A little profane music education [1]

This week I took part in two quite different events, one local, one national. Locally I attended Ely Folk Club, nationally I attended the Music Education Council’s ‘The Future of Music Education for All: 2018 to 2020 and Beyond.

It was only the second time I had ventured into the world of Ely Folk and having an anthropologist’s eye I did so with the question ‘well, what is going on here?’ That’s not to say I was withdrawn or aloof from the musical experience but rather a fully participant observer with vague strands of theoretical thought lurking in mind, any of which might be triggered into fresh lines of thinking and understanding by what unfolded.

Ely Folk meet in the Old Dispensary of 1852, a narrow space and of necessity for the evening’s music, set out in rows. As on my previous visit the evening presented first a warm up songwriter prior to the main musical offering, this time a three-piece band -singer/guitarist, accordionist, double bassist.

I arrived a little early, paid my eleven pounds and took a seat in the third row and soon to be joined by a lady with her aged mother, both in jolly mood and apologising for the kerfuffle that was to follow involving cushions being taken from a bag to support mother which mother resisted before surrendering. Once settled I asked whether their attendance was regular. This led to telling me about regular attendance at the summer Ely Folk Festival and an enjoyment in general of Folk along with other kinds of music. Then the not uncommon conversation and clarification that you didn’t need to be a Folk Music buff in order to enjoy, understand and appreciate the music.

As song followed song I was struck by the depth of creativity in the lyrics, the richness of meanings, and fascinated by their sources in the mundane patterns of life. That’s the idea I know. I was catching up.

This was profane culture, the vernacular, material culture. No claim to transcendence or the sacred or any rarified notion of the spiritual. No cultural halos, no cultural citadels, no sign of gatekeepers protecting some imagined great tradition.

‘Sitting on the back seat of fate’s fast car.’

What an idea for a song.

And then what was announced as a ‘real’ folk song – the story of Lord Franklin and his ill-fated journey into the North West Passage.

At times the lady next to me quietly moved to the music and I could discern covert singing in the audience finding full voice when invited to join in with the pithy choruses.

‘This time men with checked shirts, this time ladies, this time without making a sound.’

Yes, this was didactic. It was music education for the fifty or so gathered in the Old Dispensary, all more or less of a similar age, class fraction and ethnicity. Music certainly brings people together as well as leaving them apart.

And that other event I mentioned, the Music Education Council on the next day. What fresh lines of thinking did that engender. I will tell next week.

Note:

[1] See http://www.sociologyguide.com/socio-short-notes/sacred-and-profane.php for the sacred-profane binary.

 

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Music education and its provenance?

What does it mean to be musically educated as part of a general education for all children and young people to age 16?

This is the question I have been teasing with in recent blogs and last week I drew upon the thinking of Chris Philpott and his conception of music as a language in itself as characterised by an openess to acquired and multiple interpretations where meaning and value are determined by usage in particular contexts.

Herein lies a hard-edged justification for music ‘s place in the school curriculum. [1]

I commented: ‘Alas, judging by the endless triumphalism around pupils being engaged, finding autonomy, affirming identity and unleashing their potential (all of course worthy), there would seem an endemic lapse into soft thinking about music in our present time.

Where is the hard thinking about music, thinking about how it can be tribal, exclusive and enshrine prejudice; manipulative of behaviour; gendered; reflective of social structures; propagandist; enshrining ideology?’

Well, one line of advancement in this direction I thought lay in the idea of ‘provenance’, a concept introduced by Mark Phillips HMI and added to the criteria for making judgments about a music department’s quality of provision.

Provenance seems to have two meanings, the first begets the second.

First ‘origin’, and then ‘history-lineage’; we find the term provenance much used in relation to antiques. What is its source, origin, its life history, its condition, how has it been looked after, what were/are the conditions of its practice, what was it used for, what is it used for now?

I think it a valuable idea that as I tried to show here https://jfin107.wordpress.com/?s=PROVENANCE can enhance an enfeebled notion of appraising.

If ‘musical provenance’ is important, as Ofsted have suggested, we should ask ourselves:

Is the content of what is brought to the classroom rich, thick with possibilities?

Will it defy easy assimilation and mastery?

Will it call forth thinking, raising questions about provenance?

Will it assist in giving substance to the curriculum enabling it to have a dynamic quality?

