Music education’s existential strand

I was recently involved in interviewing a prospective PGCE Religious Education student. I enjoyed this. You see, while I have sought to contribute to the process of re-conceptualizing music education, I have long been interested in the way in which the process of re-thinking RE has been developing. Is it a subject that is comforting, therapeutic, socially and personally harmonising or one that demands critical attention, and that is disruptive and essentially philosophic in nature?

During the course of the interview my RE expert companion explained to the candidate, and myself, that the RE curriculum had in recent times two strands, knowledge about religion and ‘knowledge for the pupil – the existential bit.’

It was this second strand that interested me. Here was a subject that recognized what was important to the pupil’s state of being in the world, their making sense of themselves. And clearly, this wasn’t thought of as some soft, therapeutic effect. No, much more significant. Why is this that I am learning important to me in my life? So, an existential strand.

In my provocation at the recent Listen, Imagine, Compose event and in response to Fran, Ruth and Sarah, the three researching teachers, I picked up on their references to the impulse to compose.

I noted that the teachers made reference to ‘the inclination to compose’; ‘the confidence to compose’; ‘why would you compose?’; ‘more meaningful compostions’; why?’ All of this I took to be a concern that the pupil had both a need and reason to compose, that they were meaning makers. They were being viewed as not merely satisfying a compositional brief but engaged in creating work that was important to their making sense of themselves in the world.

For these teachers this meant that they had an important role to play in providing stimulus and ongoing nurture to ideas and meanings.

While we hear a lot about pupils’ musical engagement, their empowerment, their expressive voice, it is rare to hear about their musical impulse, their impulse to compose/make and where this comes from. So, I asked:

Why are children expected to compose music without first experiencing a felt provocation to do so?

Do such provocations lead to composing music that has stronger character and thicker meanings?

Why does music education have so little human interest?

Why do music teachers teach musical skills without rich content?

Consider this example.

On the day I gave the example Stuart’s composition of 1988 titled ‘Forty Years of Peace’ bringing together fragments from Dire Straits, echoes of Russian Cold War rocket launching signals and much more into an authentic musical expression. Stuart’s impulse was strong.

Ok. It can’t always be like this. But, perhaps that existential strand of education, living its sub-terrainian and often forbidden existence, might sometimes be recognized, harnessed. And I’m not sure that the inherent-delineated meaning dialectic necessarily does it.

Back to that RE interview. The high spot was our three way debate about how it all started – big bang, creationism etc. and how this would be mediated for pupils. Do you know

One thought on “Music education’s existential strand

  1. Pingback: Stepping back and seeing more… | Cade Bonar

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