truth claims and moral principles, that they are nothing more than subjective preferences, that they are just personal choices, that one position is just as valid as another, and that they don’t really matter anyway.

The whole category of “beauty” seems to be slipping away, to our great impoverishment. Not that the visual arts are in decline. Neil Postman warns that our culture is becoming more and more visually-oriented at the expense of language itself. Our major cultural artifacts are now movies, videos, online imagery, and product design. Classical educators must remain champions of the book, but teaching about the fine arts can help students navigate the new visual landscape. More importantly, it can help them develop aesthetic standards so that they can tell the difference between what is beautiful and meaningful and what is ugly and trivial. Having an education in the fine arts can also help students grow in their tastes as they learn how to take pleasure in what is objectively worthy.

The fine, the useful, and the liberal arts

Classical education is built around the “liberal arts,” which many people assume incorrectly to be about “artsy” things as opposed to what is “scientific” or “practical.” But the word “art,” in the classical sense, simply means “skill,” referring to the human capacity to make and do things. The liberal arts are the skills necessary for the formation of a free human being (the Latin word for freedom, liber, giving us both liberal and liberty).

Then there are the useful arts, the skills needed for practical living and for contributing to the economy. Thus we have the art of farming and the art of medicine. Today we would consider being able to drive a car or to be proficient on a computer as useful arts.
The fine arts are skills exercised for their own sake, making something sheerly for its meaning and its beauty. “Fine” refers to the purity of its motive. When you scribble a picture in your notebook, you are not trying to do anything useful. You do it for your own pleasure because you can. A good artist can draw a picture to hang on a wall, allowing others to enjoy it. I myself would classify sports as a “fine art,” since running and throwing and playing games are being performed for their own sake—as opposed to performing these activities in a useful art, such as hunting or warfare—but more usually today the term is used to refer to the purely aesthetic creations of the visual arts (painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, and the like).

To be sure, the liberal, the useful, and the fine arts overlap. The visual arts as employed by a graphic designer or a filmmaker can have a commercially useful end. A liberal arts education, in teaching skills such as reading and logic and arithmetic, can be quite useful. Music is an aesthetic creation with all the qualities of the fine arts, though it is also categorized as one of the seven liberal arts. Drawing used to be taught as part of the liberal art of geometry. My thesis here is that the fine arts should be incorporated into a liberal arts education because they too are helpful in the formation of a free human being.

Classical art

The fine arts in Western civilization—we will focus on the visual arts, but this also applies to literature, music, and other aesthetic creations—have tended to vacillate between two styles and approaches: the classical, which is based on imitation of an objective order, and the romantic, which is based on creation and human subjectivity.

Artists working in the classical style try to capture the appearance of a natural scene, a human face, or a universal truth. Classical artists will arrange colors and shapes into more or less realistic images, arraying them according to time-honored principles of composition and design.

Artists working in the romantic style are trying to create something that has never existed before. They are typically expressing themselves, that is, trying to find an external form for their subjective emotions, internal struggles, or personal preoccupations.

Classical education, one might think, would emphasize the classical approach to art. But it is not so simple. In reality, each work of art in any style will typically contain elements of both. A very realistic painting will still be marked with the artist’s creativity.
A very expressionistic painting will still draw on the objective qualities of color, light, and composition. Some abstract art comes from the artist’s own inner impulses, but other abstract art follows classical aesthetics in its concern with geometric shapes, experiments with color, and aesthetic designs.