Will it be part of a musical education that ensures pupils make music well, think critically about it and become personally enriched?

Note:

[1] See ‘The justification for music in the curriculum’ in Debates in Music Teaching (eds) Chris Philpott and Gary Spruce, 2013. Rutledge: London.

A hard justification for music in the curriculum

In recent blogs I have posed three questions.

1.What does it mean to be musically educated as part of a general education for all children and young people to age 16?

2.To what extent should the purposes of music education address the nature of music as a human practice historically and contemporaneously manifest in the world? (Ontology)

3.What kind of knowledge and ways of knowing should a music education be most concerned with? (Epistemology)

In last week’s blog I called upon Chris Philpott to contribute to the debate that these questions give rise to.

Chris used the hard-soft metaphor to lead our thinking towards leaving behind soft justifications for music as a curriculum subject and thus towards reconstructing music as a subject in which ways of knowing and understanding become symbiotically tied to the act of meaning making. In this Chris is ranging across all three of my questions above.

In pursuing the idea of a hard justification for music in the school Chris sets out a way of thinking about music and therefore how we construct music as a subject of the school curriculum.

Chris’s Hard-Soft dichotomy is important because it gets us to think about on what basis we value music, how we think about what is it? Music becomes much more than simply a good fairy that exists to shower us with blessings. Instead it is something rather more complex in the way it exists within a maelstrom of human action and meaning making?

Chris points out that music can be tribal, exclusive and enshrine prejudice; manipulative of behaviour; gendered; reflective of social structures; propagandist; and can enshrine ideology.

In this way of thinking, music is already in the world, living within complex webs of meanings and continually being understood and reunderstood, interpreted and reinterpreted.

Chris’s central claim is that music be conceived of as a language. This is tricky. Or at least it should be.

In this case it doesn’t mean that music the properties of speech, such as speaking tempo, vocal pitch and intonational contours, which can be used to communicate attitudes or other shades of meaning; nor is it to see in music grammar, syntax or dialect characteristic of a musical style; but more fundamentally to see music as a language in itself, as characterised by an openess to acquired and multiple interpretations where meaning and value are determined by usage in particular contexts.

So in this way music becomes ‘hard’, a subject of immense substance demanding critical and contextual thinking.

Alas, judging by the endless triumphalism around pupils being engaged, finding autonomy, affirming identity and unleashing their potential (all of course worthy), there would seem an endemic lapse into softness in our present time.

Where is the hard thinking about music, thinking about how it can be tribal, exclusive and enshrine prejudice; manipulative of behaviour; gendered; reflective of social structures; propagandist; and can enshrine ideology?

What does it mean to be musically educated as part of a general education for all children and young people to age 16?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The constructing of music as a school subject

In last week’s blog I bounced off a BJME article to raise questions about what would make a sufficiently robust justification for music being in the school curriculum as part of an education for all pupils to the age of 16.

Justifying music in the school I suggested needed to go beyond popular causes like becoming a musician, achieving musical potential and even the beguiling idea of acquiring a strong musical identity. [1]

I asked three questions.

  1. What does it mean to be musically educated as part of a general education for all children and young people to age 16?

The question attempts to take thinking beyond the populism of much current discourse within music education or what is called ‘the sector’.

Last week I proposed that in response to this first question two more questions are uncovered.

2. To what extent should the purposes of music education address the nature of music as a human practice historically and contemporaneously manifest in the world? (Ontology)

3. What kind of knowledge and ways of knowing should a music education be most concerned with? (Epistemology)

It is these questions that need to be addressed in the ongoing construction, reconstruction and justification of music as a school subject.

Below Chris Philpott contributes to the debate that these questions give rise to by considering the ways in which, typically, music as a school subject has been constructed and by implication the ways in which it has been justified.

The construction of music as a school subject

  • What I call a hierarchical dichotomy where the arts, including music, are a balance to the harder and more disciplined sciences.
  • Instrumentalism: the notion that music somehow serves some other greater economic, numerical or literate ‘good’.

There are two seemingly contradictory nuances to this construction. Firstly, there is the construction of music as an amelioration and counterpart to a more rational and (more important) scientific world promoting a stratified, hierarchical epistemology that militates against the arts. Such a construction adopts a dualism that has subjugated music (and the arts) beneath other ‘harder’ subjects thus establishing a hierarchical dichotomy.

