Whose idea of culture?

Impromtu variations on ‘I saw three ships’ as an organ voluntary in Chettisham Village Church this morning and on to our city’s new supermarket for coffee and the Observer. It is on stilts and so you can park under cover before hearing the injunction to stand still on the escalator soon overwhelmed today by the sound of Ely City Band in great form with French horns delighting in their Jingle Bells counter melody. Music as culture lived.

Other manifestations of culture have caught my imagination in the last week. There was the recreation of the first Nine Lessons and Carols from Truro Cathedral, news of the carolling in the pubs around Sheffield, conductor Mark Elder, talking about his recreation of a little known Offenbach work Fantasio and the City Academy, Hackney’s Christmas Concert. Of course, in one sense of the term, culture is everywhere, however, for the powerful, culture is something to be administered and contained.

So, I am again wondering about the idea of culture and whose idea of culture are we beholden to in our music education?

I have been reading Thomas Hardy and enjoying all the references to music thought of as having social meaning and being of value to groups of people in social circumstances very much in the here and now, the there and then. This is how it seems to be with the Sheffield pub carolling with at least five settings of While shepherds watched and where singers move between bass line and melody and sometimes keep repeating the final sections simulating spontaneous togetherness. There was something of this in Hackney where the concert was a mix and mash response to the diversity of a lived global-local culture with Handel’s ‘And the Glory’ challenging the young people’s gospel styled voices to find another voice. In this view culture is something forever renewing itself springing to life from the socio-political realities of lived experience, sometimes alternative, sometimes resistant, sometimes compliant. But there is another view of culture, a more restricted one, the one being administered by the powerful.

Our music education is currently moving in response to a national plan for music, a cultural plan, a new curriculum and Ofsted’s reading of the runes. Whose idea of culture is moving on the waters? Ask the SoS for Education.

But rest assured there will always be a struggle for culture. The pupils and staff of the City Academy, Hackney may know rather more about culture than those wielding political power. At the end of ‘And the Glory’ the compere commented: ‘And the Lord should be mightily pleased with that’. Watch this space in 2014.

(See ‘The Idea of culture’ Terry Eagleton and ‘Culture Counts’ Roger Scruton, and their Youtube debate)

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