Making sense of selves in Katy’s workshop

I am sitting in a circle alongside thirty-six second and third year music undergraduates who have opted for a module in Music Education. They are an interesting mix coming as they do from a western arts based course, a contemporary popular music course and a folk and traditional music course.

Their Music Education module requires that they read my work and yesterday I answered questions that this had provoked and more generally about music education, how it is now and how it might be in the future. Many of the questions raised complex cultural and political issues but all served to open up fresh lines of thinking that helped to clarify beliefs, values and find a better purpose.

Today we are being led by secondary school music teacher Katy, through three workshops – Senegalese Drumming; Samba; Gospel.

These musical practices feature in Katy’s Key Stage 3 curriculum (only years 7 and 8, half term projects with music as part of a carousel). Katy’s school has 2,000 pupils and just one and a half music teachers, although there is promise of another. And, Katy is thankful to the Local Music Service for the loan of classroom instruments.

Ready to go now and Katy, with a lively good humour, sets about transmiting the musical material,

calmly persisting,
patiently repeating,
incrementally extending,
imperceptibly accumulating,
few words,
key words,
sometimes recoiling,
always advancing.

And as the rhythmic texture enlarges, and as we together master the rules of engagement, we seek our own solutions to the skills-challenge equation and find flow and fluency.

In the ongoing interplay between Katy and the group the locus of control is passed back and forth. Yes, there are times of impersonal learning where the acquisition of content and skills dominate but then times of personal learning as each gains control, self-regulates, gains agency, no longer shaped by the teacher, but shaping self.

The highlight of the Samba workshop comes when there are sectional breaks and when the side-drumming quartet fizz with virtuosity. I think we are by now all feeling a bit virtuous.

During the short break I chat to some of the folk musicians and I learn about the practice of psalm singing on the Western Isles.

Some claim a link to Southern Baptist gospel singing.

And that’s where we go next, singing the gospel song Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie. Katie learnt the song from here:

But this isn’t the first singing we have done. Vocal elements were part of the other workshops too, embedded in the moving and playing of instruments.

And I am interested that Katy has shown us three different ways of using the voice, helping us to find three voices, each having its particular context within the Senegalese drumming, Samba and Gospel. But I know there is another voice not heard today.

Katy told me with great delight that her Year 12 class is much attached to one of their set works, Faure’s song Apres un Reve, and guess what – their much-loved version is that of their music teacher performing it live in the classroom.

I think of Katy’s pupils as being newcomers to a world in which music has great provenance as they say, great cultural significance for people there, then, here and now. Katy’s responsibility is to introduce her pupils to a well-justified set of musical practices yielding knowledge of subtle musical gestures and novel sequences of thought helping them to make sense of themselves and the place of music in their lives and the lives of others.

In this their teacher is very important as is mastering the art of workshop-ing where the teacher is facilitator, and not just facilitator, but mediator of culture too.

PS. Would it be helpful if we made some distinctions between types of workshop-ing?


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