Harmony and the Oneness of Opposites: Teaching Music Theory through Aesthetic Realism

Edward Green


With examples from Bach, Chopin, Stravinsky, Ellington, and Monteverdi, this paper provides an answer to the question: "What is the best way to motivate students to learn music theory?" By relating it to the questions people face in life! And the most effective, accurate, exciting way to do so is through the Aesthetic Realism teaching method, created by the great American poet and educator Eli Siegel. According to Aesthetic Realism, art and life have in common the Opposites: the very substance of the world and our emotions, and likewise the technical basis of music. As Siegel explained: "In reality opposites are one; art shows this." Central technical concepts in harmonic theory are considered in the light of this philosophic idea, and the work of various theorists is cited in support of it, including Zuckerkandl, Schönberg, Schenker, and Toch. The essay also addresses two ethical matters inseparable from effective pedagogy: how to bridge the gap between "art and science," famously described by C.P. Snow, and how to recognize the temptation, for student and teacher, alike, to establish our personalities on the basis of contempt rather than respect-a danger Eli Siegel did more to unearth and explicate than any previous educator.


Harmony; Aesthetic Realism; Eli Siegel; Music Education

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