First Access and general music education

In last week’s blog I set out the programme presented by Ely St Marys C of E Junior School’s Yr3 String Orchestra (scroll down for this).

Since the beginning of the school year ‘Cambridgeshire Music’ [1] has provided an ensemble music making programme making this possible. Specialist teachers have visited the school on Monday mornings when pupils have been taught class by class and in instrumental sections. This has been complemented by String Orchestra time on Friday afternoons.

A principle of such First Access programmes [2] is that while the year’s work is of immediate and longer term musical value, it is at the same time a basis for on-going progression in instrumental learning. The string players of St. Mary’s may, if their parents choose, continue with small group lessons. (Across Cambridgeshire the continuation rate is about 25%.) For those pupils continuing there are opportunities to further develop ensemble music making, firstly in their immediate vicinity and then county-wide and for some  wider still. In this way wider opportunities are created, in theory for all children.

But taking a step back from musical progression thought of in this way, the question in need of attention is, how does First Access fit into conceptions of a general music education for all pupils at the primary stage? After all the majority of pupils will not be on the flight path to wider opportunities.

St Mary’s is fortunate in having its own specialist music teacher able to build on the musical knowledge, skills and dispositions established through the String Project.

So what might these be?

Most fundamentally these pupils are learning how to think and feel music (often more weakly expressed as the development of aural skills). While I haven’t observed the Monday morning sessions, I know singing, moving and playing is integral, and this involves the imaging and imagining (thinking and feeling) of music whether it be absent or present.

A highlight of the Ely Cathedral performance was Concertino requiring pupils to count, listening, and play together whilst other parts were being played, a process of de-centering musical thought and a significant step in a child’s musical development.

The capacity to differentiate between musical stimuli simultaneously presented, the capacity to attend to one in the context of another is an example of what Charles Bailey refers to as a ‘serving competency’. This  is a capability that enables future ‘knowledge, understandings, makings and doings to be valuable in themselves.’ [3]

Charles lists seven dispositions that enable in this way.

(i) attend to something or somebody,

(ii) concentrate on something,

(iii) cooperate with others,

(iv) organise time, thought and actions,

(v) reason

(vi) imagine possibilities, and to

(v) inquire – try to understand [4]

So, we can say that here in Ely St Mary’s Year 3, soon to be Year 4, the pupils’ music education is serving the future flourishing of musical makings and doings, musical knowledge and understandings and greater fulfilment as part of a broad and balanced musical education. The pupils of St Mary’s are fortunate in having a music curriculum on which First Access can build.

While First Access is not designed to offer a complete music education, it can assist in contributing to a comprehensive music education that is worthwhile in itself, a music education that reveals music’s significance in human life and culture. And this will be much more than learning to play a musical instrument.

Notes:

[1] Cambridgeshire Music ‘Music Explorers’ programme embodies the principles of First Access and is targeted at the primary age range. (See http://www.cambridgeshiremusic.org )

[2] See http://www.nmpat.co.uk/work-in-schools/first-access-whole-class-instrumental-lessons/Pages/what-is-first-access.aspx

[3] See Bailey, C. (1982) ‘Beyond the Present and the Particular: A Theory of Liberal Education’. Routledge & Kegan Paul: London.

[4] Ibid page 113.

Below the children of Ely St Mary’s String Orchestra with thanks to the Ely Standard.

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