But will anybody read it?

‘It is commonly agreed that a main aim of education is the attainment and development of knowledge and understanding. The ‘knowledge’ which is sought is generally assumed to be what can be expressed clearly in true propositional statements of fact, of ‘discursive knowledge’ about history, geography, science, economics , technology …

The assumption is valid, as far as it goes, and these are important fields of knowledge. But is ‘knowledge’, ‘knowing’, the ‘cognitive’ to be identified with this, and confined to what can be said in ordinary or other symbolic language? Surely not. We speak of knowing through sense perception, of knowing people, works of art, the morally good and bad. We speak of knowing how. Yet we can not say adequately in clear propositional language what it is we know and understand in the various fields. Generally speaking our knowing and understanding of such things must, at least at the outset, be based on direct, personal, intuitive experience.’ [1]

Thus wrote Louis Arnaud Reid at the beginning of the preface to ‘Ways of Understanding and Education’.

Reid was responding to the proposal that all areas of knowledge, including music and the arts, could be understood as being rooted in a body of clearly stated facts. Musical knowledge meant knowledge about music.

Reid goes on to show how this reductive approach to the arts separates thinking from feeling, how music as embodied experience is lost to abstractions.

In our symposium ‘Learning to teach music in the secondary school’ held at this week’s RIME conference in Bath Chris Philpott, Gary Spruce, Carolyn Cooke, Keith Evans and myself presented the problematic nature of learning to teach music in the secondary school at this time in the face of so much reductive thinking that is abroad, and not least in relation to how musical knowledge is conceptualised. Official documents assume a unitary concept of knowledge. There is nothing of the richness that Reid was concerned with, that which is intuitive, felt, experienced deeply and the source of meaning.

In the symposium we were reflecting on the book that we had contributed to and which is written for beginning music teachers and indeed those more experienced. [2] We wondered who would read it, how it would be used and if ignored what would be in its place. Would the new music teacher simply feed from twitter chat, promotional blogs, official policy documents?

The level of critical debate amongst music teachers rarely rises above the mundane, the self validating and the self protective, and there remains the cry of what shall I do first period on Monday morning. And of course there are some marvellous exceptions.

Yet there surely is a thirst to examine matters such as ‘the nature of musical knowledge’; ‘the nature of musical pedagogy’ and the ‘nature of music teacher education’ and the relationship between these, a thirst to stand back and give serious thought to the why, how and what of music education. There is indeed much evidence of a thirst for knowing about musical pedagogy, but is this in the context of considering the nature of musical knowledge? I think not.

The book ‘Learning to teach music in the secondary school’ provides an opportunity to do this without losing contact with classroom practice.

The book is full of powerful pedagogic knowledge, buzzing with propositions about music education that call for thinking and intelligent responses.

But will anybody read it?

Well the book is in its third edition, so somebody must be reading it somewhere, or is it sitting on a shelf. I wonder.

Notes:

[1] Reid, L. A., (1986) Ways of understanding and Education. Heinemann Educational Books.

[2] Philpott, C., Spruce, G., Cooke, C. and Evans, K. (2016) Learning to teach music in the secondary school (3rd. Edition). Routledge.

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Iris and the country choir singing for meanings

Iris is one month old and it is my turn to cradle her in my arms. Iris sleeps a lot and she is sleeping now. My movements sometimes cause a stirring from Iris and now she sounds out the quietest of cooes. I reckon it’s a high E and with my gentlest falsetto I respond matching Iris’s E. It’s an example of ‘motherese’, the word we use to describe these kinds of early childhood musical relationships. I told this little story at my recent time with teachers on the Trinity Laban Teaching Musician programme. [1]

I was very pleased to have been invited to share with the group a significant influence on my thought and practice. The invitation provided a challenge. Regrettably I would need to leave aside my first and formative teachers, my first piano teacher Mrs McNally and my first lessons aged 14, and my choirmaster Henry George who encouraged me to sing and play the organ, and my school music teacher who asked, ‘had I thought of opting for A level music’? (I hadn’t, but the question was sufficient encouragement for me to follow that path and on to becoming a secondary school music teacher). But then came to mind the transforming experience (and I don’t use the phrase lightly) of higher degree study and being introduced to a vast music education literature. It was news to me that there was a psychology of music, a sociology of music and music education, and I had been only dimly aware that music education had a history. I was to meet the thought of John Blacking, Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, Theodore Adorno, John Curwen, Emile-Jacques Dalcroze, for example.