However, while on the one hand music is constructed as a ‘soft’ subject whose strengths lie in our inability to ‘measure’, paradoxically it is justified for its transferable and measurable impact on other aspects of our life. In a culture of accountability politicians who ‘sponsor’ initiatives and statutory curricula are attracted by evidence that can show the potential impact of music on wider educational success and thus economic good.

These notions have done music no favours, and one reason for this is that there is

  • No confident discourse surrounding the nature of musical knowledge – one that is understood and is fluently expressed amongst teachers and music educators; a confident discourse surrounding musical understanding; a confident discourse surrounding musical meaning. Quite apart from music being only a softer amelioration to a harder world, the meanings of music are complex, they’re dirty and they’re hard, and I think the justifications in the past have been very much over-sanitised in terms of why music should be in the curriculum. Part of the reason for that is this lack of confident discourse. [2]

In music education there is a lack of confident discourse surrounding the subject’s ontological (what music is) and epistemological (how we come to know music) foundations. And this is a matter of some urgency.

There is a ‘bring back knowledge’ wave sweeping through our schools. Senior leaders are asking of their music teachers to set out the musical knowledge that constitutes the music curriculum and Ofsted in their new-found interest in knowledge will be presenting an attitude towards this. Knowledge will be coming your way.

Clare is a music teacher in a Cambridgeshire school and is part of her school’s working group on a knowledge-based curriculum. Clare tells me how she is growing in confidence in articulating the complexities of the nature of musical knowledge. She is being listened to. [3]

Notes:

[1] See https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/and-all-shall-be-musicians/  for a critique of the ‘all shall be musicians’ mantra.

[2] An extract from a paper presented at the 2014 Camden Town Music Education Symposium. For a full expression of the argument see Chris’s chapter ‘The justification for music in the curriculum’ in Debates in Music Teaching (eds) Chris Philpott and Gary Spruce. Rutledge: London.

[3]  Clare recommends reading  https://jfin107.wordpress.com/?s=musical+knowledge; https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/embodied-musical-knowledge/; https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2016/10/13/knowledge-creativity-music-education-and-making-special/

 

 

 

 

In praise of the British Journal of Music Education

‘The research highlighted the tensions between different conceptions of the purpose of music education and in particular the nature of the curriculum.’ [1]

This is just one of several valuable discussion points made in the report of research carried out over a three year period into the relationship between informal learning and musical progression. It is the case of Musical Futures Champion Schools. (I recommend subscribing to the British Journal of Music Education and reading the article in full.)

For the teachers involved progression was expressed in terms of pupils

Demonstrating higher levels of attainment

Developing a wider range of musical skills

Developing a good understanding of a range of musical genres

Having mostly exceeded my expectations when it comes to improving their musical skills

Fulfilling their musical potential

 

For the pupils the development of their musical skills was expressed in terms of

Becoming a better musician

Learning to listen to music differently

Doing thing things as well as others

Feeling confident in music lessons

Having good musical skills

Having achieved a lot in music lessons

Thinking they are a musical person

‘Overall, teachers reported that Musical Futures had enhanced the progression of their students and increased take up at Key Stage 4. In some cases this had led to changes in the qualifications on offer with an emphasis on those which were vocational rather than academic. This created some tensions in catering for the needs of different groups of students who had a range of different musical skills.’ [2]

But back to the top and those tensions between different conceptions of the purpose of music education and in particular the nature of the curriculum.

The statements above provide examples of purpose and I select three which I think are popular and immensely attractive, and sound sensible reasons for engaging in the practice of music, and self-evidently so. [3]

Fulfilling musical potential [4]; being musically skilful; becoming a musician – often expressed as achieving a musical identity.

But are these sufficient in the name of a music education claiming subject status in the school curriculum and sponsored by the state?

And perhaps as important, are they sufficient in the light of the national conversation about the purposes of education in general and the place of music in the school curriculum? Much of that conversation revolves around issues such as knowledge and culture.

Hence the question that is needed:

What does it mean to be musically educated as part of a general education for all children and young people to age 16? [5]

And which I suggest might form the starting point for conceptualising both the nature of music as a subject of the school curriculum and the character of that curriculum.

