International Journal of Education & the Arts

Volume 5 Review 1

March 12, 2004

Sullivan, Timothy & Willingham, Lee. (Eds.) (2002). Creativity and Music Education. Toronto: Canadian Music Educators Association.

 250 pp.
ISBN 0-920630-11-1

Reviewed by Magne Espeland
Stord/Haugesund University College, Norway

I felt a certain sense of expectancy, achievement and renewal when receiving “Creativity and Music Education,” edited by Canadians, Timothy Sullivan and Lee Willingham. This was not because the title of the book was introducing me to something unknown or new. Rather, it reminded me of a belief that I had almost discarded: Arts Education, and in this case, music education, with the knowledge and practical experience accumulated in the phenomenon called “creativity”, harbours an important key to development and renewal of our post-modern societies. I was also reminded of the Canadian Murray Schafer, one of the great international pioneers of musical composition in schools, who once told me how he was expelled from his Canadian music conservatory in the late 1950s because he was too “creative.” And the book reminds me, as well, that we are past the 50th anniversary for J. Paul Guilford’s famous keynote address to the American Psychological Association in which he launched “the commencement of the modern-day study of this topic” (according to Peter Webster, p. 20, in a chapter of this book).

Accumulated experience in different fields of creativity

I have no idea whether Schafer and Guildford knew each other or knew about each other, but their pioneering activity in this field represent very different aspects of “creativity”: the practical, artistic and pedagogical, versus the theoretical and psychological. Starting with these pioneers and thinking back, what we have behind us is half a century of practical and theoretical accumulated experience and knowledge in very different, yet seemingly closely linked, aspects of creativity. It seems very appropriate, therefore, and in Schafer’s spirit, to issue a Canadian book on creativity in music education, which boldly announces that it wishes to have an international flavour and that this is the first issue in a series “with the mandate of focusing on the connection between research and practice.” (p. xiii)

Eighteen writers (quite a few from outside Canada) in 17 chapters approach the complexities of “creativity” in music education in a number of different ways. The reader is invited to share reflections on creativity in connection with such different aspects as “outdoor camp life” and “internal thought processes.” This variety is both the strength of this book as well as its weakness. Strength—because it demonstrates how the thinking about creativity in music education has invaded every part of the music subject: performing, composing as well listening and analysis; weakness—because it makes it very difficult to develop a qualified opinion about what the phenomenon of “creativity” in music education is, or to use a Husserlian concept, what the essences of this concept are.

Organization of the book

The editors try to solve this problem of complexity by dividing the book into four sections: Creative Perspectives, which comprises four chapters by Goodkin, Webster, McLennon and Clarkson; Creative Processes, the largest section, comprising seven chapters by Wiggins, Lowe, Reid, Prieto, Shand, Hanley and Spurgeon; Creative Pedagogy, another five chapters by Morin, Sullivan, Byrne, King, and Cohen, and finally: a 10-page Creative Postlude by Wiegold.

Peter Wiegold’s Creative Postlude is unlikely to be an attempt at summing up or concluding on the complexities of the previous 16 chapters, but in a way he does so indirectly (and with a good sense of humour) by defining creativity as one of “the most natural ways of learning”, which is: “messing about until a solution or invention is found”, (p.240). He shows us how creativity can blossom when connected to musical essences like a triad, or a drone and gives my reading experience of his chapter a touch of catharsis—in much the same way as playing or listening to a good piece of music after an intellectually demanding teaching or writing session.


The first section, Creative Perspectives, shows us that it is, indeed, possible to have different perspectives when approaching “creativity” in music education. The chapters include positions that can be designated as cognitive, pedagogical, magical and mystical respectively and confirms my impression that the concept of creativity needs another go before it becomes clear to us what the essences of this phenomenon are and how it relates or should relate to music education. For now, it is easy to agree with Sean McLennon that “as is evident, there is no, one, universally accepted definition of creativity, yet alone of musical creativity”, (p.48). I would like to add, though, that even if we reach such a definition, it might not be what music education needs, bearing in mind that diversity in thinking as well as action and practice seems to be one of the essential aspects all the writers ascribe to creativity. Sean McLennon is the critical voice in this section and he does so convincingly by questioning some basic axioms of creativity theory, e.g. whether creativity really acquires a special mode of thinking or whether our understanding and practice of creativity in music education needs a “model.” (pp. 40-41)

On a critical note of McLennon’s analysis, I would like to point out that he gives few clues about how to approach these fundamental questions and that he ought to have read Peter Webster’s chapter in this section (10 pages earlier) before analysing Webster’s theory on his first conceptual model of creative thinking from 1987.

