The Creative Orchestra

In last week’s blog I highlighted three analytical categories that might assist in understanding the ‘good enough’ music lesson described.

These can be thought of as dimensions of pedagogy. This week I add a fourth, facilitation, through another thick description of a music lesson better described as a musical workshop.

The four dimensions:

  1. Ethical commitment (EC)

The ethical dispositions that nurture the pupil-teacher relationship and that make teaching possible.

  1. Cultural mediation (CM)

The transmission of cultural knowledge through the medium of music, involving instruction that is responsive to the receptivity of the pupils.

  1. Body-mind engrossment (BME)

Music-making as a form of embodiment – that to know music is to perceive through the body as mind.

  1. Facilitation (F)

 Enabling the expression of musical thought.

In the description that follows the teacher as facilitator (F) comes to the fore while teacher as cultural mediator (CM) takes a step back.

So, is the distinction between F and CM useful?

Does it help to mediate in the content (what is taught) – approach debate?

How does it relate to the ‘why’ of music education, the ‘what for’ of music education?

(On the ‘what for’ see for example:

Next week a fifth dimension.

Meet the Creative Orchestra

‘Mid-day Saturday and 23 young people aged 8-13 have come to make music together in the large hall come gymnasium.

Chairs are being set out in a circle. It is the centre’s Creative Orchestra. There are violins, saxophones, clarinets, pianists, percussionists in equal numbers; harpist, bass guitarist, acoustic guitarist, cellist, trombonist and flautist. And a workshop leader (F) who I sense will be a quiet presence with a clear voice of authority and who knows a lot about attunement (F).

Still encumbered with bags and not all instruments are ready. A quiet word to move bags to their place and we are into a round the circle warm up, ‘remember to keep it flowing’: the leader sets the round in motion with a simple four beat rhythm clapped (F), class copy then the first solo from Peace, all copy and so on yielding 23 rhythmic ideas, ever more intricate and calling for ever more attentive listening (F).

And that’s how the session moves forward – everybody learning to listen, having ideas, making suggestions, having thoughts; everybody with a part to play in what is made together today with the leader ready to offer stimuli (F & CM), and who leads how I had imagined, gently attentive to fresh thinking (F), new possibilities. The stylistic generator is a group of Samba grooves (CM)


And then there is a counterpointing pentatonic melodic framework set out in the centre of the circle; D E G A B represented by five spaced objects (CM).

E has a big box, for E is to be our tonal centre. The class are shown how by stepping between the tones the melody is made and how a repertoire of signals calling for variation in durations and dynamics can be used (CM & F). And before long the class are rehearsing how to make notes really short, notes that grow louder and then as players volunteer to lead, so more possibilites emerge to be thought about (F).

Any suggestions, thought, ideas’, asks the leader (F). Some suggestions come fully formed, some convoluted, some tongue-tied inviting others to articulate more clearly before reaching their final form in the music. What a long way words can be from music.

An important part of the process is the assembling of the material (F) into a work in progress that we can all be inside for a few minutes. Then more thoughts, ideas, suggestions (F).

The class are relaxed about all this. They are learning to be still, thoughtful, circumspect, wondering, some just being, barely becoming so it seems. The harpist seems happy enough to be there with her harp. Time is not rushing on. There is none of that ‘fast pacey please the inspector stuff’ here, rather staying with the moment, indwelling the music (F). Rapid progress is a stranger here, slow learning a virtue (F).

Ibrahim take a lead and tells us that we can think of the music as being like a journey (F). Ideas are flowing faster now with contributions from Peace, Oscar, Neoma, Jo and Jessie. More leaders in turn take centre stage and confirm this way of working (F), expand tonal and rhythmic possibilities calling for music made with intention as well as deliberation (F).

The rhythm section is strong, rarely lose their grove. Frederick takes time out to teach Joe how his cabassa part should go (CM) and this is in the middle of a six minute playing.

Now Oscar suggests combining four ideas to add to the advancing sophistication of what is not actually a piece of music, rather a series of sketches that might become a piece (F).

The leader, for the first time mindful of the time, for there is a time to end the session, says, ‘seven minutes to go’ and Oscar leads the final excursion.

‘It’s a journey to an unexpected island’, says Naomi.

We are now well into the afternoon on this dull Saturday in June, it’s time to go home. Chairs away. With repose and a simple satisfaction, so it seems, the children go their way.

I wonder what will happen when the choir join the orchestra next week?’

8 thoughts on “The Creative Orchestra

  1. I’m not sure this analysis works.

    The workshop is led by a facilitator. The environment is facilitative with some cultural mediation.

    Cultural mediation facilitates musical thought.

    But cultural mediation involves content knowledge, so how much of it does the facilitator draw upon?

  2. presdalesmusic

    The distinction between F and CM is useful in the narrative but is there REALLY a distinction between the two? Surely you cannot have one without the other?

  3. Presdalesmusic, I agree. F needs CM whether a clapped rhythm or a Samba Groove or a harmonic sequence taken from BB King. The teacher (or pupil) has to bring something to the table. But how much? You could have CM that disables facilitation.
    Is the colour coding helpful or does it distract?
    I need to make a diagram. Perhaps EC should fill the whole picture.

  4. presdalesmusic

    Is this where experience comes in? How much CM does depend on EC but this is shaped by experience, knowledge and understanding of one another. F should always occur when EC and CM are balanced?

    1. Yes, very much so.

      I recently observed a trainee music teacher and CM was uppermost being unsure about how strong relationships were and therefore unsure about managing pupil responses and facilitating the unexpected. Often relationships are strong but this is hard to discern for the trainee.

      Experience, knowledge and understanding of one another enables CM and F to be played with.

      ‘F should always occur when EC and CM are balanced.’ (Presdalesmusic)

  5. davidashworth

    Hi John

    This type of analysis certainly works for me. It helps add to an enjoyable read by making it a useful read as well.

    Your question regarding how much content the facilitator should draw upon is tricky and I suspect there is no one single answer. Given that there is a considerable element of improvisation to the way sessions like this are run, the same practitioner running the same session on a different day might well come up with a slightly different set of facilitation/cultural mediations. Nothing wrong with this – all the best improvisations will comprise ‘in the moment’ responses to what is going on around and within. And these will vary from one session to another.

    But a good collection of these annotated stories will help us build up a clear idea of what good enough music sessions could and should look like.

  6. How much content does the facilitator draw upon?
    How much facilitation does the cultural mediator do?
    How does the teacher balance these roles in order to make a curriculum?
    Open questions that may help to understand music teaching as being infinitely varied yet ‘good enough’.
    And I haven’t mentioned the L word.

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