And so two further questions:

To what extent should the purposes of music education address the nature of music as a human practice historically and contemporaneously manifest in the world? (Ontology)

What kind of knowledge and ways of knowing should a music education be most concerned with? (Epistemology)

Perhaps the point to make is that rarely are such questions aired let alone discussed. And in the words of John Paynter:

‘Understandably, the tendency has always been for us to skip the philosophy and go straight to the ‘’meat’’: the ‘’things to do’’. [6]

The BJME paper ‘Can the adoption of informal approaches in school music lessons promote progression?’ is to be welcomed. And it must be acknowledged that the issue under consideration was ‘progression’. But the research does provide a vivid case of a current curriculum conundrum and so offers a source for ongoing debate about purpose and the nature of curriculum.

But is such a debate welcome? Will we continue to start, as John Paynter put it, in another place?

A look at popular conference programmes (e.g. Music Expo, Music Mark) would suggest that we will.

The existential struggle for recognition, the competition for scarce resources, the gadarene scramble for declaring what works, the uncritical adoption of promotional slogans and the exigencies of liquid modernity together easily crowd out and silence possible debate or much hope of taking time out to address purpose.

Such is the way of the world and of music education.

Ah! But we do have the British Journal of Music Education.

Notes:

[1] Hallam, S., Creech, A. and McQueen, H. (2017) Can the adoption of informal approaches to learning in school music lessons promote musical progression? British Journal of Music Education, 34:2, 127-151.

[2] ibid, p. 127

[3] The development of musical skills is the way many music teachers express their core endeavours.

[4] ‘Fulfilling potential’, a term much cited by politicians as a short cut for all manner of things. I don’t know about you but I hope my potential is never fulfilled.

[5] I am labouring the point that discussing the purpose of music education in general is distinct from discussing its purpose for all children and young people up to the age 16 as part of a general education.

[6] Paynter, J. (1982) Music in the Secondary School Curriculum. CUP: Cambridge. p. 14.

 

 

 

So, does the music count more than the people?

Laura Mullaly
@LauraMullaly
Jun 16
Having a fab night at Homerton May Ball 2017 – Ceilidh and Silent Disco!! @Johnfinney8 where are you??! @HomertonCollege

 

In last weeks blog I cited Ceilidh and Silent Disco as possible examples of Thomas Turino’s category of ‘particpatory’ music making as distinct from ‘presentational’ music making.

‘Remember, ‘presentational performance … refers to situations where one group of people, the artists, prepare and provide music for another group, the audience, who do not participate in making the music or dancing.’ [1]

And ‘… participatory performance is a special type of artistic practice in which there are no artist-audience distinctions, only participants performing different roles, and the primary goal is to involve the maximum number of people in some performance role.’ [2]

Much institutional music education is predicated on the presentational mode of music making. I wonder if Turino has in mind a presentational approach common to North America in which high-quality concert performances lead the way based on a master –apprentice model of music education. [3] While this doesn’t seem to apply quite so well to the United Kingdom, when we examine the stylistic features that Turino’s ascribes to presentational music making we see, for example, characteristically closed scripted musical forms and organised beginning and ends, rather than short, open, redundantly repeated forms of participatory music, I think it does. [4]

For the presentational ‘Sound counts more than words. Music counts more than people.’ [5]

Laura went to the ceilidh and the silent disco intent on being musical where there were no artist-audience distinctions and where, like going to a party, you not only participate but also contribute to its success. The people count more or as much as the music.

In Cooke’s study of participatory music learning in a traditional society he reports on the Gaelic ceilidh as a model of social inclusion where community is engendered and individual identity celebrated. It makes room for all present, accomplished and less accomplished. Those present ‘endorse the sentiments of the song and the efforts and sincerity of the singer. [6]

In last week’s blog I suggested that music scholarship  provided a resource for music educators.

What might we take from being introduced to Turino’s categories?

  1. How could we rebalance the dominant presentational ethic with a participatory ethic?
  2. What would this mean for what is valued (assessed)?
  3. Could more attention be paid to music as a source of particular cultural values, the uses to which music is put in particular times and places?
  4. Could the music room be a place where together meaning and new knowledge is made?

Notes:

[1] Turino, T. (2007) Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation. The University of Chicago Press: London. (p. 26)

[2] op.cit.