I eventually fixed on Christopher Small and my reading his Music-Society-Education. [2] The encounter was not a Damascus Road experience but rather a slow burning fuse and only now am I realising the fuller implication of Small’s thought on the way I understand what music is and the implications for music education and of course on reflection its limitation.

In his seminal Music-Society-Education Small addressed the symbiotic relationships between music, society and education. Without understand how music is in the world, how it has functioned in societies past and how it functions here and now throughout the world, there can be no understanding of the role of music education in society.

The work provided the ground for Small’s subsequent thinking. In his next book, now little known, he coined the term ‘musicking’ and provided a framework of thought about the nature of music as a social practice.

Music of the Common Tongue published in 1987 has a sub-title: ‘Survival and Celebration in Afro-American Music’. [3] Here Small examined the search for identity and community of millions of Africans in the Americas through their encounter with a European tradition, taking from it what was needed to explore, celebrate and affirm who they were and who they might become.

[I told the group how depressing it was to continually meet with the woefully inadequate idea that there were two musics –classical and pop. What a relief to speak of Afro-American music and to imagine the richness and complexity of its infinite diversity, for example.]

It was in Small’s 1987 book that he makes clear:

‘My first assumption is that music is not primarily a thing or a collection of things, but an activity in which we engage … the act of musicking is central to the whole art of music the world over. In most of the world’s musical cultures this is taken for granted without even having to think about it; it is only the dominance of the classical tradition that obliges us to state it so bluntly.’ [4]

What a talking point.

Ok, yes, music is a thing. When I cooed to Iris my cooing was a sound, a physical thing, an object of consciousness, a thing. But Small rejects the objectification of music in favour of activity. In doing this musical meaning is detached from the musical work and its fixed intra-sonic properties and moved to the here and now of musicking. New relationships are created, new meanings experienced.

In his 1998 book Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening he writes:

‘Musicking creates a web of relationships between, and among, musical sounds and people situated in the physical and cultural space of musicking. Observing these relationships makes it possible to gain an understanding of the society that gives birth to musicking’. [5]

Thus, we are freed to ask the question wherever there is musicking: what is going on here?

All this has proved helpful to me and I have grown to love what is a kind of anthropological perspective on music and music education and to understand music education as being fundamentally relational in character.

A conundrum for myself and others is Small’s insistence that musicking has no moral dimension. It is not a matter of good or bad musicking. There is just musicking. The idea is ethically neutral. It exists as a conceptual tool.

Randall Everett takes up the problem in his argument for an open philosophy of music education. [6]

‘Small longs, like many of us do, for an open conception of music that is free of predetermination and prejudice and in which ‘’the value of the [experience] is tied to the consequences of the actual ‘event’ of musicking, and these consequences can not be determined beforehand, as they change according to the actual conditions of the ‘event’.’’ [7] But for teachers and learners who wish to work and play outside of prevailing norms, or for musician-artists who want to call attention to injustices and indecencies, Small’s vision is insufficiently venturesome, leaving critics struggling to articulate an open and inclusive concept of music education in which a multitude of values and perspectives intersect.’ [8]

Small’s insistence that musicking is to be seen as being beyond ethical consideration is out of tune with much contemporary philosophy of music education which sees music education as being essentially ethical in nature. Wayne Bowman, arguing for thinking of music education as induction into a set of musical practices points out that:

‘… musical practices like human practices are places where we learn and rehearse right action: where we learn to formulate and address the fundamental human question, what kind of person it is good to be, what kind of people we wish to become. Practices, musical and others, are where we learn our most important lessons about who we are and who we aspire to become. On this account, human practices [including musical practices] are profoundly important ethical resources.’ [9]

