Saturday, February 13, 2016

How a maverick educator found his home at Redlands

Barney Childs leads a seminar

Ninety years ago today, composer and educator Barney Childs was born in Spokane, Washington.

Childs is remembered for his multifaceted contributions to twentieth-century American music. His 160-plus compositions span a fifty-year period, from his early choral works written at Oxford to his final ensemble works premiered at the University of Redlands. Childs pursued formal education in literature and was largely self-taught as a composer. He drew on a wide range of musical and literary inspiration, but indeterminacy, improvisation and extended instrumental techniques recur throughout his mature work. Many of his pieces require the performer to take an active role in realizing the concept behind the score.

Childs founded a record label, Advance Recordings, to make contemporary music known to a wider audience. Advance LPs helped works by William Bolcom, George Crumb, Robert Ashley and Harold Budd (among others) to see the light of day. Childs' research on contemporary composers is documented in numerous interviews, articles and his book Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music, co-edited with Elliot Schwartz.

Childs' teaching had perhaps the greatest impact on the Redlands community, as it led him to join Johnston College at the University of Redlands in 1971, just two years after Johnston's founding. Created during a time of deep social and intellectual turmoil, Johnston's founders saw problems with all of the dominant approaches to higher education. Johnston's response encompassed individualized education, nontraditional structures and innovative teaching and learning.

Childs was already familiar with experimental education from his years as a student, faculty member and dean of Deep Springs College, a tiny men's college nestled high in the mountains of eastern California. Founded in 1917 by Lucien L. Nunn, a former miner devoted to the idea of problem-based education, Deep Springs was an all-men's college comprising 25 students, 5 staff, and a working ranch with 5,000 head of cattle when Childs took classes there in the 1940s. New students were hand picked and there was no entrance fee. Students spent half their day studying and the other half working on the farm, doing everything from irrigating crops to fixing phone lines and changing work assignments three times a year.

Johnston faced significant challenges in its early days as its students, faculty and administration sought to realize their ideals and worked out the college's relationship to the greater University of Redlands. Nevertheless, the fledgling college was able to hire several new faculty each year, and an opening for a joint humanities/music position brought Barney Childs to Redlands in 1971, where he joined his friend and frequent collaborator Phil Rehfeldt, who was already on the music faculty. Childs quickly settled into life in Johnston, offering courses in "The Nature of Evil in Literature" as well as independent studies and semester courses in poetry, Shakespeare, electronic music and coordination of the student New Music Ensemble.

Childs summarized what was learning about experimental education in his 1973 article "Teaching Music Theory: The Experimental College". He observed that many students came to experimental colleges to escape overly structured educational experiences, but
that a lack of constraint - actually, the very freedom he had been seeking - can be disorienting. This sometimes results in a tendency to seek attachment to something stable, within or without: religion, political cause, mysticism, sometimes an academic discipline. He has thus moved from a closed system to an open one in which the need to find internal actualization is vital. It is to this process that the best principles of experimental education are dedicated.
Meanwhile, Childs likened the faculty experience at the experimental college to "teaching in a one-room schoolhouse: be prepared to teach everything to everybody on demand." He explained,
The very immediacy of student-faculty contact in a small school puts the teacher right out in the open; he is a member of a dynamic community first as a human being, not simply someone seen behind a desk ... 'busy' at an experimental college means interacting, regardless of the level of conversation, with someone else. The result is that inevitably one's teaching will be merely a part of his total presence.
Childs taught at Redlands from 1971 to 1994, throwing his "total presence" into his work with students and faculty colleagues. In his fourth and final Johnston commencement address, Childs commented on Johnston's unique "state of mind" which persisted even as a Center integrated within the University of Redlands. He advised graduates to "Stay aware. Stay loose. Stay prepared for surprises..." and closed with his oft-quoted Childs' Law: "If you give your very best shot, you may - just may - be good enough."

Childs' legacy is preserved at Armacost Library in the Barney Childs Collection containing his published scores, writings, photos and manuscript compositions. A growing collection of items are also available online in the campus repository, InSPIRE.

Sanjeet Mann
Arts & Electronic Resources Librarian, Armacost Library


Childs, Barney. "The Burning of the Leaves: Deep Springs as Ritual." Barney Childs Collection, Armacost Library Special Collections. Jan. 22 1967. Address.

---. "Childs - JC Commencement Address, 1964"[sic]. Barney Childs Collection, Armacost Library Special Collections. May 1994. Address. 
---. "The Obligatory Inspirational Commencement Address." Journal of Humanistic Psychology 21.2 (1981): 143-146. Barney Childs Collection, Armacost Library Special Collections. Print. 

---. "Teaching Music Theory: The Experimental College." Journal of Music Theory 18.1 (Spring 1974): 101-109. Web.

"Deep Springs: The School in the Desert." Times Educational Supplement 20 Nov. 1948: 653. Barney Childs Collection, Armacost Library Special Collections. Print.

Fox, Jim. "Barney Childs in Memoriam." 21st Century Music. March 2000: 9-10. Web.

Rehfeldt, Phil. Letter to Barney Childs. Barney Childs Collection, Armacost Library Special Collections. 3 Nov. 1970. TS.

---. Letter to Barney Childs. Barney Childs Collection, Armacost Library Special Collections. 7 Dec. 1970. TS.

University of Redlands. Annual Catalog 1972-1973. Print.

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