[3] Allsup, R. (2016) Remixing the Classroom. Indiana University Press: Bloomington and Indianapolis. (p.100)

[4] See Ibid. p. 59 for Turino’s full typologies.

[5] Allsup, R. (2016) Remixing the Classroom. (p. 100)

[6] Cooke, P. (1978) Music Learning in Traditional societies. In P. Leach and R. Palmer (Eds). Folk Music in School. ISME Yearbook, 9, 99-102)

 

 

 

 

Music scholarship, music education and fresh thinking

Thomas Turino’s Music as Social Life: the politics of participation [1] is a fine example of musical scholarship and as such thought provoking. And, for me, this means that I reorder some of my conceptions of what music is, what it is for and just what is a music education. [2]

I often wonder to what extent music scholarship should shape the way we think about music education.

Thomas Turino is professor of musicology and anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign.

At the beginning of chapter 2 titled Participatory and Presentational Performance he writes:

‘Because we have one word – music – it is a trick of the English language that we tend to think of music making as a single art form. Certainly we know that there are different kinds of music. We have lots of words ranging from rather broad ones – folk, classical, world music – which are meant to encompass everything, to ever more specific labels – (rock) roots, psychedelic, alternative, grunge, glam, punk, (metal) heavy metal, speed metal, death metal. Musical categories are created by musicians, critics, fans, the music industry, and academics alike. These labels are used to distinguish styles and products, but they tell us little about how and why people make the particular music they do and the values that underpin the ways they make it.’ [3]

Turino is interested in why people make the particular music they do and the values that underpin the way they make it. In this way he is able to create two fresh categories, two frames for better understanding the nature and purpose of music making. There is the participatory and the presentational.

‘Presentational performance … refers to situations where one group of people, the artists, prepare and provide music for another group, the audience, who do not participate in making the music or dancing.’ [4]

On Friday last I was the member of an audience, mostly parents, appreciating the performance of thirty year 5 and 6 children in their choral performance. The ethic of presentational performance is a dominant one in many systems of music education.

On the other hand there is ‘participatory performance’.

‘… participatory performance is a special type of artistic practice in which there are no artist-audience distinctions, only participants performing different roles, and the primary goal is to involve the maximum number of people in some performance role.’ [5]

Turino’s examples are drawn from his field work amongst indigenous Peruvians, rural and urban Zimbabweans, and old-time North American musicians and dancers. The ceilidh, the silent disco, the Sheffield Christmas-time pub carolling are examples close to home. These are times when people gather knowing that they will in some way take part in a musical event (performance) in which all will take part. These events inspire participation because they welcome new timers and old timers alike. It’s like going to a party. You expect to participate.

Turino analyses participatory values. Unlike presentational performance values ‘the success of participatory performance is more importantly judge by the degree and intensity of participation than by some abstracted assessment of the musical sound quality’. [6]

The values and goals of presentational performance lead in the direction of abstracted assessment criteria relating to the qualities of musical sound.

I am reminded of my account of a school’s silent disco https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/putting-assessment-back-in-its-box/ and implications for the process of valuing (assessment).

In another example a music teacher highlights the distinction between Turino’s two modes.

At the end of a recent GCSE recital an informal 45 minute jam broke out, led by the students (though after a while the teachers couldn’t help but join in). Students began to play and mash together various songs that they had studied at Key stage three – Seven Nation Army, Sweet Dreams, Thrift Shop. There was a sense that the students were claiming this music as their own. The outpouring of joy was palpable (although a small number of students did not feel that they could easily include themselves in this musicking and so left.)’ [7]

The GCSE recital exemplifies presentational musical performance while the jam shows something of the participatory ethic which is likely to have had something of the intensity that Turino speaks of. Were the jamming to become a reason for the players to come together in the future then this would more fully qualify as participatory music making.

I have tried above to set out in general terms the way music scholarship and the creation of fresh categories can open up new thought. I do of course recommend reading the Turino in full to compensate for my lack of depth.

Next week I will explore some possible inplications of Turino’s categories for music education.

Notes:

[1] Turino, T. (2007) Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation. The University of Chicago Press: London.

[2] I am a restless soul in this respect.

[3] ibid, 23.

[4] ibid, 26.

[5] ibid, 26.

[6] ibid, 33.

[7] Email correspondence.