The Wallas legacy

One interesting observation of the chapters in this section (and even a few in the following section) is that they all seem to be indebted to the British Graham Wallas’ classical work, “The Art of Thought”, from 1926. Doug Goodkin, in his Creative Education, the opening chapter of the section, maintains that “artists in all fields need unstructured time left alone to follow their Muse”, (p. 11); Peter Webster, in his revised 2002 model on creative thinking, has kept Wallas “stages” in the thinking process (except that “incubation” now is called the more prosaic “time away”) p. 27/28; McLennon suggest that “illumination” might be a “myth”, (p. 39), and Austin Clarkson, in his concluding chapter “A Curriculum for the Creative Imagination” seems to embrace Wallas’ theory completely and advocate the view that students can “put their trust in the confluence of conscious and unconscious forces in the tertiary process.” (p. 67)

There is no doubt that Wallas’ work has been important to creativity theory even though J.P. Guilford in his keynote address from 1950 ridiculed Wallas’ contribution and referred to it as a theory that “tells us almost nothing about the mental operations that actually occur” (Guilford 1950, p. 451). It should be noted, however, that Wallas in his impressive endeavour of trying to create a theory of the very art of thought, introduces a comprehensive thinking model inspired by such diverse sources as the German 19th century physicist, Helmholtz, and the British romantic poet, Shelley. After referring to Helmholtz’s 70th birthday speech at an 1891 banquet as the inspirational source of Wallas’ first three “stages of control” as he calls them—preparation, incubation and illumination—Wallas goes on to reveal that what he has in mind is not a specific system explaining a limited area of the art of thinking, but something generic and general:

..and it must always be remembered that very much important thinking, done for instance by a poet exploring his own memories, or a man trying to see clearly his emotional relation to his country or his party, resembles music composition in that the stages leading to success are not very easily fitted into a “problem and solution” scheme. Yet even when success in thought means the creation of something felt to be beautiful and true rather than the solution of a prescribed problem, the four stages of Preparation, Incubation, Illumination and Verification of the final result can generally be distinguished from each other.” (Wallas 1945, pp. 52-54) 

It should also be noted that Wallas’ ideas seems to be deeply rooted in 19th century romanticism and Freudian psychology. He seems to be profoundly inspired by Shelley’s change from “what he called Reason to what he called Imagination”, (ibid p. 95). He refers to Shelley’s belief in the Platonian axiom that poetry is “the supreme form of intellectual creation” and that “there is no one in the world who deserves the name of Creator but God and the Poet” (ibid, pp. 95/96).

With this background in mind, it is easily understandable and reasonable that the section on Creative Perspectives reveals different positions amongst writers standing on Wallas’ shoulders. Wallas’ impressive volume from 1926 is ambitious to the extent that his attempt at bringing cognition and reason, Freudian psychology, romanticism and imagination, into one big theory, inevitably results in his followers ending up in some corner of this landscape. What is a bit worrying, though, is that the writers in this section seem to reveal that there is some confusion as to what they are discussing. Is it creative agency—in terms of creative actions; or creative thinking—in terms of stages or aspects of mental processes; or creative strategies—in terms of recommendable programs for arts production, musical learning and music education? Maybe it is time for a post-Wallas period of theorization about what creativity in music education is and means.

What is a creative process?

The second and largest section of this book is labelled Creative Processes. Reading these chapters made me realise that we probably have very different understandings of what the concept process means. None of the seven chapters of this section goes into the core of what creative processes as such are, or how they do or should develop in music education. (Readers who have a special interest in compositional processes may benefit from my article “The African Drum: The Compositional Process as Discourse and Interaction in a School Context” (Espeland, 2003).) Instead they seem to deal with different aspects, not only of creative processes, but of creativity as an educational phenomenon. Wiggins writes convincingly about the meaningfulness of students’ creative experiences in the generalist classroom; Lowe links creativity to questions about attitude and motivation; Reid is into advocacy for starting and continuing creative activities in the classroom; Prieto shows us how improvisation can be used as a starting point for composing a song; Shand gives us a very useful (I imagine especially for Canadians) glimpse into the Canadian history of creative projects in music education from Murray Schafer onwards, and adds some good advice for future actions in this field as well; Hanley brings in the ever important questions about evaluation, and finally David Sprurgeon informs us how he tries to foster creativity in dance students. Much can be said about the different chapters written by these fine scholars, but the most refreshing to me was no doubt Spurgeon’s way of giving me a cross-art insight into different aspects of the creative process. His small and carefully thought out tags for the creative dance process, like “invoke ‘the pretend’”, “encourage humour”, “leave home”, “provide protection”, “just do it”, “in tuition” and “structured flexibility”, suggest an educational programme and strategy that seems to be relevant not only for music, but for any “age-old natural process of ‘thinking and making’” as composer John Paynter describes creative processes (Paynter 2002, p.224).

