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[I've reposted my original question below followed by some comments based on the SMT-Talk discussion]
"The past several years I have attempted to make classroom activities and assignments as practical as possible for future performers, educators, and ensemble directors. As a result, I find myself spending less and less time on realizing a figured bass. I still teach its history and its usefulness in modeling voice leading, but I have trouble justifying for myself the skill of turning figured-bass notation into voice leading. I realize this is still a performance practice in very specific performance situations, but as far as I'm aware, not beyond that.
For those who feel that realizing a figured bass is an important part of a musical education, I would welcome any insight you have to offer since I feel uneasy about marginalizing such a widely-used portion of the curriculum. For those that spend little time on realizing a figured bass, I would welcome any thoughts you have as well."
After seeing the direction many of the comments have gone, I'd like to state some premises that may have not been as explicit as I had intended:
1. I teach figured bass and do not ever plan on changing that. This includes its historical context as a performance practice and a theoretical concept. My students learn how to use figured bass notation as a tool to model voice leading with a greater specificity than Roman numerals or lead-sheet symbols allow (Though I agree with many posters that as a jazz pianist, I can anticipate voice leading in a jazz ensemble based purely on a chord chart).
2. I concede that *if* a theory class has a keyboard component, realizing a figured bass is an excellent way to teach students how to extemporize the same types of excercises they traditionally do on paper. However, my question refers to a very specific activity in which an instructor gives students a figured bass at their seats and they "translate" that into particular harmonies and four-part voice leading.
3. In a four-semester theory sequence, one must prioritize. Choosing to spend more time on in-class presentation, student teaching, in-class performance of voice-leading assignments, or performance implications of analysis than on figured bass is not an indictment of figured bass. Likewise, chosing to spend increased time working out figured-bass excersises is not an indictment of those activities.
I look forward to reading more of your comments!
Brian Hoffman (Is a signature redundant on SMT Discuss?)