Never mind genre equality

Never mind genre equality, some musical encounters are more worthwhile than others and the criteria by which we make judgements about the quality of student’s music-making will play a part in this.

In last weeks blog I gave the example of Anna placing before her year 9 students something worthwhile, Steve Reich’s Different Trains. Justification in part rested upon the human interest that this work evokes and the unsettling knowledge that emerges. Although only sketching what might develop, the potential for depth of musical encounter I suggested was considerable. And this was at the end of Year 9, that final moment of a compulsory music education. If we consider this musical encounter to be worthwhile, valuable, then by what criteria are we to make judgements about its value?

The energetic work of Alison Daubney and Martin Fautley is currently bringing order to ways of thinking about assessment and progression in the light of the new curriculum. [1]

In Martin’s Blog [2] emphasis is placed upon thinking about assessment and progression separately. ‘… a system of progression needs to build on an assessment system’.

Assessment criteria, it is recommended, are to be topic specific, with differentiated grades (3 say: e.g. towards, at, beyond) while progression can be seen over the longer term through an account of how components of the curriculum (e.g. performing, composing etc.) show progressive attainment.

Making worthwhile criteria I think is a challenge.

Above I proposed that the criteria by which we make judgments about the quality of student’s music-making are likely to effect how worthwhile the musical encounter experienced will be. Perhaps this is obvious. Whatever, I think it worth thinking about.

This week I met an old friend, Gamelan being taught to Year 7. I am not sure whether the music was Balinese or Javanese. [3]

This got me thinking about what really counted about what was going on; for it is what we really think counts here and now that lead us to criteria for assessment. This is what I came up with.

Making sonorous
Cared-for musical gestures
Pulse tuned to tempo and its changes
Pitch pattern making
Cultural significance

I like these because they talk to each other. They seem to need each other. And lying behind them are my thoughts, shared by others, about ways of knowing music and what musical understanding might mean.

One principle might be ‘knowing how to do things well’. Skill is too cheap a word.

My profile components for the time being are:

Making, Thinking and Human Interest. My criteria are in communication with these.

In respect to Human Interest I am interested to note the revival of female gamelan orchestras in Indonesia, the largest Islamic nation in the world. I am interested in Debussy’s fixation with sonorities. I am interested in Gamelan as a combined art. A whole term will be needed as students come to set the agenda with their questions as they enter the curiosity zone. Then the thinking really begins. [4]

So what about Different Trains? What counts in this case?

I need to do some more thinking.

Devising worthwhile musical encounters calls for making choices, being clear about the criteria for making these choices and finding criteria for assessment rooted in beliefs about what it means to know music. [5]

Pronouncing genre equality doesn’t help all that much.


[1] See
[2] See
[3] Gamelan along with West Indian music, Reggae, Indian music, African music and Balinese music entered the school in the late 1970s to become the markers of World Music, a time when the study of ethnomusicology was in the ascendant and awareness of cultural diversity growing. In the wake of the seminal publication Pop, Rock and Ethnic Music in School in 1982, edited by Graham Vulliamy and Ed Lee, there have been numerous publications guiding teachers in the art of world music and there is no sign of a let up. World music, Popular music and Classical music is how the Music Teacher Magazine manages cultural plurality. This arrangement suits music publishers well. This has been reflected in GCSE syllabuses too.
[4] Teachers often say that a whole term’s work on one topic/project wouldn’t work. Boredom would set in and there is half-term assessment to deal with. As Martin Fautley points out, the Listen, Imagine, Compose Project shows how work can span a longer time frame. See also the work of Martin Said and the idea of the project and my blogs relating to enquiry-based learning.
[5] In ‘What’s with the K? Exploring the implications of Christopher Small’s ‘musicking’ for general education’ (Odendall, Kankkunen, Nikkanen and Vakeva, 2014. Music Education Research, 16 (2) 165-175) an important point is made about assessment. If Small’s musicking implies the building of a community of musickers where relationships musical and human are what counts and not individual attainment, then assessment needs rethinking. In fact it wont be assessment but the evaluation of musicking. And this is probably how community music works and the variety of informal practices. And perhaps music in school too. If this were the case the idea of ‘personalisation’ would be redundant.


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