Evolutionary music education: Robert W. Claiborne and the way man learned music (1927)


The purpose of this study was to explore and document The Way Man Learned Music (1927), a method written by lawyer, Marine captain, educator, and political leader Robert Watson Claiborne (1888–1966). Drawing influence from Ernst Haeckel and G. Stanley Hall’s theories of recapitulation, Claiborne designed a comprehensive and sequential method where students engage in primitive stages of music-making by building and playing their own instruments, including drums, pan pipes, and small marimbas. Storytelling, dance, folk music from around the world, and performance of authentic Western art music combine to form a dramatic rendering of global musical life. As such, the method bears a strong resemblance to the more widely celebrated contributions of Satis Coleman (1876–1961). Analysis of primary and secondary sources as well as interview data illuminated the complexity of Claiborne’s path to music education. Namely, Claiborne’s homosexuality, which formed the basis of an inconclusive courtmartial trial impelling his departure from military service, complicated his ability to find work as a lawyer, spurring him to pursue music education. Although a product of its time, Claiborne’s method serves as a testament to active, experiential learning that is child-centered.

Publication Title

Journal of Historical Research in Music Education