Also, classical Christian educators must remember that creation is a distinctly Christian concept. Pagan civilizations, including the ancient Greeks and Romans, had no conception of creation ex nihilo (from nothing). Even in their so-called creation myths, the universe is made out of some kind of pre-existing matter. That pagan art is based on imitating the natural order comes, at least in part, from pagan nature-worship and idolatry. This is why the Ten Commandments warn against the religious use of “graven images,” including “any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). The ancient Hebrews, like today’s Muslims, would not make representative art. Instead, they cultivated non-representative art—swirling lines, geometric shapes, intricate colors, and other abstract forms (think of the complex designs on Persian carpets). Not that the Bible absolutely forbids representational art—the Temple was full of it, by God’s command—but later Christians would see all of the arts as a faint shadow of God’s creativity carried out by human beings made in His image. Early Christians rejected the truth of the pagan myths, but preserved them as delightful and instructive stories, thereby inventing the concept of fiction. Medieval story-tellers cultivated the genre of fantasy—known as “romances”—and their visual artists illuminated manuscripts with intricate abstract designs.

So Christians should not be immediately dismissive of non-representational or Romantic art. One could argue, though, that in our highly-subjective, self- oriented culture, it is the classical approach to art that is getting short shrift today and needs to be transmitted lest it disappear. Also, the elements of classical art have served as the foundation even for the best experimental, expressive art.

So classical schools should teach classical art. Just as they teach “the great books,” they can teach “the great paintings.” In doing so, they will study the whole array of artistic styles and how they demonstrate in different combinations both imitation and creativity.

Art and Classical Pedagogy

The way art is typically taught in today’s progressive schools is to give young people the opportunity to make their own art. Kindergartners smear paper with finger paints for their parents to put up on the refrigerator; high schoolers cut out pictures from magazines to make collages to express how they feel. The romantic approach to art with its creativity and focus on the artist’s self- expression is the only kind of art even considered.

A liberal arts approach to art education is not concerned with turning out professional artists—there are specialized vocational schools for that, which can come later for students with that calling—but with the universal human appropriation of beauty. We don’t ask young people to write novels before they learn to read them. Not everyone has artistic talents, but everyone can learn to enjoy and learn from a work of art.

A liberal arts approach will not take art simply as an isolated, highly specialized field. Rather, it will show the connection of the visual arts to other fields—history, literature, philosophy, theology, and to other art forms such as music and architecture—as well as to the human condition that transcends time and place.

John Ruskin, for example, said that the teaching of drawing is the best way to teach morality. The kind of realistic drawing that he had in mind requires students to think outside themselves, to attend to the objective universe, thereby subordinating themselves to the real world. Both art and morality require such a mindset.

Classical pedagogy revolves around the trivium— the three liberal arts of grammar, logic, and rhetoric— which applies well to the teaching of the fine arts, not just as a developmental model but as a conceptual guide for teaching.

There is a grammar of the visual arts, the basic facts, information, and concepts that make up the elements of a work of art. Students would learn the color wheel, how all colors are combinations of the four primary colors. They would learn about shapes and forms, materials and techniques, the laws of perspective, and different composition strategies. They would learn about the various genres of art—landscapes, portraits, still lifes, narrative paintings, abstraction, etc. Eventually, they would learn to recognize different artistic styles and how to recognize the work of a particular artist. They would gain a vocabulary with which they can talk about art and reflect on it.

The logic of art would involve learning how to understand a work of art. Why is this work significant? What does it mean? How does it mean?

This is more than simply identifying the world view that lies behind the painting. That can be part of understanding a work of art, but often Christian approaches to art neglect the artfulness of the work. Instead, they use art as a prop to talk about worldview issues. The worldview of the artist and the times may be part of understanding the “logic” of the work of art, but a study of the art itself must involve understanding the artistic issues as well. What does the artist do to express his worldview so powerfully? Why is this painting so treasured after so many worldviews have come and gone? What makes this painting so great?

The logic phase of learning about art would study important works of art and important artists.
It would arrive at aesthetic standards and practice evaluating works of art. In classical pedagogy, logic is taught by “dialectic”—that is, by talking about the works of art, discussing them, with the teacher asking questions that lead students into their own discoveries and insights.

The rhetoric phase involves students creatively applying what they have learned in their own projects and compositions, which can be done with art as well as with language. Here students
do create art of their own—drawing, painting, filmmaking—but instead of the progressive mode of starting and ending with the making of art with little attention to learning about the arts, classical pedagogy will encourage creativity working from the foundation of aesthetic knowledge and understanding.

