They are singing our tune to their words

The second half had started with the score Norwich 0 Southampton 0 and with my tribe (as away fans we numbered about 2,000 +) bursting into song, well just two songs actually.

There is ‘Come on you Saints’ and ‘Oh when the Saints’. The first falls a minor third on ‘Saints’ and the second is faithful to the original but with a clapping accelerando leading to exhaustion and fade out. The first is sometimes sung in a way that creates an echo effect.

The chorus masters pitch the songs so high that I settle for an octave lower that regrettably contributes very little to the overall effect. The man sitting next to me making tentative efforts was floundering between octaves, so I was pleased when he eventually latched on to my pitch.

We sang with all our hearts for a good fifteen minutes after which time the other side scored what proved to be the winning goal.

Alas! The impotence of music.

Which leads me to think again about the popularity of music education advocacy [1], that unrelenting chorus of ‘did you know that music is good for you’, ‘that music transforms most if not all things’.

There’s no holding it back. My twitter feed bubbles with it. [2]

In Jackie Schneider’s New Year’s A-Z.

‘A is for advocacy: Can we stop it please it doesn’t work.’

Jackie knows something about music in our schools that many of the advocates for music and music education don’t.

You see the powers that be have long ago learnt how to soak up advocacy, bring it on, take from it, play with it, play along with it and sing its tune but with their words.

Advocacy is rather like fiddling while Rome burns. The tune may be sweet and ‘music to our ears’ but what a long way it is from

‘… a confident discourse surrounding the nature of musical knowledge, one that is understood and is fluently expressed amongst teachers and music educators; a confident discourse surrounding musical understanding; a confident discourse surrounding musical meaning.’ [3]

The past year has seen a continuation of the secondary school music teacher struggling to assert the way their subject should be within school cultures of accountability, where evidence of learning is expected in pupil’s writing, for example. And this means that the requirement is for musical knowledge to be of a propositional kind – that is, knowing this and knowing that about music, and no other kind. ‘Today I have learnt that …’

But wait, this may be coming your way in a new form. There is much talk of a knowledge rich curriculum, of powerful knowledge, of cultural capital and canons.

This will need music teachers to have a ‘confident discourse surrounding the nature of musical knowledge’, the nature of embodied knowledge, tacit knowledge, knowledge experienced, practical knowledge, aesthetic knowledge and why any of this can’t be reduced to propositional knowledge, and why there is no knowledge without meaning. I had better say more about this next week.

So we lost 1-0 with the Norwich fans finally singing our tune to their words. My disappointment didn’t last long, for to have sung in a choir of 2,000 + was good and no doubt played a part in my overall feeling of well-being as I travelled home. But much more important was the experience of being a part of music lived as culture. And therein lies the power of music.


[1] Quite a leap I know but I do have a mobile mind.

[2] Advocacy comes in many forms. I am here thinking in particular, but not wholly, of the uncritical promotional variety.

[3] From Chris Philpott’s address at a Music Education Symposium, London, September, 2014.

This quotation doesn’t do justice to Chris’ overall argument, which deals with the way music education is easily subverted by its attraction to ‘soft’ justifications.







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