Music Education through the lens of Levinas (iv)

Kathryn continues:

What might characterise ethical music education?

Firstly, how might the insights developed through my study contribute to thinking within music education?

How might practices of facing within a Levinasian looking into the face of the Other provide a robust ethical underpinning for thinking about and for reorienting practice in the music classroom?

This ontological basis generates a plurality of epistemological approaches which enable and explore different aspects of music-making, but which all spring from the initial ethical impulse of music-making as ‘putting a world in common’.

This recontextualises competing ideologies of aesthetic versus praxial, for instance.

Aesthetics regains its ethical moorings, where making music is primarily a response to seeking the face of the Other, seeking to put a world in common.

The development of musical practices, competencies and skills is conceptualised as ethical endeavour oriented towards drawing others into a world made common and into the infinity of music and of music-making

So what might the implications be for classroom practice if we look through the lens of Levinas at what we do? See Figure 8 on the handout

  • The teacher learns alongside the pupils
  • The teacher is responsive
  • Complexity is embraced
  • Early closure is avoided.

What might be the implications for educational structures in the light of Levinas?

  • The model of knowing prescribed by exam boards and policy-makers is an ethical issue
  • Room must be allowed for the messiness and costliness of ethical encounters in learning
  • There is a ‘Taking of responsibility’ rather than ‘managerial accountability’
  • Assessment will be non-totalising

And finally, What might be the implications for conceptions of music-making in the light of Levinas

  • The primary orientation of music education would be to bring pupils into an encounter with the Other, enabling ‘the presence of infinity breaking the closed circle of totality’. ‘The Other’ indicates a spectrum from:
  • my immediate neighbour: the pupil next to another pupil in the classroom, the pupil in relationship with me as teacher, the neighbour who teaches Amez the drums


  • the more distant Other of the ‘world music’ lesson, whose musical expressions are brought into the classroom, and into an encounter with whom the teacher seeks to draw the class


  • the infinite Other that is music-making as a social activity, a discipline, an area of the curriculum and a ‘musical work’, which teachers seek to draw pupils further into, and into which teachers themselves seek to enter further, with no end to the processes of learning.
  • This ontological basis generates diverging epistemological approaches.
  1. Aesthetic models of music education emphasise the development of aesthetic sensitivity as pupils they look into the ‘face’ of the Other through music-making, or into a piece of music functioning as an Other, with form and expressivity, through which the voice of another may be heard. As aesthetic sensitivity develops pupils are more able to discern the face, or the ‘voice’ of the Other and to be responsive to the ethical ‘call’ they find there.
  2. Praxial models of music education emphasise the learning of skills within a tradition of music-making which enable pupils to ‘offer the world to the Other’, ‘putting in common a world’ hitherto their own. The pursuit of excellence in performing and composing allows pupils to come into encounter with the Other more fully as they become more proficient in drawing in their audience to the ‘world’ they share with them.
  • A radical openness allows pupils to encounter the music of other cultural settings without needing to colonise or dominate. The voice of the Other is allowed to speak within their own rich, cultural context and leaves a ‘trace’ which changes pupils, musically and ethically.
  • In this journey of encounter and responsivity pupils don’t ‘return to the same place’, as Levinas points out Ulysses did, but find themselves changed, in a different place as Abraham did, deeply challenged, able to experience a transcendence of their own situation and circumstances, finding new musical worlds, new strengths or sensitivities, deeper relationships and responsibilities.
  • The hospitality of which Lee Higgins writes is a response to the ethical call in the face of the Other. Shared cultural forms allow the Other to come to belong as well as to remain distinctive, different.
  • The outward-turning nature orientation grounds musical experience in terms of relationship with and responsibility towards the Other. It reorients the intention of self-expression towards a ‘putting a world in common with the Other’, giving a fresh rationale for developing technical skill and excellence.


For the full text of Kathryn’s thesis see

One thought on “Music Education through the lens of Levinas (iv)

  1. Pingback: Interesting musical practices – Music Education Now

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