The result will be art students who know what they are doing. They will not all have artistic talents that will turn them into artists. But they will know enough about an art form, including having tried to do it themselves, that they will appreciate seeing it performed well. They will constitute what artists need and what the arts themselves need in order to thrive, an informed audience. And the students themselves will, as they grow up, become the beneficiaries of beauty, as it is connected to the other absolutes of truth and goodness.

“Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France?” The Art of Drama

As Shakespeare noted in his introduction to Henry V, drama is the work of imagination. By word and glance, by pause and movement, the story told through drama communicates vividly, whether it be one of Shakespeare’s plays on a stage or acting out a story about “the big one that got away” as you talk with your neighbor over the back fence. But in this day of television and movies, laptops, iPads, Kindles, and YouTube, is there still a place or need for drama in a good education? In this seminar we will consider characteristics unique to drama and explore both the benefits of this art and its use in classical education.

Nancy Sattler

Nancy Sattler, a native of Toledo, Ohio moved with her husband, Dr. Paul Sattler and their four children to Lynchburg, Virginia in 1985 where she helped start New Covenant Schools. From its inception she has desired to share her love of literature, poetry, language and drama and has encouraged her students to enjoy memorizing and reciting poetry and participate in drama. She was the director of the school plays for years and currently teaches Drama at NCS while pursuing a Master's degree in her other love, Latin.

Where do the Fine Arts fit in Classical Education?

Classical Education is enjoying a lively revival. But where do the Fine Arts fit? Music may be part of the Quadrivium, but how do we apply the Ancient concept of “music” to modern times? What about Drama, painting, architecture, and dance? Is it enough to tackle a sampling of masterworks?

Carol Reynolds

As a musicologist, Dr. Reynolds specializes in eighteenth-century Russian music and German Romanticism. She directed the Study-in Germany program for Southern Methodist University, where she was a Professor of Music History for twenty-one years. Upon retiring, she moved to a ranch and began designing Fine Arts curricula for high-schoolers. Her unprecedented multimedia "Discovering Music: 300 years of Interaction in Western Music, Arts, History and Culture" (2009) was followed by "Exploring America's Musical Heritage" (2011). She is now filming a history of Sacred Music from Jewish Liturgy to 1700. A Native Virginian (B.A. Hollins, M.M., Ph.D. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), she studied at the Leningrad Conservatory in the 1980s and continues to perform She lectures regularly for arts organizations such as The Dallas Symphony, Van Cliburn Concert Series, the Kimball Museum and Smithsonian Journeys.

A Christian Classical Paradigm for Math and Science

Have you ever found yourself at your desk thinking, how do I teach math and science classically when they seem so modern? In this session, we will discuss how teaching, using an intuitive balance of wonder, work, wisdom and worship allows us to recover the ancient categories for math and science like the quadrivium, natural philosophy, and simple delight in God’s creation. We will explore how employing this paradigm bridges the gap between the need for relevant contemporary application and the goal of staying true to the wisdom of the Western Christian liberal arts tradition.

Ravi jain

Ravi Jain graduated from Davidson College with a BA and interests in physics, ancient Greek, and international political economy. He worked at various churches, received an MA from Reformed Theological Seminary, and later earned a Graduate Certificate in Mathematics from the University of Central Florida. He began teaching Calculus and Physics at The Geneva School in 2003, where he has developed an integrated double-period class called “The Scienti c Revolution.” In this class the students read primary sources such as Galileo and Newton in order to recapitulate the narrative of discovery while preserving the mathematical and scienti c rigor expected of a college-level treatment. During his tenure there, he co-authored The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education. He has given more than 100 talks and workshops throughout the country and overseas on topics related to education, mathematics, and science. He has two young boys, Judah and Xavier. A er the duties of the week have been discharged (by 8:53 Saturday night), the few remaining hours he enjoys spending with family, friends, and his wife, Kelley Anne, whom he met in Japan.