So, does the music count more than the people?

Laura Mullaly
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?


[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 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.


[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.















What is the point of First Access?

I am in the second row this year and fascinated by the quiet preparations of the assembled 110 year 3 pupils making up the string orchestra. One girl with cello is silently rehearsing a measured pizzicato involving a flowing arc of the arm between imagined sounds. Another is finding the balancing point of her violin bow and a boy sits proud on his double bass stool able to stay in tacit communication with parent.

The concert begins. Each piece has a backing track requiring the children to know their place in the music, to be aurally cued and to faithfully maintain their part.

A year ago I wrote about this annual event here

In that blog I set about justifying this First Access programme in terms of a general music education rather than a special focus on learning to play a string instrument.

Secondary school music teachers sometimes ask:

‘What is the point of First Access?’

Presumably such teachers see First Access as a promise that pupils with instrumental skill will transfer to their school. But of course this is a promise never made and one that in any case could never be kept.

In my case very few pupils continue learning their instruments after their year 3 experience.

However, watching the performance of the year 3 strings I was again convinced that here was an example of a fine foundational musical experience if not yet qualifying as an example of a fulsome musical education. (See

The question arises:

Could such experience be achieved in other ways, as part of a normal classroom music programme and as part of a broader view of music education?

If the answer is yes then the point of First Access could be sharpened and resources deployed more expeditiously.

Why no aesthetic education to age 16?

  • Michael Fordham @mfordhamhistory

Music, art, drama and dance are all crucial parts of a child’s cultural heritage. All children should be doing at least one at GCSE.

Giles Fullard‏ @rgfullard 20h20 hours ago


A broad education and one that attempts to enrich students’ cultural capital. We narrow the curriculum far too early.


John finney‏ @Johnfinney8


Replying to @rgfullard @MrHistoire

It’s the aesthetic dimension of human existence seeking meaning through artistic expression and which is culturally significant for all.



This was part of a twitter discussion set in motion by Michael Fordham advocating and no doubt elsewhere justifying the place of the arts in a broad and balanced curriculum to age 16.


I recall, somewhen about 1985 in my Basingstoke comprehensive school, the question being asked by a parent at a year 9 options evening: why don’t pupils continue their study of all subjects in years 10 and 11?


This question was asked in the public forum and alongside other parents who questioned the compulsory ‘aesthetic option’ requiring all pupils to study an arts subject post age 14. The next day teachers of art, ceramics, music, film and drama were called to a meeting with the head and deputy. We sensed that our highly prized aesthetics option was under threat. We went to the meeting armed with chapter and verse on the value of the arts. At the time There was no shortage of philosophical enquiry into aesthetic and artistic knowing and the uniqueness of this way of understanding the world. We presented the head and deputy with reasoned arguments supporting our place in the curriculum. We deployed the weight of intellectual authority with confidence and conviction.


The aesthetic option lived on and in end of course evaluations pupils expressed great satisfaction with the ways in which the uniqueness of the arts had enriched their lives. It was part of a comprehensive comprehensive school education, a result of progressive 1970s thinking reviving a liberal education and saving education from a lazy traditionalism.


Now, some thirty years later there is the EBacc and the arts are excluded and only a few enlightened liberal educators feel confident enough to sustain an argument for a post 14 aesthetic education. Some point to the compulsory nature of English and English Literature and all that is offered there in the cause of an aesthetic education. But many will have noticed a general shift in discourse towards a certain view of rigour, competence and functionality. The idea of an aesthetic dimension to education is now unheard of and long silenced to be replaced by myopic reductionist notions of knowledge.


You will notice that I am talking of the aesthetic dimension of human existence in preference to Michael Fordham’s focus on cultural heritage and Giles Fullard’s cultural capital.


I do this not to deny these things but to remind us that there is an existential component to education that challenges dominant ways of thinking about knowledge and the prevailing limited ways in which culture is construed.


Pupils between the age of 14 and 16 will be wanting to give meaning to their lives through artistic expression and aesthetic experience and there should be a broad range of options available across a school’s aesthetic offering.


Did you know that the first proposal from the DfE in respect to the formation of the new GCSE examination in music was that 80% of the marks should be allocated to a written paper and that the ABRSM graded theory exams were considered as a model?


Interestingly, in the final reckoning there is a component of the exam referred to as ‘knowledge’, not aesthetic knowledge, not the wonder of occurrent knowledge. personal knowledge or embodied knowledge but, you’ve got it, propositional knowledge.