Creative Pedagogies in conflict

Readers of the third section, Creative Pedagogy, will benefit a lot from starting their reading with the last chapter of the section, Cohen’s “teacher training perspective.” She makes an important distinction between (1) “creative work as an end in itself versus (2) creative work as a means for teaching some skill or concept”, (p.235.) She also describes very vividly her reflection-in-action approach to helping students of music education by providing them not only with the theoretical “knowledge, but also the pedagogical skills to become a capable guide [for others] through the creative process.” (p. 219)

Morin’s chapter gives us “an instructional model for composing with children” and has as her starting point something she calls “a core working knowledge of music elements” which “requires a rudimentary, but intellectual grasp of rhythm, melody, and harmony” (p.156). In doing so, she signals a clear cognitivist position and places herself in Cohen’s second category (above), even though she admits that “the most authentic celebration, however, for any music creator, is when the composition “jumps” off the page and onto the stage in a concert-like setting” (p.163).

Timothy Sullivan’s “Creativity in Action” signals a very different position from Morin’s by linking creativity to “the dual airs of mystical significance and practical dismission” and by placing creative thinking as the very opposite of rational and logical thought. (p. 179/180). His way into teaching creative thinking in the classroom is “through the most primal of teaching modalities: play and games” (p.180).

The Scottish author, Charles Byrne, invites us to enter into “A Spider’s Web of Intrigue” to share with him some insights acquired through composing lessons on the world wide web. One of the insights is a warning against creating “correct answers” type activities which could be labelled “Closed Critical Thinking Activities.”

In the last chapter of this section Gerald King advocates nothing less that “a paradigm shift in the rehearsal procedures for large ensembles”, from a perspective that is teacher-centered to one that is student-centered. His critique of the norm in large ensemble classes, which is the teacher-centeredone, is that such approach “stifles creativity.” For him creativity seems to offer the hope of new solutions to old problems and as such he seems to be operating in both of Cohen’s categories of creative work—an end in itself as well as a means to solve “problems” in pedagogy.

Another volume

Initially in this review I signalled that this volume on “Creativity in Music Education” has strengths as well as weaknesses. I have already mentioned one of the strengths: the diversity in approach to a complicated phenomenon and the individual qualities of the majority of the articles. By saying so I will also underline that the book makes an important contribution illustrating what music education is and has become in the past 50 years.

Some of the book’s shortcomings are connected to some missing voices. I find it strange, for example that the volume contains so few references to John Paynter’s impressive work from the 1970s onwards, and why are there no African voices in a discussion of the topic of creativity and music? This question might have to do with the advice I would like to give for a follow up volume on creativity and music education. In my opinion international music education needs (an)other book (s) on this topic which is less cognitivist in nature and which focuses on creativity and music education as cultural action. To explain what I mean I will turn to the American philosopher, Wayne Bowman, for his advice to music education in a forthcoming book on music and the body on how to make music matter:

Educators in particular have tended to urge that music matters because it is cognitively substantive: a valid point of course, but one that requires far more elaboration and qualification than is generally attempted. Left on its own, this argument tends to buy into the prevailing notions that to be cognitively substantive is to be rational, that what minds do primarily is “think,” and that the proper measure of such endeavour is its clarity, orderliness, and so forth. Music becomes a mind-centered and mind-contained, psychologistic affair, purged of things like muscle, blood, bone, struggle, power, politics—in fact, most of the things that make it momentous. This leaves the body in an awkward place, if any place at all, and neglects music’s status as cultural action (Bowman, forthcoming 2004).

What needs to be done then, is to turn our focus from “thinking” and “action” as separate entities to an enactive, embodied account of creative cognition inseparable from action. Only then will we remain true to the essence of the creative arts in education and only then will others see that our form of creativity contains an important key to development and renewal of our post-modern societies.


Bowman, W. (2004, forthcoming): Cognition and the Body: Perspectives from Music    Education. In L., Bresler (ed.) Knowing Bodies, Moving Minds: Towards Embodied Teaching and Learning. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Espeland, M. (2003). “The African Drum: The Compositional Process as Discourse and Interaction in a School Context.” In M. Hickey, (ed.). Why and How to teach Music Composition. A New Horizon for Music Education. pp167-192. Reston: VA: MENC.

Paynter J. (2002). Music in the school curriculum: Why bother? British Journal of Music Education, 19(3)

Wallas, G. (1945): The Art of Thought. London: Watts & Co, The Thinkers Library No. 136.

About the Reviewer

MagneEspeland is Associate Professor of music education at Stord/Haugesund University College in western Norway. Here he teaches music education at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. His speciality is curriculum studies for the general music classroom and research courses for music education. His publications include a number of books on music listening, composing and performing (in Norwegian) and articles in American and British journals. He has presented internationally in a number of different countries and currently serves as a member of the Board of the International Society of Music Education (ISME).

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