I stumbled, via facebook, across a collection of writings by author Stephen Budiansky on the nature of music education with regards to repertoire. The collection of articles can be found here. Money quote thus far,
What they play is always That Piece, as I’ve come to think of it. That Piece is not written by any composer you have ever heard of — not classical, not jazz, not pop, not rock, not blues, not folk, not alternative Czech heavy metal fusion, not nothing. You’ve never heard it on the radio, not even late at night at the bottom of the dial. It in fact exists nowhere in the known music universe — except for the twilight zone of school musical performance.
That Piece is nearly always written by someone who (a) is alive and collecting royalties, and (b) has a master’s degree in music education. It is always preceded by a very wordy description, read out to the audience by way of preparation, explaining that the piece (a) was inspired by a medley of Lithuanian folk songs and Gregorian chants that the composer heard while researching his master’s degree; or (b) depicts the journeys of Lewis and Clark and, if you listen carefully, you will hear the American Indian motif that represents the faithfulness and courage of their young Native American guide Sacagawea and then in the saxophones the sound of the rapids as the raft approaches and then the warning cry from one of the men on the bank and then the raft plunging down the rapids and then the return to calmer waters and then another set of rapids approaching and then. . . , or (c) evokes the soaring ideals we can all aspire to. (Pieces in this last category usually have “eagle” in their titles.) If I’ve heard That Piece once, I’ve heard it a hundred times. Different composers, different titles, same bombastic banality.