Alas, our current political masters have a poor grasp of the order of things.








Just imagine the music

This morning I went to a local supermarket and headed for the newspaper stand. As I approached, a song came into my head, from where, I don’t know. It was so strong that I found myself singing it, albeit quietly, as I found my newspapers. The song – See the conquering hero comes by Handel. I was feeling upbeat for some reason. But where did the song come from? I hadn’t consciously willed it and it wasn’t an ear worm. Once it had come I was in full control of it and once I got to the end there was no involuntary return.

The poet Stephen Spender writes:

‘There is nothing we imagine which we do not already know. And our ability to imagine is our ability to remember what has already once been experienced and to apply it to some different situation’ [1]

I assume that we all have an unconscious life of fantasy feeding our imaginations, including our musical imagination. Well, there it was in my long-term musical memory and awoken by my mood of the moment and being applied to a specific situation.

There’s a lot of talk about musical creativity less about the musical imagination.

John Paynter had something to say about it.

‘Every conscious involvement with music in performing, composing ”and” in listening is the result of an independent imaginative response. It can not be quantified or reproduced exactly a second time. It is personal and individual. No matter how much we analyse the mechanic of a piece of music, or pay attention to what other people tell us about it, music will not ”happen” for us unless we ourselves enter into the particular sound world it inhabits.’ [2]

Yesterday I enjoyed very much the compositions of the year 7s of the City of London School for Girls performed in the Museum of London where they had been working all day and responding to ‘The City is Ours’  (see

There were eight newly created works, none of which I or the girls could possibly have imagined at the beginning of the day. Their teachers I imagine entered into the day without giving much thought to ‘learning’, rather more thought to the subtleties of their teaching and being sensitive to the personhood of their pupils. (I like the idea of teaching without learning. [3])

What seemed important about the girls’ musical work was its uniqueness, and this means that it is irreplaceable.

Perhaps it’s time to stop, think and cherish the human imagination and its capacity to remake the world. I wonder if today the girls will be experiencing involuntary visits of their Museum Music. I am going to have a silent sing of that song.


[1] Spender, S. (1982) The Making of a Poem in Creativity (ed) P. E. Vernon, Penguin Books.

[2] Painter, J. (1982) Music in the Secondary School Curriculum. Cambridge University Press.

[3] See Gert Biesta’s ‘The Rediscovery of Teaching’, Routledge for the significance of this proposition.

Creating a music curriculum

In my recent blog The year 9 class and their changing musical behaviour (see I cited the thought of Carolyn Cooke, one of the editors of Learning to teach music in the secondary school (3rd edition). In the recent symposium reflecting on that book at the Research in Music Education Conference at Bath Spa University Carolyn also spoke about Chapter 5 in the book, What is a music curriculum? written with Gary Spruce. Carolyn explains how her two chapters are linked:

‘It is this overriding principle of young people’s agency which tie together the Behaviour for Musical Learning chapter and the What is a Music Curriculum?’


‘This chapter was conceptualised as a provocation – asking music student teachers to consider their own views, images, and experiences of the term ‘curriculum’ and then providing the resources and ideas with which to critique, and conceptualise curriculum in different ways. This ‘opening up’ comes in two forms in the chapter. In the first half, the term curriculum is itself scrutinised introducing the concepts of ‘curriculum as content’ and ‘curriculum as product’, arguing that both are reified forms of curriculum in which the document, content, objects within it become seen as concrete, fixed, unmoving and one in which young people have little to no agency. This is then contrasted with the concept of ”curriculum as a lived experience”, where young people become the curriculum makers. Cornbleth defines curriculum in this view as ‘an ongoing social process comprised of the interactions of students, teachers, knowledge and milieu’ (Cornbleth 1990). It is within this interactional, or ‘dialogic space’ that the curriculum isn’t just enacted, but is created.

The second half of the chapter explores this notion of curriculum creation by starting out with a metaphor used by Doll of the ‘Dancing curriculum’ – where nothing is fixed, or static (Doll in Fenwick et al. 2011). Where everything (resources, materials, environment, knowing, meanings, experiencing) are moving and dynamic and therefore where the curriculum is always evolving or emerging in response. It is here that complexity theory helps us to conceptualise what this means for re-conceptualising what a music curriculum is.’

The chapter sets out eight tasks for the reader and by the end they should have quite a lot to say about ‘what is a music curriculum?’ I think many of us would be a little tongue tied in answering this question or perhaps have only a summary phrase or two,

It seems to me that at the present time we need Carolyn’s chapter to sort out quite a bit of muddled thinking about our music education. I hope you will read the chapter.





