Sitting by Lake Geneva (iv)

… a week later I think further about my meeting with Jean Piaget and note how much we now take for granted about human development that originated from his ideas, and how little we know still.

His genius was to investigate how children’s minds work and to show the value of creating theories about how these minds develop, and so finding better theories.

A simple point to make that is derived from this tradition of thought is that every musical utterance, every musical gesture, every musical statement placed before the teacher by the child embodies the child’s (feelingful) thought offering a window into the child’s perception, cognition, schema formation and this includes the state of their threshold conceptualisations. In other words, how they are developing musically.

Amongst the many powerful insights provided by Piaget, in conclusion I will privilege just one. This was his proposal that it was the earliest sensory-motor action of the child that constituted intellectual behaviour. Yes, sucking, looking, grasping and all those unrefined spontaneous physical gestures were acts of the intellect. These were mindful actions. They were acts of perception and cognition. The body was a thinking-feeling-knowing instrument.

And now, instead of Piaget’s stages there is the idea of ’embodied cognition’, and this as a continuity from infancy to adulthood.

This should be good news for the music teacher.

However, we note that in our systems of education the body is given low priority. Practical knowledge (or if you prefer knowing how) struggles to be recognised alongside the sovereignty of ‘academic knowledge’ narrowly defined. In music education the term ‘practical’ is too often used to imply something un-intellectual, non-theoretical and something that must be brought into the real world of knowing and knowledge through the mediation of language for it to count as knowledge. This is a grave mistake. Yehudi Menuhin has something to say about this:

Until the current flows from the toes to the fingers … and you feel the weight and movement of the body … you won’t quite “get” the music.




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