Playing with the Music: Ecologies of Attention and Understanding in the Classical Music Education Project of Sesame Street or The Bird, The Worm, and the Mushroom: Three Stories of Listening
Date of Award
Master of Arts (AM/MA)
This is a paper about the ecologies of attention and understanding evident in and emergent from the presentation of classical music on the classic children’s television program Sesame Street. The paper is written in two chapters. The first is an analysis of context, attention, and education on the program, framed through the analogy of bird-watching. I argue that the classical music education which is presented on the program deviates from the humanitarian norm of “uplift” and absolute aesthetics—the bird’s-eye view— and instead presents an understanding of music which resonates with ideas of “listening with”—the view of the bird watcher, or in the words of Jenny Odell, the bird listener who observes and is observed; who through acts of attention learns to perceive the world around them pluralisticly. If the “birds eye view” portends objective and distant observation, the bird watcher, conversely, acknowledges their interconnected participation in, and co-mutual observation with, the elements of the system that they are observing. The bird listener is too a part of the ecosystem, and understands that the birds they are watching are also watching them.
In this section I argue that while Sesame Street engages with aspects of critical pedagogy, it is ultimately resistant to educational classifications. The program is itself ecological, composed of many interacting and competing parts which create a program whose character is emergent and consistent, but not unified.
Chapter two is an analysis of classical music performance on the program, framed through the analogy of the worm-listener—they who listen as outsiders to the arcane sound of the world beneath our feet. The worm listener encapsulates the dynamic between an aerial listener and a subterranean listener encountering each other and their sensory worlds. The worm listener listens across boundaries be they physical, such as the boundary between the air and the ground, or social, such as boundaries of class, ability, or genera. This section deals with questions of parody, virtuosity, childhood, and disability. It is composed of character studies of Yo-Yo Ma and Evelyn Glennie, as they appear on the program.
Here, I introduce Leonard Bernstein’s dichotomy of education vs. pedagogy, that is, “acquainting people with new stuff they can come to love... rather than having to memorize the conjugation of an irregular verb.” I use this definition of education to contrast with the view of Classical music as uplift and analyze how this dichotomy plays out on Sesame Street. In this section I argue that Sesame Street takes part in a long tradition of classical music parody which welcomes the outsider while at the same time engages the classical music native and initiate —that is, the worm, who has spent its life embedded in the classical strata. Sesame Street neither challenges nor exalts the classical music canon, but rather serves as an enabling technology, a geophone, which allows for the aerial listener to perceive and engage with the arcane sounds of underworld.
Each chapter of the paper begins with a prologue written in first-person perspective which grounds the following discussion. If the chapters look at musical and educational ecologies, the prologues give lived context for the geological bedrock on which these ecologies are based. The paper ends, as it begins, with a final prologue. This final section compares experiencing the internet to mushroom hunting, and looks at recent media changes to Sesame Street street consumption.
Chair and Committee
Lauren Eldridge Stewart, Christopher Douthitt, Todd Decker
Attar, Eden, "Playing with the Music: Ecologies of Attention and Understanding in the Classical Music Education Project of Sesame Street or The Bird, The Worm, and the Mushroom: Three Stories of Listening" (2022). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2763.
Music Education Commons, Musicology Commons, Music Pedagogy Commons, Other Music Commons