Stanford University

News Service


NEWS RELEASE

3/17/03

CONTACT: John Sanford, News Service: (650) 736-2151, jsanford@stanford.edu

COMMENT: Virginia Day, daughter of Wolfgang Kuhn: (650) 321-3815

George Houle, professor emeritus of music: geohoule@stanford.edu

Paul Lorton, professor of management and information systems, University of San Francisco: (415) 422-6185, lorton@usfca.edu

Wolfgang Kuhn, professor of music and education, dies at 88

Wolfgang Kuhn, a pioneer in the development of computer-assisted instruction in music who taught at Stanford for more than 25 years, died Monday, March 10, at his home on the Stanford campus. He was 88.

"He was one of the shining lights of music education," said George Houle, a longtime colleague and professor emeritus of music.

Kuhn, a professor emeritus of music and of education at Stanford, was born in 1914 in Leipzig, Germany, where he attended school and studied violin until 1927, when he immigrated with his family to the United States. He received a bachelor's degree in music in 1936 from the University of Illinois, where he later returned to earn a master's degree in music (1943) and doctorate of music education (1953).

He headed the music education programs at both Illinois and the University of Colorado-Boulder before joining Stanford in 1958; here he oversaw graduate programs in music education at both the School of Education and the Department of Music.

"He was a wonderful teacher and had some really excellent students in music education who have gone out and been leaders in the field across the country," Houle said.

Kuhn took a great interest in the Suzuki method of music instruction, and he was instrumental in bringing Shinichi Suzuki, founder of the method, and his pupils to the Peninsula during their first American tour in 1964. For many years, Kuhn held a one-week Suzuki workshop on campus during the summer. In 1982, a News Service writer described the scene this way: "Masses of tiny kids with tiny violins swarm around the Knoll, Kuhn's tall figure moving serenely among them."

Kuhn also played an important role in integrating music and technology. In 1973, with the help of curriculum and systems programmer Paul Lorton Jr. of the now-defunct Stanford Institute for Mathematical Studies in the Social Sciences, Kuhn developed a computerized system for teaching musical skills. It consisted of a teletype machine, an electronic organ and a Digital Equipment Corp. PDP-10 computer. Stanford students would descend into the basement of Dinkelspiel Auditorium, where the contraption was set up, for ear-training practice.

"Directly or indirectly, the affordable music systems of personal computers today began with the work of a few in the seventies, and Wolf was one of those," said Lorton, who is now a professor of management and information systems at the University of San Francisco.

Kuhn and Lorton made an even bigger splash with their invention of MusicMaster software, which was released in 1982. With the help of a grant from the Apple Educational Foundation, the two men developed the software to run with an alphaSyntauri keyboard, an Apple II-Plus computer, a synthesizer and an audio system. At the time, it was one of the most sophisticated systems for computer-assisted music instruction in the country.

Designed primarily to help students learn music by ear, MusicMaster drilled users both visually and aurally on identifying and playing musical scales, intervals and triads. It could correct and play back their efforts, and also offered variations on such practice-and-drill lessons. In addition, the software could maintain a cumulative record of a student's performance to allow the teacher to keep track of progress.

Both the New York Times and San Jose Mercury News admiringly noted that the system could fit comfortably on a bridge table. "It will never take the place of a teacher, but it relieves the teacher of onerous chores," Kuhn told the Mercury in 1982, the year he officially retired from Stanford. (However, he was called back to active duty on several occasions to teach courses.)

"As to music education, I think the most important duty is to awaken love of music in young people," Kuhn said during a 1980 interview with the News Service. "But on a more personal level, I regard music as an open-ended study. To the end of my life I shall always be learning more and appreciating it more."

Kuhn's wife of 56 years, Mary Kuhn, died in 1995. Kuhn is survived by daughters Suanna Breed of Kirksville, Mo.; Elizabeth Bacchetti of San Francisco; Virginia Day of Pacifica; six grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Plans for a memorial service will be announced later this year, family members said.

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By John Sanford

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