On Maunday Thursday I joined a rural Norfolk church choir to sing the plainsong/Vittoria St. Matthew Passion. My part was that of Jesus set in a low bass register which suited me well. Here was a case of musicking and for Small all who were present were part of this seeking to affirm a common identity. Most of the choir had never been in a choir or thought of themselves as singers until the recent formation of the group. In Small’s terms our musicking created ‘a web of relationships between, and among, musical sounds and people situated in the physical and cultural space of musicking.’ [10]

Thinking about these relationships makes it possible to gain an understanding of the micro society that gave birth to this musicking, and its relationship with a much larger society and how the coming together of people from three small village communities created meanings there and then. I think there was an ethical dimension to the event as there was to my recent cooing with Iris as we learnt about who we are and who we aspire to become.

Notes:

[1] See http://www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/about-us/overview/the-teaching-musician

[2] Small, C. (1977/1996) Music-Society-Education. John Calder.

[3] Small, C. (1987) Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in Afro-American Music. John Calder.

[4] Ibid, 50-51.

[5] Small, C. (1998) Musicking: the meanings of performing and listening. Wesleyan University Press. p. 9.

[6] Everett, R. (2016) Remixing the Classroom: Towards an Open Philosophy of Music Education. Indiana University Press. p. 133.

[7]Odendaal, A., Kankkunen, O., Nikkanen, H. and Vakeva, L.. (2014) What’s with the K? Exploring the implications of Small’s ‘Musicking’ for General Education. Music Education Research 16, (2) 163.

[8] Everett, R. (2016) Remixing the Classroom: Towards an Open Philosophy of Music Education. Indiana University Press. p. 133.

[9] See jfin107.wordpress.com ‘scholarly work’, The ethical significance of music making. Wayne Bowman.

[10] Small, C. (1998) Musicking: the meanings of performing and listening. Wesleyan University Press. p.9.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why music is not a core subject

Given the research evidence, why isn’t Music central to education policy? What should we be doing better to get that message out?

Why are we not a “Core” subject?

These are the cries of the beleaguered music teacher seeing time for their subject reduced, examination classes cut and staffing reduced.

The research evidence on the power of music is growing by the day. Active music making, assuming that it is regular and of high quality, can contribute to the enhancement of a range of non-musical capabilities and lead to other beneficial outcomes. This is broadly what the research says and what I think music teachers refer to when they invoke research evidence.

In this view Music in the curriculum is able to go beyond itself and serve aspects of general development.

Policy makers, by which I mean the current government, while acknowledging this, move quickly to the value of the subject itself, to its place in the order of things. They don’t dwell on how it is a servant to other subjects or some notion of general human development and well being, but as a subject of the curriculum that never has been ‘core’ and which is destined to remain marginal while at the same time recognised as part of a broad and balanced curriculum.

This is very much how it has been since the advent of compulsory education in 1870. In some exceptional cases headteachers and some former Local Education Authorities have given core status to music and the arts. David Hargreaves attempted this in ILEA in the late 1980s, for example. Today, some headteachers are committed to all pupils having an arts option at Key Stage 4 in spite of the Ebacc. Where there is this kind of commitment it most likely comes from an enlightened view about the nature of a liberal education.

While research on the power of music is heartening (and a life blood to organisations seeking funding) it may ironically serve to undermine the case for music as a subject discipline, acting as a kind of distraction from music’s core purpose of providing a unique way of understanding the world into which young people are growing. (Late edit: This is nothing to do with claiming music’s intrinsic value. See Wayne Bowman above.) From there many good things are likely to be accrue, many of those benefits claimed by the research. Getting this the right way round, I think is important.

Chris Philpott makes the distinction between hard and soft justifications for music in the book ‘Debates in Music Teaching’ and shows what a powerful thing music is, and not in the way that the research referred to above does. Its power lies in the way it is in culture and society as a significant form of meaning making.