Is Meighan’s curriculum model more useful than the ‘Informal, Non-formal; Formal’ one?

I have noted that the blog republished below, and first published at, has over time attracted a lot of attention. That is, the number of readers rather than comments.

In this republication I have made a few changes.

What is musical autonomy?

If a goal of education is to develop self-governing critically engaged citizens, and if this is considered fundamental to making a democracy, then there needs to be a carefully considered balance between autonomy and heteronomy. These are big ideas. First autonomy.

The idea of ‘autonomy’ emerged from the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, that time when we came to understand ourselves a bit better and imagined that with the aid of rational thought we could make progress and achieve a more perfect state of humanity. Most haven’t given up on this despite disappointments. [1]

The idea of being an autonomous human being is very attractive. We take this to mean that we exercise the capacity for self-government. Our actions are truly our own. We have agency and we can act authentically. [2] Music teachers like the idea of pupils having autonomy over their music-making. Autonomy is thought to be a good thing and a worthy goal.

But autonomy has an antonym, heteronomy, meaning ‘under the will of others’. This is interesting because until recently it was under the will of others that autonomy was thought to be achieved – the will of the parents, school, the teacher, peers, examination boards, for example.

Education’s big idea, the achievement of what has been called ‘rational autonomy’, expected a submission of the will to the authority of the past, its store of knowledge, know how and the formalities of the school.

This noble educational goal was to bring students to a point of rational autonomy through taking them beyond what they already knew or felt at home with. Education released the student from being bound to their immediate context and limited experience. Their thinking would become ‘context independent’. It was the school and the teacher who were vested with the authority to mastermind this process.

This is in strong opposition to another discourse where it is argued that heteronomy must give way to autonomy in order to make space for students to express their opinions and to participate in the making of their musical cultural environments. [3]

While there is currently much energetic and enthusiastic rebalancing of the autonomy-heteronomy scales, little attention has been paid to defining the curriculum in these terms. The focus has been on pedagogy. [4]

In Ronald Meighan’s view the place to start is to be clear about how the curriculum is defined. A conception of curriculum precedes pedagogy. [5] Three possibilities are offered.

Consultative Curriculum
Imposed programme; student given regular opportunities to input thoughts and feelings. Feedback can be reflected upon by the teacher and modifications made.

Negotiated Curriculum
Power sharing between teacher and student is increased, and where a common understanding is developed between both about the course of study that is to be undertaken

Democratic Curriculum
The learners create, deliver and review their own curriculum.

In the book ‘Masterclass in Music Education’ secondary school music teacher Eleanor Man analyzes the move from a consultative to a negotiated curriculum. [6] A remarkable degree of trust was built up between teacher and pupils opening up the possibility of an ongoing mature dialogue about how the curriculum might unfold. The teacher’s authority was enhanced. The pupils became self-governing and critically engaged and on the road to achieving musical autonomy. The Democratic curriculum beckons. And we could begin to imagine how the three curricula could work together, sometimes emphasis here, sometimes there and with the longer term goal of achieving rational autonomy.

Meighan’s model may be more useful than the ‘Informal, Non-formal; Formal’ one.

Or a better question:

How would the two intersect?

We need better theorising about all this. Without that we barely know what each other are talking about.

Next week I introduce the reader to Carolyn Cooke’s ‘what is a curriculum’?


[1] The Enlightenment project, as it is called, has come under severe criticism expressed in the move from modernity to post-modernity. Adorno and Horkheimer’s ‘The Dialectic of the Enlightenment’ argues that the dominance of scientific rational thinking has served to dehumanize and instrumentalize society. Christopher Small’s seminal work ‘Music, Society, Education’ critiques the tradition of Western European music as being hidebound by scientific rationality.

[2] The idea that we are free to act authentically is of course challenged.

[3] See ‘Music Cultural Pedagogy in the ‘’Network Society’’’, Winfried Sakai at

[4] One example of the emphasis on pedagogy is Lucy Green’s influential ‘Music, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy’. Ashgate, 2008.

[5] See Meighan, R. (1988) Flexi-Schooling. Education for Tomorrow, Starting Yesterday. Ticknall, Education Now Publishing Cooperative.

[6] See ‘Masterclass in Music Education’, (Eds) Finney, J. and Laurence, F. 2013, Bloomsbury.