Talking, reading and writing about music is my straightforward way of thinking about the part music education can play in whole school literacy development. In my Aspects of Literacy blog (see https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2016/09/08/aspects-of-literacy-in-the-music-lesson/) I placed these activities outside of the medium of musical expression itself. They were presented as the means through which we can think about music. Talking about music, reading and writing about it as means of extending musical understanding. That was my line.
But of course talking and speaking, can become the music too, as can reading out loud, and are closely allied to what in music education we refer to as vocalisation, thought by many to be the most elemental source of musical cognition. Vocalisation is the term we use to encapsulate the myriad ways of using the voice musically.
Motherese, rhyming, chanting, rapping, singing, reciting and choral speaking, for example, are examples of culturally embedded modes of expressing the musical impulse and sources of making meaning.
At the close of my Aspects of Literacy blog I recommended talking to the English teacher. The english teacher will know a lot about language and literacy. My experience of such discussion highlights the complexity of finding common ground such are the differing perspectives of the English teacher and the Music teacher. However, I have found these discussions nearly always enriching.
I recently had the pleasure of adjudicating a primary school poetry speaking competition. Here was poetry coming alive involving movement and drama and learnt by heart. I was pleased to tell my English colleague, Gabrielle Cliff Hodges, about this leading to Gabrielle telling me about her trying the approach of choral reading within her subject.
The term choral reading is used to mean a reading in which multiple voices are ‘orchestrated’ in order to construct a reading of a poem. Gabrielle told me how English trainee teachers create poetry anthologies through a process of using their voices like musical instruments to create their readings of different poems. In coming to decide on how to read the poems, groups find themselves arguing about meanings and the range of vocal qualities that can be brought to bear. Human voices are used like musical instruments to create harmony or dissonance, rhythm or counterpoint, hence a choral reading.  Oh, and what about cadence?
All this reminds me of a way of working with vocal material in music lessons. We might call it orchestrating the song although that would imply the use of instruments. I have in mind song arrangement and not really the same as making a cover version.
The song/vocal material, as in the case of choral reading above, has meanings to be argued about alongside decisions to be made about the use of expressive devices in order to re-present it.
The song/vocal material is of course a form of poetry and we will have something to talk to our English colleagues about from the music teacher’s perspective. In turn listening to the English teacher will be instructive. And I know one school where time is allocated for perspectives to be shared and common understandings to evolve between music and English.
As is quite usual I am writing from a secondary music teacher’s perspective. How different must be the primary teacher’s perspective on all this. Or is it?
And do secondary school music teachers think of themselves as teachers of english? Ofsted expect music teachers to promote literacy in their lessons. But doesn’t this need to be handled with care even if ‘all teachers are teachers of english’.
I wonder, has my love of language come through my music? Anyway, wherever it came from I am grateful.
 Gabrielle describes the process in more detail in a forthcoming article due to be published later this year.