Following James Callaghan’s Ruskin College speech in the late 1970s and the steady moves during the 1980s to form a National Curriculum, the concept of Core and Foundation subjects was established. Despite some making a case for a curriculum that was not hierarchical the Core-Foundation division easily won the day. Nothing much has changed since then except the coming of the EBacc, a throwback to the School Certificate subject grouping of the mid twentieth century. So, all the research in the world showing ‘the power of music’ and its contribution to human well-being and the making of smarter pupils is insignificant in the face of an ideology that champions the core, defines ‘academic’ in a narrow way and that sees STEM subjects as giving citizens economic advantage.

There has been talk of giving school leavers an app that will provide government with information about the amount of income tax paid by the individual and correlated with the subjects studied. In this way the value of a subject can then be directly liked to its value – its economic value that is. (By the way, it remains unclear whether there is a relationship between the study of the arts and the success of the creative industries, another common claim for treating music and the arts as significant.)
So music is not a Core subject. This is not to say that it has been and will continue to be valued as being worthwhile and in some places giving the appearance of being central to the school’s work – ‘core’ in a metaphorical sense.
I am a governor of a primary school which has three music graduates on the staff, a subject leader for music, a year 4, 5, 6 choir of over 100 (a third of the cohort), all year 3 engaged in First Access Strings, all pupils experience Steel Band etc. . At governor meetings there is no mention of Music, just improvement plans, targets and data, ways of presenting data, FSM success ratios etc. And in this discussion it is the childrens’ reading, writing and maths that is, well THE CORE.
However, since the debates surrounding the making of a national curriculum for music in the early 1990s, where there were interventions by high-profile celebrity figures such as Sir Simon Rattle and Pierre Boulez, successive governments have been wary of neglecting music. Hence Michael Gove’s swift and politically astute action in moving towards the making of a Music Plan in 2010.
If not officially a core subject it can only be enlightened headteachers, belligerent parents and talented music teachers that can create the illusion that music is core in their schools.

Creative thinking in music education

I took note of this tweet

Dave Aldridge‏ @zudensachen

Creative thinking is a ‘responding to’ something that comes before, in the manner of call and response. Thinking ‘with’. Fairfield #pesgb17

I had tended to think that call and response belonged to music education and as one of its most foundational pedagogic devices.

Attending this year’s third round of the FA Cup to see Southampton play Norwich at Carrow Road, I found myself in the heart of the Southampton fans. We were seated, well mostly standing, not far from the most vociferous section of the Norwich fans.

It wasn’t long before we started singing. The repertoire included a short snatch of a song that made reference to the Woolston Ferry. Where did that reference come from I thought. The Woolston Ferry (The Floating Bridge I knew it as) was replaced by the Itchen Bridge in 1977. Wow, this was heritage stuff. Fathers to sons folk memory I romantically imagined. But with a little research I discovered this

http://clydeserver.com/shipping/viewtopic.php?t=4615

and with a little more I found the song on the album ‘Super Saints 20 Southampton Classics’.

The snatch used by the fans was the beginning of the chorus line.

I will get to the matter of call and response; for now one particularly loud Saints fan stood on his seat and bellowed across to the Norwich fans and in due course one Norwich fan responded. Pretty tribal and rather like war- lords stepping out in front of their armies. What followed was a short spell of call and response between the two. As far as I could tell each drew from the depths of their abuse repertoire. A kind of creative thinking with responses to something that comes before. It was unlikely that fresh material was being generated in this instance.

Call and response as a pedagogical device in music education of course has roots in its evolutionary story and there exists a rich world of antiphonal musical practices. But I wonder how commonly it is now used in our music classrooms as a creative thinking device. There’s plenty of call-echo meaning call-copy. But that’s not call-response.

Let’s think of the step from call-copy to call-response as being vast, the first requiring thought certainly, but the second requiring the creation of a mental space in which the mind is called upon to make sense of the material offered, manipulate it, re-order it, re-create it, think with it.

This is creative thinking and an example of the proximity of musical knowledge acquisition and musical creativity.

‘Responding to’ something that’s comes before. Is it in danger of becoming a lost pedagogy?

And it was just a passing tweet.